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Driving ambition

April 17, 2012 by
Filed under: Public policy, The RSA 

As David Homewood FRSA describes in this recent RSA Comment piece, the cost of insurance is making car ownership completely unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of young people, something which is bound to be worsening problems of youth unemployment, particularly in rural areas. A few years ago, there was much hope that smart boxes in cars would solve the problem by forcing young people to drive safely and enabling insurers to reduce premiums. But the boxes have neither reduced prices nor changed behaviour sufficiently to make a difference and now only one significant insurer offers a smart box-based deal.

This is a real practical issue affecting the economic prospects and quality of life of younger people. I suspect solutions will involve some combination of technology, economics and behaviour change and if anyone out there fancies funding or collaborating on a research project I’m sure the RSA would be interested.

I can’t quite fit the pieces together but I wonder whether one way forward may be based on younger drivers giving lifts to older passengers? I haven’t got the statistics to hand but my recollection is that young people’s likelihood of having an accident is significantly increased if they have other young people in the car and significantly reduced if they have older passengers. Is there a way of combining young people’s need for cheaper insurance and the offer of free comfortable transport for older people?

If that seems impractical, I was intrigued to read about a system called Bring Buddy which has been developed by design students and DHL. Basically, the system uses social media and GPS to connect people’s movements across cities to parcels which need to be transported. The system is particularly relevant in city centres where pedestrianisation or congestion charging makes on foot or bike delivery much easier than by car or van. My web surfing doesn’t make clear whether Bring Buddy is in operation and, if it is, how it is working, but a system whereby young people’s insurance was dependent on them taking older passengers might work using a similar crowd sourcing methodology.

Perhaps it’s a silly idea but hopefully it will provoke other thoughts.

But I should end with an admission. Although it was David’s Comment which provoked me today, I was going to write about this issue a few months ago when I was trying to get insurance for my older son who passed his test first time last December. My indignation towards insurance companies for the cost he and his mother ended up paying was burning bright for a full two weeks. That was how long it took before he managed to write off the family car! Since the smash, in which no one was injured, he has become a much more careful driver but this underlines that the problem is not just about greedy insurance companies but also the genuine dangers that young people can pose themselves (and other people) when they drive without supervision.



  • Denis

    Thinking back to my days as an insurance executive, the trouble is that the abysmal accident record of young drivers does not seem to correlate with technical driving skills – or lack of same. It seems to be more a matter of irresponsibility (to use a pompous word) coupled with showing off, enjoyment of exercising power and a sense of invulnerability.

    These are shared to a degree by their elders (I get the impression that the average audience age for the appalling “Top Gear” is not all that low) but tends to be tempered by experience. By the way those parents who rail at the high cost of motor insurance for their offspring should reflect on how much lower their own premiums would be if they were not – even at current costings – subsidising the young.

    So might your slightly tongue-in-cheek idea of elderly passengers have a beneficial effect? Perhaps, provided you were prepared to take the casualty rate if it went wrong!

    One thing is clear – at least to me. It would be an illusiion to think, as some do, that teaching driving skills even earlier or (heaven forbid) lowering the minimum driving age would help at all. It ain’t about technical driving skills.

  • matthew taylor

    Thanks Denis. If there is a solution I think it is some combination of individual behaviour change, technology and peer pressure. We have been contacted by an insurance company so maybe we will get the chance to delve deeper