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Call for graduated driving licences after death of two friends

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Alice Sanderson, October 01, 2018

Calls have been made for the introduction of graduated driving licences (GDLs), to reduce the risk of accidents involving new drivers, following the deaths of two teenagers in 2017.

The danger of inexperience

Caitlin Huddleston and Skye Mitchell were both killed on their way to a meal last year. Skye, who had only passed her test four months earlier, was driving.

Skye was driving fast, although within the speed limit, but it was wet and as she rounded a corner on a road she’d never driven before she lost control of the car and hit a van.

The van driver later said there was “absolutely no way” he could have avoided the collision.

Caitlin and Skye both died at the scene, while another passenger in the car was airlifted to hospital, where she stayed for five months.

The van driver is still in hospital, 14 months after the accident.

The family of Caitlin has said that they do not blame Skye, because it was down to inexperience. Both families are now calling for the introduction of a graduated driving licence for newly qualified drivers.

Graduated driving licences

The scheme would place restrictions on new drivers such as curfews at night, restrictions on carrying passengers, and a ban from travelling on motorways. Currently there are no restrictions on new drivers.

These restrictions would last for one or two years and would be lifted once the driver has gained more experience.

A pilot scheme for GDLs is to be run in Northern Ireland next year, with plans to introduce the scheme fully in 2020. Northern Ireland currently already has some restrictions for new drivers, such as a speed cap of 45mph for the first year of driving, but the GDL will go further toward saving lives.

With more restrictions on driving for newly qualified drivers, they will have time to build up their confidence before driving to the same conditions as other road users.

Countries such as the US and New Zealand already have GDLs in place, and figures suggest that it does reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured by newly qualified drivers.

The need for introduction

A report by the RAC foundation (pdf) earlier this year found that an estimated 281 people could be saved, or prevented from serious injury, if England, Wales and Scotland introduce GDLs.

Skye had little experience of driving, nor had she driven the roads she was on, and she was not used to passenger distractions, all of which will not have helped the situation.

Caitlin’s brother Aidan, who was also the boyfriend of Skye, says that if GDLs had already existed “this whole situation wouldn’t have occurred”.

Caitlin’s mother says similarly: “Caitlin and Skye are victims of an outdated system which cuts the lives short of a serious number of young adults and new drivers, whilst destroying and rewriting families’ lives on an almost daily basis.”

The coroner for the teenagers also called for the introduction of graduated driving licences.

He said that she was driving too fast for the conditions, because she was “a new driver, inexperienced and sometimes a little bit nervous”.

He said that he would be writing to the Department of Transport to recommend the introduction of GDLs.

Comment

Andrew Cullwick, spokesperson for First4Lawyers said: "These tragic deaths of two young girls could perhaps have been prevented with the introduction of graduated driving licences.

"Northern Ireland’s pilot scheme is a great start, but more needs to be done in England, Wales and Scotland to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

"We hope that the government takes the coroner’s comments, and those of the families, on board, and introduce such a scheme UK-wide."