Teaching the young idea
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WHERE road safety is concerned, there is almost bound to be a certain amount of double talk. Measures vhich are designed to cut down the accident ate, such as the construction of a motorway, Llso encourage an increase in the volume of raffle which could lead to more accidents, t would be foolish on this account to suggest hat motorways should not be built, but the :ritic is not left entirely devoid of arguments in his side.
Like any other organization concerned vith Government policy, the Department of he Environment would like to pursue a ourse free from ambiguities. It would like
D convince the public that its proposals are
)gical and fit into a logical pattern. On many iccasions the hope has to be disappointed. :onflicts of interests cannot be resolved, and ad to contradictions, however hard the 4inister and the civil servants may try.
As a prelude to its new proposals on the nnimum age for driving heavy goods ehicles, the Department points out that the nk between youth, inexperience and accients is unmistakable. The problem is seen s one of driver behaviour rather than of riving competence. For this reason, to nplement the recommendations put forward iy the road transport industry for a reduction the minimum driving age would lead to lore road accident casualties, which in the pinion of the Department would be uncceptable.
STATISTICALLY, this line of attack is impeccable. The Department's publication Road Accidents 1969 emphaizes as a major feature of the figures for le year concerned the increasing proportion f casualties among all classes of vehicle river accounted for by young people. A aidy of the subject by the Road Research ,aboratory showed that the situation was rave even 10 years ago.
In 1961, according to the study, 410 car rivers in the age group up to 19 were 'volved in fatal and serious accidents for very 100m miles driven. The figure for the ext age group, from 20 to 24 years, was 04, and the incidence continued to fall to level of only 75 for drivers aged between 0 and 69, going up to 147 for drivers who ad passed the age of 70.
^1 0 the Department is right to be cautious about letting young men drive heavy lorries before they reach Le age of 21. But the same figures argue lually powerfully that the same young ten ought not to be allowed to drive ihicles of any kind. As the official publicaon points out, the trend towards a younger riving population is in itself tending to raise asualty rates, and "there is no reason to Aieve that anything will reverse this trend in Le 1970s. On the contrary, it is likely to :come more marked."
Politics being the art of the possible, the lepartment hesitates to draw the complete mclusion from its own statistics. Where le vote has been bestowed, the driving ence can hardly be withheld, let alone withdrawn. As the critics would put it, the right to kill other people on the road, or to be killed, is sacred to every citizen.
SUCH a comment takes the argument too far in the opposite direction. Many youths are careful and responsible, as well as skilful, drivers. The problem lies in detecting the minority who should be kept off the roads until they reach the years of discretion. The ordinary driving test does not attempt the task, which would probably require an expert personality judgment spread over a long period.
Just such a judgment ought to be made by a responsible operator before he allowed any new driver to take a vehicle on the road unattended. It is virtually forced upon the employer who takes a likely recruit from school or college and hopes to turn him into a skilled and qualified heavy goods vehicle driver at the age of 21. Until he is 17 the young trainee has to be found work other than driving, except perhaps any mechanical handling equipment which may be available. From 17 onwards he is still restricted to vehicles up to 3 tons unladen.
IT must seem an almost interminable lapse of time before he is allowed to drive heavy lorries. At any rate, the employer has more than enough opportunity to assess his capabilities. The young man whose services are considered worth retaining for four or five years has surely proved himself.
Operators are showing considerable ingenuity in their efforts to attract the right entrants and to keep them. Success is most likely within a reasonably varied business. The young man waiting to take his test can at least fill in his time with a range of simple tasks mixed with instruction that will be useful later on.
His driving career, when it begins, will depend on the proportion of light vehicles in his employer's fleet. Operators are already doing what they can to reduce the official weight, possibly with the help of a detachable body. Where the nature of the business does not permit this kind of expedient, the interval must be filled in with further instruction and training.
They have developed rapidly.
They have been forced on the industry by the higher standards demanded from fitters and from management as well as from drivers. The arrival on the scene of the Road Transport Industry Training Board has been in some ways opportune.
Nevertheless, it must be a formidable problem to attract the school leaver even when the prospect of driving a lorry appeals to him. With no special qualification and no tradition of a long apprenticeship, the temptation is to take the easy step into work which brings early rewards. The youth with wider horizons, who might in due course make an admirable driver, is likely to turn to the career where training is more progressive.
This was the point made by the road transport associations and unions to the Minister for Transport Industries, Mr John Peyton. He has accepted it in principle and has initiated discussions on the safeguards needed if 18-year-olds are to be allowed to drive four-wheeled heavy lorries, graduating to multi-axled vehicles (but not articulated) at the age of 19 or 20 years.
WHAT is suggested—as a basis for discussion, the Department adds cautiously—is an apprenticeship or enrolment scheme. There would be a contract of employment, and the operator would provide or arrange training to an approved pattern up to and beyond the taking of the test. Throughout the period the trainee would need to have a clean driving record—a single endorsement to his ordinary driving licence would put him out of the running—and he would be allowed to drive lorries only for the single employer.
As the Department envisages the scheme, its control would be almost entirely in the hands of the industry, once the courses of training and the instructors had been approved. There should be no great difficulty on this point. Many operators already have schemes which could easily be adapted and which af least have the approval of the RTITB to the extent of attracting a grant
moRE delicate issues requiring a settlement include the situation which might arise when an employer, for reasons that seem good to him, wishes to get rid of a trainee, or where a trainee himself wishes to leave. The Department admits that its suggested safeguards are stringent and are deliberately intended, among other things, to lead to the careful selection of trainees. Surely this is a precaution which the operator could be trusted to take on his own account, if only to avoid wasting money on training unsuitable material. He may still make an initial error, and where this happens he should have complete liberty, and should even be encouraged, to put it right.