Should young drivers be restricted from high-powered vehicles?
Some states (Victoria, NSW, and Queensland) have introduced high-powered vehicle restrictions for Provisional drivers. These restrictions limit young drivers from driving certain types of high-powered cars, such as those with eight or more cylinders, turbo charged or super charged engines (see Queensland Transport and Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW references below for examples).
Victoria first introduced a high-powered vehicle restriction when some research suggested that there was an increased risk of an injury crash when these cars were driven by young drivers. However, this research was based upon a very small number of young drivers actually driving these vehicles.
Support for restrictions
Overall, there is no current evidence of benefits of high-powered restrictions. This is not due to research indicating they are ineffective, but rather there is a lack of research directly addressing this issue. There is some limited evidence that suggests young drivers of ‘performance vehicles’ are more risky drivers. For example, they may deliberately speed or be reckless, particularly at night. It is thought that this may contribute to increased risk of crashing at night. Other research suggests that male drivers who like to drive fast tend to choose fast cars. People who believe high acceleration and a powerful engine are important also seem to get more traffic violations.
In Queensland between 2001 and 2005, there were 962 casualties as a result of crashes involving young drivers of eight-cylinder cars and utilities. Of these 23 people were killed, 307 hospitalised and 632 injured. There is no research available, however, on whether these crashes would have occurred regardless of vehicle type due to other contributing factors.
There is also limited research on how well young people comply with high-powered vehicle restrictions and whether this impacts on crashes and crash casualties. One Western Australian study has found no evidence to support restrictions based on a crash analysis comparing vehicles driven by their power-to-weight ratio.
High-powered vehicles include models that offer the greatest safety features (such as multiple airbags, anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control). Therefore, they can provide greater protection to drivers (and passengers) in the event of a crash. Limiting young drivers from these vehicles has the potential to reduce their safety in the event of a crash if they drive a vehicle with fewer safety features.
For example, restrictions may disadvantage drivers who would otherwise share the family vehicle but cannot if it is a high-powered vehicle. Restrictions may lead young drivers to less safer alternatives, such as older cars with less safety features, purchased as a second vehicle for their use. There is also some evidence that suggests young drivers who share the family vehicle are less likely to report driving riskily and have a lower crash risk than when they have their own vehicle (even when accounting for how much they drive).
In addition, a person who is prone to high speeds and performance can still achieve these in lower-powered vehicles, so a restriction may simply shift crashes by risky drivers in high-powered vehicles to other makes and models.
A suggested alternative to high-powered restrictions is to ensure Provisional drivers only drive cars with high safety star ratings (NCAP) and therefore reduce the casualties arising from these crashes. However, this is impractical, particularly for disadvantaged youth, and has not been implemented.
No research evidence is available to support high-powered vehicle restrictions and there is the potential to increase injury risk if the only alternative is to drive a vehicle with fewer safety features. Therefore, high-powered vehicle restrictions are not currently recommended. Evaluation research on potential harm or effectiveness is greatly needed.
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