Guest Editorial: Making our roads safer is the No.1 Priority

David Stewart MSP

David Stewart is a Labour MSP for Highlands & Islands, which includes Moray – in his latest article penned exclusively for insideMoray, David focusses on the need for a new licence for young drivers….

THIS MONTH I decided to write about road safety and the role my team and I are playing in trying to make our roads safer.

In my role as a Highlands & Islands (Labour) MSP and during March 2010, I was asked by many constituents to do something positive about the deaths involving young drivers, particularly in the North and North East Scotland.

These demands arose as a direct result of the deaths of two 17 years old teenagers who were killed when the sports car they we travelling in lost control and collided with a tree on Island Bank Road, Inverness.

This tragedy prompted me to sit down and speak with my Manager, Doug Mackenzie, whereupon we decided to do all we could to address this issue by means of a community campaign.

It is a truism that is not depleted by repetition

  • That there is no greater tragedy
  • No greater sorrow
  • No greater loss for a parent than the death of a young son or daughter.

What followed was a long road of research, discussion and partnership work involving many aspect of a campaign to highlight this issue.

I suppose the key element of our campaign was our desire to have a form of Graduated Licence Scheme Introduced.

Having researched this issue in detail in became apparent that in the countries where a form of Graduated Licence was introduced there was a marked reduction in road collisions involving young people.

What followed was the setting up of a local forum group and then a networking exploration process across the nation as we looked for support.

This is where we were fortunate to make contact with Dr Sarah Jones of Cardiff University who had 10 years of study carried out in Scotland and Wales, which evidenced that if a Graduated Licence Scheme were introduced in Scotland alone, up to 22 lives per year could be saved and up to £80 million to the Scottish economy.

It was on this basis and with this support and evidence that we subsequently wrote to three consecutive Cabinet Secretaries for Transport and more recently we travelled to London and met with Transport Minister Claire Perry MP putting our case for the introduction of the Graduated Licence Scheme.


If we rewind a little at this point, I would like to highlight that as part of our campaign we engaged in so many different approaches to our work. In the initial years we wrote to the Scottish Government, the Chief Constables of local Police Forces,

Transport Scotland and many other interested parties. Surprisingly the Scottish Government came out in support of my proposals as did the Police.

We gave evidence to the Transport Committee and myself and Doug embarked on a series of talks to many local groups across the Highlands and Islands as we tried to sell our message.

To sustain our campaign we required financial and other support. There are too many partners to mention who came forward and supported us and as always I thank them for their support.

One of our partners agreed to sponsor the making of a 12 minute DVD. We used the friends of the deceased teenagers from the fatal collision in Inverness as actors and we also engaged the services of a young up and coming film producer. As a result we produced 100+ DVD’s which we distributed free to every secondary school in the Highlands & Islands.

Our work goes on with this campaign and rather than continue to inform you of the practicalities of our campaign I would now like to highlight how we envisage this scheme working.

Pilot Scheme

At this stage we have asked the UK Government to pilot a scheme such as this in Scotland and if it was a success for it can be rolled out elsewhere. Why Scotland? Simple, is the answer, there is cross party support for such a scheme within the Scottish Parliament – which is also supported by the emergency services and backed up by statistical evidence.

My proposals include displaying a ‘P’ plate for the probation period of driving which is between the ages of 17 and 18 years for young drivers. During this period they will keep a log book in which they will have to carry out 100 hours of daytime driving and 20 hours of night time driving.

I appreciate that young drivers may be less than positive about these proposals, but I hope that by entering into dialogue with them and through discussion, I can allay any fears they may have.

There are restrictions proposed, for example, no driving after 10 pm and before 5am. However, there will be exemptions, for example if the young driver is travelling to and from work and they have no one under 30 years with them in the vehicle, or if they have a passenger 30 years and over with them.

One young person is killed every week on our roads in Scotland.

17 young people are seriously injured per week in Scotland– many of whom will be permanently disabled or scarred.

Education is key and where education and enlightenment do not work, we then have to move to Enforcement. This is the ‘three E’s’ as I call them:

  • Education
  • Enlightenment
  • Enforcement

Generally, parents are regarded as the primary enforcers of GDLS, supported by the Police. In addition, policing is needed to deter those who do not have parents either willing or able to provide enforcement. Ignoring this issue risks creating further inequalities in those at risk of being involved in a collision.

There is no doubt that within Scotland there is a strong voice in support of this form of Graduated Licence, yes there is an opposing view, but do we let the carnage amongst our young drivers continue or do we do more, indeed do we do as much as we can to prevent unnecessary serious injury, disfigurement and death to our young people, people who are our next generation.

Tom Paine an American revolutionary author said “We have it in our power to begin the world over again”.

For families who have lost loved ones, unfortunately we cannot turn the clock back.  We can however adopt a new safer, proven driving regime aimed at slashing the carnage on our roads and preventing the deaths and injuries of our young drivers.