Should young drivers be restricted from driving at night?
The highest risk of death for young drivers involved in road crashes occurs during the night-time hours; especially nearing midnight and into the early morning hours, and during these times on weekends.
All drivers have increased crash risk during night-time hours, but the risk is greater for the inexperienced young driver. Reasons for increased crash risk at night include poorer visual information, increased likelihood of drivers on the road impaired by fatigue and alcohol, more risk taking and more “recreational” driving – which also includes more likelihood of peer passengers for young drivers. Young drivers also drive more at night compared to adult drivers, and at night they are less likely to use their seat belt increasing their injury risk.
A study in Western Australia has shown that drivers on their Provisional licence are more likely to have a crash at night than non-Provisional licence holders. Similar patterns have been reported in New South Wales and Victoria.
Figure 1 NSW driver fatal crashes between 10pm-5am as a percentage of total by age group 2001-2003 (RTA, 2004)
Figure 2 Victorian driver crash and fatal crash rates during the day (6am to 10pm) and night (10pm to 6am) by licence type (VicRoads, 2005)
Support for restrictions
New Zealand and parts of the United States and Canada have had night-time driving restrictions in place for several years. Evaluations have shown these restrictions have reduced young driver crashes by between 17 and 47%, including up to half of all crashes at night. Young driver deaths and injuries have also reduced, by between one-quarter to one-third.
Different jurisdictions have introduced different time periods for the restrictions from the very brief (1 – 5 am) to very long (sunset to sunrise in one U.S. state). The strongest graduated driving licensing systems are those in which a night-time restriction applies prior to midnight, with 9 or 10pm recommended by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
There can sometimes be real or perceived community resistance to the implementation of night-time restrictions, usually based on concerns regarding availability of alternative transport options or safety issues if young people choose to walk home long distances late at night. While this can be a concern, particularly in areas with limited public transport options, this has generally not been realised in jurisdictions where night-time restrictions are in place. Research finds young drivers report being able to adapt to the restrictions and do the activities they want by getting a lift or by arriving earlier at their destination.
To be effective, it is important that there is good compliance with night-time restrictions and this generally requires strong parental and police enforcement. Some studies have found up to 15% of young drivers have reported disobeying the night-time restriction; however, most report violations only rarely rather than all the time.
Similar to passenger restrictions, the main focus of night-time restrictions is to reduce high-risk recreational driving, including driving without a particular destination in mind – a more common scenario for younger than older drivers. Most jurisdictions that currently have restrictions in place allow exemptions for “purposeful driving” such as for study, work or family activities, and medical/emergency and religious exemptions can also apply. Typically these do not need prior registration, rather the young driver is asked to show proof of trip purpose at the time of the trip. Pre-registration can pose difficulties for licensing authorities, police and young drivers in rural and remote communities where access to places of registration can be limited and there is no research yet to indicate whether this is more effective.
It is also important to note that there should be no night-time restriction during the Learner phase of licensing as it is important that Learner drivers practice under these conditions when appropriately supervised and when crash risk is at its lowest.
Night-time driving restrictions are effective and should apply to first-year Provisional drivers from at least 11pm to 5am, with administrative exceptions.
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