Problems With BC’s Graduated Licensing Program

A 16-year-old student driver passing ICBC's graduated licensing program my have unintended consequences

Problems with BC’s Graduated Licensing Program

A recent study of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia’s graduated licensing program has revealed a problem. Although the program appears to benefit 16-year-old drivers, it may inadvertently increase the number of accidents among 18-year-old drivers.

The provincial government introduced the graduated licensing program in 1998 to decrease the rate of accidents amongst new drivers. The program increased restrictions on new drivers, irrespective of their age. After passing an exam, new drivers are issued a “learner’s license” for the first year and a “novice license” for the following two years.

Additional restrictions on the learner’s license include passenger limits, curfew between midnight and 5:00 am, and driving with a qualified supervisor. Although these restrictions have decreased accident rates among 16-year-olds, the number of accidents by 18 year olds has increased.

Accident statistics in BC

The Vancouver Sun conducted the research on ICBC’s licensing program. Currently, there are 26,439 drivers in the province who are 16-years-old. The data also reveals that are 39,250 drivers who are 18-years-old. For every 16-year-old driver, there are approximately 1.5 18-year-old drivers. On average, the crash rate for 18-year-old drivers is almost eight times higher than the crash rate for 16-year-old drivers.

Despite the disparity in crash rates between the two age groups, overall crash rates have been decreasing for the last four years.

Crashes in the United States

American researchers have revealed a similar pattern in accident rates among young drivers in the United States. Researchers noted that the risk of fatal crashes among teenage drivers increased until the age of 18. Out of 100,000 people in each age group, 28.2, 36.9, 46.2, and 44 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds respectively, are likely to be in a fatal crash.

Reasons for the Inconsistency

Further analysis reveals that restrictions and conditions in graduated licensing programs, including ICBC’s program, may be the source of the problem. After graduating from the two-year, condition-filled program, 18-year-old drivers may encounter higher-risk driving conditions or situations that they never experienced in the learner and novice stages of their driving program. Accordingly, drivers who have graduated from such a program may be involved in more accidents because they are no longer learning new driving skills or properly responding to unfamiliar driving conditions.

Preventing Crashes

ICBC spokesperson Adam Grossman commented that car accidents are linked to experience rather than age. Grossman noted that, “Unlike many of the [programs] in the U.S., ours applies to all new drivers regardless of age. The goal is the same: to give new drivers time to gain the skills and experience they need in a more controlled, lower-risk environment.”

Noting that ICBC has improved its graduated licensing program, Grossman said that “In an evaluation from 2004 to 2006, we found that enhancements made to the program in 2003 resulted in 28 percent (17,500) fewer crashes involving new drivers, including 4,137 fewer crashes resulting in injury and 31 fewer deaths involving new drivers.”

After completing ICBC’s graduated licensing program, all drivers should continue to enhance their driving skills. As with any skill, experience is a great teacher.

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