Doubts about defensive driving

Defensive driving focuses on vehicle handling, skid control and hazards perception.
Defensive driving focuses on vehicle handling, skid control and hazards perception. Nat Bromhead

DEFENSIVE driving courses may actually increase the risk of accidents because they promote over-confidence in young people, according to new research.

A study from the Curtin-Monash Accident Research Centre examined the effectiveness of driver training techniques and found defensive driving does not improve road safety.

Defensive driving is often taught as part of advanced training, and focuses on vehicle handling, skid control and hazards perception.

The study found skid control training in particular led to increased crashes, because students focused on their manoeuvring skills rather than avoiding dangerous situations.

This fostered over-confidence, the study found, and resulted in drivers being less likely to avoid situations, such as poor weather conditions, "which they erroneously believe themselves capable of handling".

"Driver training focused on vehicle handling skills can make drivers more efficient at vehicle handling; however this does not necessarily make them safer since they may become over-confident," the research found.

The study was commissioned by the RAC in WA, where people aged between 17 and 24 account for 20 per cent of road deaths despite representing just 12 per cent of the population.

Study author Dr Vanessa Beanland said professional driving lessons and resilience training - which focused on attitudes to risky behaviour such as alcohol and drug use - were found to improve road safety.

But she said much more research was needed to determine the effectiveness of other methods, including simulation training.

The research also found learner drivers were less likely to crash when supervised by a professional as opposed to a relative or friend.

"Crashes do occur during professional lessons, however, they are less serious, most are low-speed crashes in urban areas, such as rear-end collisions, whereas during lay supervision high speed crashes in rural areas are more common," the paper said.

Those who received professional training also had more favourable attitudes towards reckless driving, drink driving, speeding and violations and were less likely to overestimate their driving ability.

But the combination of professional lessons and instruction from family was deemed the best option, and gave young drivers the best chance at passing their first test.

Topics:  defensive driving drive p-plate driver

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