Drive time

“A full driving licence has been increasingly seen, particularly by
young men, as a rite of passage to adulthood: part of personal
independence and mobility. The link with social responsibilities
towards fellow citizens, particularly those who are more
vulnerable, has not been emphasised enough.”

These words, taken from the government’s road safety strategy
document Tomorrow’s Roads: Safer for Everyone, highlight
the importance placed on cars by many young men. And indeed, the
same could be said for young women, albeit with a change in

When the conversation in a youth group turns to the car, the
emphasis for young men is often on questions of speed, “pulling
power”, image and freedom. For young women it is more likely to be
more practical issues such as personal safety, employment
opportunity and mobility.

Of course these are partly stereotypes. But the overriding issue is
that most young people now aspire to own a car, and in fact see it
as their right.

Our society is car-dependent. In its report Motoring towards 2050,
the RAC Foundation states that “83 per cent of motorists would find
it difficult to adjust to a lifestyle without a car”. Having the
use of a car is now the norm, and those who have no access to a car
are excluded from many opportunities.

There is of course another issue of particular importance to young
people: the fact that they are at risk of serious or fatal road
accidents. Again the government’s strategy document suggests that
even after passing their test “young and newly qualified drivers
have a poor safety record compared with older more experienced
drivers”. Although young people (aged 17-21) only represent 7 per
cent of all licence holders, they are involved in 13 per cent of
all injury accidents (1998 figures). This suggests that not enough
work is being done to prepare young people for taking on the
responsibilities of road use and vehicle ownership.

Youth projects have been using young people’s interest in cars to
divert them from crime for the past 30 years. Having their origins
in work with so-called “joy riders” throughout the 1980s, motor
projects have concentrated on getting young people – mostly male –
involved in converting and racing cars as an alternative to
offending. In the early 1990s, however, we started to see a real
change in emphasis, with projects such as Motivate in Leicester,
placing more emphasis on education rather then adrenaline

This change has continued with larger projects, such as Skidz in
High Wycombe, now operating a motor-based activity centre that
firmly puts the motor vehicle in its place. Skidz is concerned with
using cars as a starting point for learning, and as a point of
reference that all young people will recognise.

There is no doubt that cars and motorbikes have a real relevance
for all young people, even if they don’t like driving or riding,
and that their skill as road users – or lack of it – will have an
impact on their lives at some point. For many young people, a motor
vehicle can represent the difference between employment and
unemployment, freedom and dependence, confidence and fear and in
some cases offending and non-offending. We now need to embrace the
motor vehicle and young people’s feelings about it. Using the car
as a starting point, we can get young people to think seriously
about issues such as risk taking, the environment, offending and
personal safety. Now there’s a journey worth making.

Graham Lloyd is the manager of youth work charity UK
Youth’s Momentum programme.

About Momentum

UK Youth’s Momentum programme offers a nationally recognised
framework for road user education. It has two main components:
First Gear, focusing on cars and On Two Wheels, focusing on
motorbikes. Momentum uses a range of exercises to help young people
explore the issues that are of most concern to them, as well as
giving them some basic driving and motor vehicle maintenance

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