P-plate driver volunteers needed for UNSW study to address alarming death, injury stats

The UNSW Science School of Aviation is calling for volunteers who have received their P-plates recently to take part in a study into their driving behaviour. Photo: Learner Drivers/Facebook.


There are many rites of passage for teenagers in Australia, such as attending Schoolies or purchasing alcohol the first time after turning 18. Getting L-plates and P-plates are also important milestones, giving young people a sense of freedom and responsibility.

However, they also present the danger of possible car accidents, as teenagers learn to navigate the roads and their rules. The Sentinel spoke with Transport for NSW, yielding some alarming statistics: in the last five years, five learner drivers died and 96 were seriously injured on NSW roads. Meanwhile, 95 P-plate drivers died and 1,788 were seriously injured on state roads.

“The death of anyone on our roads is a tragedy, but when it’s a young person with their whole life ahead of them it is particularly poignant. Young and novice drivers are overrepresented in NSW road trauma. The impact that death or even a serious injury has on communities is immeasurable,” a spokesperson from Transport for NSW said.

“Young learner drivers are required to develop on-road experience through 120 hours of supervised on-road driving. All learner drivers must demonstrate their car control skills through a driving test, as well as having knowledge of the road rules and hazard perception skills,” they said.

In order to get their full licence, drivers need to pass various tests in order to show they understand the road rules and safety. Photo: Learner Drivers/Facebook.

The state government introduced the Graduated Licensing Scheme (GLS) in the year 2000, which has reduced young driver fatalities by 60 per cent, but the figures remain disturbingly high.

It is a scheme familiar to young drivers, such as green P-plater Ryan Clark and learner driver Rebecca Smith. Both are in their early twenties and are university students.

While Clark has been on his greens for roughly two months, he’s experienced enough near misses on the road to be cautious.

“In particular, near roundabouts and on congested roads. The many near misses I have had are typically when the other motorists have lapses in judgement, not properly understanding road rules, or are driving at a slow speed. A notable majority of these occurrences are with older drivers,” Clark said.

“Most often, it is at a time when I am going faster than I should be. Compared to near misses I have been involved in, the near misses caused by me are almost always caused by speed rather than poor judgement.”

Smith, on the other hand, has yet to experience stressful traffic situations that could result in a crash.

“I haven’t had any near misses. Although, I’m not at the stage where I am into any high stakes traffic. I haven’t been close to an accident. Even if I did, my dad (who is teaching me to drive) always has his eye on the handbrake just in case,” Smith said.

What causes young drivers to have accidents is a subject of interest for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Science School of Aviation. A study has shown P-plate drivers are 33 times more likely to have an accident than learner drivers. However, this statistic is halved after their first six months.

Dr Brett Molesworth wants to study the behaviour of young drivers to understand what causes them to have a higher chance of an accident. Photo: Learner Drivers/Facebook.

Dr Brett Molesworth from the UNSW Science School of Aviation is calling for volunteer drivers who have recently received their P-plates in order to study their behaviour.

“Understanding the challenges and risks young novice drivers face during the first few months of driving is important in reducing these risks,” Dr Molesworth said.

Knowledge about driver behaviour is found post-crash or through self-reporting measures – something Dr Molesworth says fails to capture all variables with young drivers.

“So we know very little about the challenges young drivers face, what factors put them at risk when driving, and how they respond to these challenges.”

The study will involve drivers who’ve just obtained their P1 licence having their cars fitted with GPS, radar and cameras. This will allow Dr Molesworth and his team to know where the driver is, their speed and their surrounding environment.

All results and knowledge gained from the research will be used to improve road safety and foster changes to redesign training programs and licence requirements.

Requirements for participating including having your own vehicle, living in Sydney, not being an identical twin and having no medical conditions that can affect driving. Prospective volunteers should also be available to commence within three weeks of getting their P1 licence. All participants will be reimbursed for their time with a $250 Coles/Myer gift voucher.

Young drivers aged 17-20 who wish to participate can contact Dr Molesworth at b.molesworth@unsw.edu.au.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.