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Graduated driver education

By: Swedish National Road Administration

Date: 2000-09-22

This report is a summary of the Committee of Investigation's proposal submitted to the Swedish Government in December 1999.

By: V�gverket (Swedish National Road Administration)
Driving Standards & Licensing Division
August 2000
Contacts: Hans Mattsson, Per-Olof Grummas Granstr�m, V�gverket
Translation: Kathleen Olsson, V�geverket
ISSN: 1401-9612


Why is a new driver education system necessary?

The Swedish Ministry of Transport and Communication proclaimed 1996 as the year of road safety. Several official inquiries focusing on road safety were conducted that year. One of these studied the very high accident risk to which newly licensed drivers are exposed. Hundreds of people are seriously injured or killed in accidents involving novice drivers. The question was whether it would be possible to reduce this risk through better driver education.

One conclusion of that inquiry was that minor adjustments to the present driver education system would not make any greater contribution to improving the prevailing accident and injury situation for new car drivers. Radical changes were needed. A relatively new approach to driver education is that it should extend over a longer period of time and be more systematically arranged (graduated) than the present system. This has been shown to have positive effects in several other countries. New Zealand, some territories and provinces in Australia and Canada as well as certain states in the USA educate new car drivers in this way, with good results. Although limited attempts at dividing the driver education programme into stages have been made in Europe as well, the whole concept of graduated education has not been tested on a full-scale level.

The results from the various inquiries were compiled by the Ministry of Transport and Communication in a memorandum (Ds 1997:13 "Towards the safe roads society"), which was referred for comment to a number of review bodies. Both the memorandum and the comments received were positive to the recommendation that a new graduated driver education system be elaborated.

The comments submitted in reference to the memorandum as a whole, combined with political considerations, formed the basis for the road safety bill presented at the end of May 1997 (Bill 1996/97:137 "Vision Zero and the safe roads society"). Parliament passed the bill in October 1997. On 18 December 1997, the Government decided, based on a decision of Parliament, to commission the Swedish National Road Administration (SNRA) to conduct an inquiry into how a Swedish graduated driver education system could be designed and introduced. The aim was to substantially reduce the injury risk and accident statistics for novice drivers.

The road safety bill proposed a new aim and direction for the work on road safety, based on Vision Zero. Vision Zero is an approach to road safety endeavours founded on the premise that no one should have to be killed or seriously injured as a result of an accident within the road transport system. Driver education was one of several key areas that was pointed out as essential in achieving a safe roads society. Hence, the inquiry was an element in the work focusing on the long-range road safety goal.

The relatively high risk of novice drivers injuring themselves or others in traffic was given as the most important reason for conducting the inquiry (see Figure1). Even though this risk does decrease the older the driver is when making his or her debut in traffic, it is nevertheless several times higher than for experienced drivers. Much further up in age, the risk increases again. The figure also shows that, on the whole, younger drivers are involved in a greater number of accidents than their older counterparts, perhaps because considerably older drivers tend to drive less and take shorter trips.

chart shows number of drivers in accidents involving injury

The social lifestyle of young newly licensed drivers makes them particularly vulnerable. Accidents involving young drivers often occur at night on weekends. These are often single vehicle accidents with high speed as a contributory factor. Several passengers are commonly found in the car. The drivers are often young men, and the cars are usually of an older model. The injuries in accidents where young people are involved are often more serious due to the fact that many neglect to use their seat belts and the cars are often older with fewer built-in safety features. While driving under the influence of alcohol does not appear to be common, those young drivers who actually have consumed alcohol are subjected to a considerably greater risk than impaired drivers in other ages (Gregersen, N P, 1996).

Fatal accidents in connection with overtaking or where pedestrians are involved are also common amongst drivers who have only had their licence for a very short time.

Two-thirds of those accidents causing injury that happen during practice driving occur on roads where the speed limit is 70 km/h or more. The most common kinds of accident are either rear-end collisions or those that occur at intersections. Nearly all accidents causing death that happen while practice driving have been on county, national or European highways where the speed limit is 70 km/h or higher. Single vehicle accidents and head-on collisions are the most common type here (Swedish National Road Administration, 1998-99).

Present-day driver education

The purpose of driver education is to promote road safety. In light of the fact that the risk levels are so much higher for novice drivers, it can hardly be considered that driver education up until the present has been sufficiently effective. In the past, driver education has focused on technical driving skills and mechanical knowledge about vehicles. For a long time, this was viewed as the most successful way to achieve safe traffic behaviour. It took several decades before the driver's role and the psychological aspects of driving were incorporated into driver education (Franke et al, 1995). With time, research has shown more and more clearly that a safe style of driving is characterised more by drivers thinking ahead and avoiding risky situations.

In 1993 new regulations permitted practice driving from the age of 16. An evaluation of this reform clearly indicated that the risk of being involved in an accident causing injury during the first years of driving is much less (about 25%) for those who had accumulated more experience as learner drivers (Gregersen, N P et al., 1998). For somewhat similar reasons the so-called "graduated driver education systems" have been shown to significantly enhance road safety. This way of running driver education, in stages over a longer period of time, has been successful in those countries where it has been put into practice. These are some of the reasons for emphasising the importance of graduated driver education as an element in the work aiming at Vision Zero.

If a reform of the driver education system is to contribute to the attainment of the road safety goals, it must lead to fewer deaths and serious injuries in traffic, particularly where newly licensed drivers are concerned. This in turn means that better education must result in lower risks for this category of driver. Changes in the driver education system and/or other factors can entail novice drivers driving more, both as learners and immediately after having passed the driving test. It is therefore important that the risk is reduced enough to fully compensate for the increase in traffic casualties that otherwise can be expected as a result of more driving.

The SNRA's assignment

The SNRA was commissioned to conduct an inquiry and propose how a graduated driver education system could be designed and implemented. This was to be done in co-operation with other public authorities and organisations concerned. The aim of the new educational system was that novice drivers would make their debut in traffic at a considerably lower level of risk than is currently the case. The work was to be based on an overall, long-term perspective. The SNRA was given the task of evaluating what had been experienced after the reform allowing practice driving from the age of 16 and incorporate this into the design of the new educational system.

In its inquiry, the SNRA was to

The assignment also meant taking into consideration European Union directives as far as Sweden is concerned and assessing the impact if the recommendations are implemented.

How was the inquiry conducted?

The work was based on an overall approach to what is needed to ensure the efficient functioning of a new driver education system and for it to produce good results. Several important aspects for building up the system and many different factors that affect it were dealt with at the same time to enable the individual parts to work together in the best possible way.

The basic inquiry was conducted through a central head project, supported by ten different satellite task groups working on the following specific issues:

A reference group closely followed the work of the Inquiry and made possible extensive discussions on the various matters investigated. This group consisted of 17 people representing different associations and interest groups that will be affected if the Committee's recommendations are implemented. A steering group, comprising persons in positions of responsibility at the SNRA and the chairman of the reference group, issued the guiding principles for the work conducted in the inquiry. An interim report was submitted to the Government in December 1998 (STEFUS, 1998). The Committee of Inquiry's draft final report was circulated for comment during the autumn of 1999. The SNRA submitted its final report to the Government on 21 December 1999.

Characteristics of a graduated driver education system

The graduated programme is founded on a basic concept within teaching that says that an individual's learning must be built up gradually in stages, where such factors as personal experience, reflection and understanding are cornerstones. Indirectly this means that the educational process, seen in time and quantity, is of key significance for good results. Another important factor is safety. The pupil should not have to be exposed to dangerous situations which he/she is not yet ready to handle. The most important characteristics of a graduated driver education system can be summarised as follows:

Creating a well-structured course of education gives learners the opportunity to gain as much experience as possible before becoming an independent driver. The objective is to reduce the risk for newly licensed drivers.

The basic idea is that reward is a more successful method than punishment for stimulating a person to complete a course of study consisting of several stages. This means that the system requires some kind of inherent incentives.

The basic premise here is that the prospective driver should not be exposed to greater risks than what he/she can handle depending on his/her level of maturity, competence and experience. This means that some kind of assessment must be made of the pupil's development before being allowed to progress further.

In order to be able to acquire as much experience as possible, the learner driver must be encouraged to drive. However, this is not to occur under conditions that could increase the risk of injury to him/herself or others in traffic. Hence, there are often different types of safety measures incorporated into the system. This principle is closely related to the one on increased risk exposure in line with greater competence (see above).

This principle is based on two different conditions:
-that it is the individual and his/her learning, level of maturity and experience that are the centre of focus,
-that the pupil's social and physical environment is a decisive factor in how to conduct the driver education programme and in the results achieved.

The professional educational features that exist within the framework of the system, e.g., driving school courses or other compulsory elements, must be designed in the best way possible, both as regards content and pedagogy. Parental involvement, such as through driving practice instruction, is seen as another reinforcing factor. An articulated interest in road safety and an understanding of the value of good driver education in society is also expected to increase the potential of a graduated driver education system to achieve improvement.

Preliminary proposal by the Committee of Inquiry

In September 1999 the Committee of Inquiry referred a preliminary proposal for comment to some 40 bodies. The comments received and the general debate in society during the referral period were to be a guiding factor for making any adjustments or changes in the proposal prior to the SNRA submitting its final report to the Government.

The following describes the content of the preliminary proposal in general terms. Further details are given in context in the SNRA's final recommendations.

Starting from a number of principles, the graduated driver education system is described as a systematic process that should be characterised by

Various components in the system are described in more detail in the preliminary proposal, e.g.,

Various prerequisites that are important when building up the system, and necessary for its proper and smooth functioning, are also discussed in the proposal:

In conclusion, a description is given of the potential consequences in the event of the proposal being implemented, in addition to how the implementation could be carried out and how the results of such a reform could be evaluated.

Analysis of the referral and debate

The preliminary report was debated intensively in the mass media, and the SNRA followed these discussions closely. Particular attention was focused on the following issues:

Changes in the proposal based on the comments received and the media debate

The viewpoints that were presented in the comments covered more of the proposal than what had been discussed in the media. All in all, both the general way of thinking as well as most of the recommendations in the Committee's proposal were given support, even if certain points did meet with some misgiving or alternatives were suggested.

After having taken into consideration the comments and the views voiced in the media, the preliminary proposal was adjusted as follows:

There was nothing either in the public debate or in the comments received that spoke against the recommended compulsory preparatory course for pupils and private driving instructors, culminated by a theory test for the former group. However, the form of this course was changed to keep down the increase in cost. As far as pupils were concerned, more extensive traffic education in schools was proposed, the idea being that this would serve as a preparatory course. In the case of instructors, it was recommended that information manuals be developed for them instead.

The recommended educational period of 12 months was not stipulated in the proposal. This matter was referred to the Government for review.

However, the SNRA still maintains that the length of the driver education programme is a highly significant road safety factor for novice drivers.

The Committee of Inquiry recommended that research projects be initiated aimed at learning more about the effect of dual brake control on road safety prior to proposing its compulsory use during private practice driving.

In this respect, comparisons can be made to the use of child safety seats, which eventually resulted in a law on protective devices for children in cars.

As a result of the changes in the preparatory course, more simplified progress checkpoints in the driver education programme and the elimination of compulsory dual brake control, etc, the estimated increase in cost was reduced from approximately SEK 4 000 to about 2 000 for the average learner driver.

Further, the SNRA recommends that an inquiry be made into whether it could be possible to allow a VAT exemption in connection with the expense involved for the compulsory course modules and progress checkpoints.

The driver education programme is concluded by a driving test. According to the preliminary proposal, this test was to be administered by SNRA staff. According to the final proposal, this could also be conducted by persons employed within the National Defence Force or the school system, on the condition that they have been authorised to do so by the SNRA.

The SNRA's final recommendations to the Government

On the whole, the recommendations presented in the Committee report that had been referred for comment still remain. The main points are described here. For more detail, reference is made to the various reports listed at the end of this report.

The SNRA's standpoint in its final proposal submitted to the Government is that driver education shall be seen as part of long-term traffic education that starts early and continues throughout life. The SNRA has also ascertained that a radical change is needed if driver education is going to contribute to enhancing road safety in a more substantial way that what is the case today. This means that there must be a change in both the structure and content of driver education. This will also affect those parties involved in driver education.

In light of the foregoing, the SNRA recommends that the graduated driver education system shall be designed as follows:

chart shows 5 stages, with 3 educational
Figure 2: Simplified chart of a graduated driver education system

This shall be characterised as follows:

The following is recommended for the different stages of the educational programme:

STAGE 1: Practice driving permitted with a private instructor or professional driving teacher

  • on roads with a maximum speed limit of 70 km/h
  • in less complicated traffic environments
  • without passengers
  • with an extra rear-view mirror and a sign indicating learner driver at stage 1
    Practice driving NOT allowed under severe icy conditions

STAGE 2: Practice driving permitted with a private instructor or professional driving teacher

  • on roads with a maximum speed limit of 90 km/h
  • without passengers
  • with an extra rear-view mirror and a sign indicating learner driver at stage 2
    Practice driving NOT allowed under severe icy conditions

STAGE 3: Practice driving permitted with a private instructor or professional driving teacher

  • in all types of traffic environment
  • han extra rear-view mirror and a sign indicating learner driver at stage�3

Practice driving alone permitted (without a professional driving teacher or private instructor in the car)

  • if the pupil has passed all the progress checkpoints
  • if the pupil has passed an accredited theory test (valid 1 year) conducted either by the SNRA or a test official authorised by the SNRA
  • on roads with a maximum speed limit of 90 km/h
  • if the pupil is at least 17 and a half years of age
  • without passengers
  • ith a sign indicating learner driver at stage 3

Practice driving alone (without a professional driving teacher or private instructor in the car) is NOT permitted

  • from 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday until 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday as well as between these same hours on the night of a public holiday

There can be certain exceptions from these safety precautions in connection with professional driver education, e.g., with respect to having passengers in the car.

Practice driving alone is intended to provide a greater opportunity to acquire experience and develop more independence in driving. It shall also be seen as a means of encouragement at the end of the driver education programme, providing the learner driver with greater mobility at the same time.

Each stage shall contain a compulsory course module . The following are proposed:

(stage 1) demanding driving situations on rural roads

(stage 2) courses on high risk situations (including driving in darkness as well as on icy surfaces)

(stage 3) first aid training

The first two should be placed at the end of stages 1 and 2 and be a requirement for being permitted to progress to the next stage. These two elements should be seen as an introduction before being permitted to drive in more demanding traffic environments in the next stage. The third module can be completed at any time whatsoever during stage 3.

- Progress checks should be conducted between each stage by qualified educators (people in companies or organisations who have been approved by the SNRA)

- The educational period is concluded with a driving test conducted by a test official employed within the SNRA, the National Defence Force or the school system and who has been authorised by the SNRA.

This shall include:

progress checkpoints carried out by a qualified educator between the different stages in the educational programme
a driving test, a requirement for issuing a driving licence (theory and practical test) conducted by employees authorised by the SNRA.

Guidelines for the test content and the progress checks, and for how they are to be conducted, will be drawn up by the SNRA. This also applies to approval requirements. Practical checks and tests will be conducted in traffic environments that provide good conditions for being able to judge the driving skills that are to be assessed. This means that it is impossible to set up common, simple rules for all checks and tests. The progress checks at the beginning of the programme can, for example, be conducted in relatively uncomplicated traffic environments, which will not suffice for the assessments that have to be made later on, or in connection with the driving test. Criteria on traffic environments that are to apply for different checks and tests will be elaborated by the SNRA.

responsible for the educational content in the compulsory modules
conducting the compulsory progress checks between the stages in the course
conducting the final driving test (theory and practical), where this is not done by the SNRA's own employees.

There shall be a placement model for those with previous driving experience. It should be possible to place them in the graduated system at a level corresponding to their previous knowledge and level of experience.

What are the implications if the proposal is implemented?

The SNRA has ascertained in its impact analysis that the system is thought to have a positive impact on road safety both during and after the driver education period. The number of hours of driving practice and the effect of the safety measures have been decisive factors in drawing these conclusions. The assessment has been based on such things as current accident statistics and the lower risk for newly licensed drivers that practice driving from the age of 16 has entailed. It has been assessed that there will be between 5 and 10 fewer traffic fatalities per year once the system has been developed. Different kinds of financial incentives would also strengthen the desire of newly licensed drivers to assume greater responsibility for road safety. This could be worth studying in more depth, as regards car insurance for instance, in order to be able to link responsibility and benefits more to the driver than to the vehicle, as is the case today. The driver's role and responsibility would then be much more clear.

The financial impact analysis shows that the proposed system could be socio-economically beneficial. However, it would be about SEK 2 000 more expensive for the individual. The ultimate cost depends on the pupil's strategy in planning his or her driver education, and how car costs in connection with private practice driving are calculated.

The SNRA has proposed that an inquiry be conducted into whether the progress checks and compulsory course modules can be considered to lie within its area of responsibility, regardless of who conducts them. The cost could then be charged to the learner driver as a fee payable to the SNRA, which could thereby be exempted from VAT. This would limit the cost increase by a few additional hundred Swedish crowns. In its analysis, the SNRA has ascertained that in most cases there is sufficient private means to be able to finance driver education for young adults. Thus, it cannot be assumed that the graduated system would inhibit their being able to take part in driver education to any greater extent. It is important to note that driver education in Sweden is not more expensive than in other Nordic countries or Germany, and actually ranks amongst the least expensive.

The SNRA has also ascertained that having access to a driving licence is an important social consideration. Possession of a driving licence is commonly required for gainful employment. Hence, driver education should perhaps be seen as part of preparing pupils for the working world. The SNRA therefore recommends that an inquiry be conducted into the possibility of financing driver education through the student aid system. This could soften the economic burden that the expense nonetheless entails for certain people in society even today.

Better adaptation to the needs of different groups and individuals is considered important, particularly as regards the teaching. This can, for instance, apply to dyslexics or those with other learning problems. However, the SNRA maintains that the requirement levels must nevertheless be the same for everyone, even if special treatment can prove necessary in certain cases, e.g. in connection with tests and progress checks. This should be dealt with further on, once the system has been put into application and the problems have become more evident.

The length of time given as a minimum for the educational programme, about a year, can seem long at first. According to the SNRA's way of thinking, it is important to try to change the outlook on driver education. On the one hand, the value in the education must be viewed from a life-long perspective. It must also be remembered that drivers are being educated for a highly demanding and complicated task in which the demands, and not least of all the level of risk, are many times higher than in most professions that require three years of education or more. Compared to the time that driver education takes today, the time period suggested appears quite reasonable. Of those who took their driving licence in 1998, fewer than 10% chose to complete their driver education in less than 6 months. Fewer than 25% had finished their education in less than a year (V�gverket 1999). It is also known that the group of people who decide to take a longer time for their driver education also run a distinctly lower risk of being involved in serious accidents. It is then not at all difficult to argue that the small group of beginner drivers who try to complete their driver education in the shortest possible time should also be given a reasonable chance to acquire the experience and understanding that is needed to successfully cope with the initial hazardous years as a novice driver.

The educational consequences mostly concerns the further education of those engaged in the educational programme. A partially new course content will demand changes in the qualifications of teachers and examiners. Added to this is a new structure for the educational programme and the need for greater adaptation to the specific individual. Hence, the SNRA would particularly like to point out the need for a driving teacher's course at the college level, which, due to the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry, is even more evident. Accreditation requirements, extended control functions, new course modules, etc all demand a broader level of proficiency.

The amount of practice driving, which ought to increase if the proposal is adopted, will be one of the primary environmental effects . On the other hand, the negative aspects involved in this can be counteracted by using a new course content as an instrument to increase the level of knowledge concerning environmentally-sound ways of driving and greater environmental awareness when choosing between various modes of transport.

The administrative and legal consequences are mostly a result of the need for transitional rules, the change in the conditions for private driving instruction, how to handle practice driving alone as recommended and the consequences involved in a follow-up period instead of a probationary period. These all require different degrees of statutory amendment, primarily to the Driving Licence Act and Driving Licence Ordinance.

The SNRA has ascertained that the proposal complies with the EC directive on driving licences (91/439/EEC) and that the placement model recommended can simplify matters for holders of foreign driving licences, or for anyone who has otherwise already acquired extensive driving experience, to be able to enter the programme at the right level within the graduated driver education system.

An analysis has also been made of the consequences for the National Defence Force and the school system . As regards the former, the system proposed is considered to enhance their being able to determine how far the prospective soldier has progressed in his/her driver education already at enlistment. The graduated structure of the system makes it easier to foresee how many will have a driving licence when reporting for active service or how far they have progressed in their driver education when it is time to do their compulsory military service.

It should be relatively easy to adapt the driver education course given in the "Vehicle Mechanics" programme in Swedish upper secondary schools to the graduated system without having to interfere with the course model that is applied there today. The SNRA recommendation that all employees involved in the test for a Category B driving licence should be appointed by the SNRA does not affect these persons to any greater extent. This procedure is already being introduced. It is more a case of emphasising the need for common quality enhancement from the situation today. The SNRA is of the opinion that there are great advantages to be had. This also complies well with the EC directive on driving licences, which states that a national body shall be responsible for ensuring that the driving tests in the country, as far as possible, shall meet high demands on uniformity and objectivity. According to the SNRA, the recommendation on test officials being appointed by the SNRA increases the chances that driving tests will maintain the same standard all over the country. Having the same further education programme and systematic monitoring of test operations increases the chance of this.

The role of the police will probably not be very different. It is not anticipated that the need to supervise traffic will increase in connection to the recommended rules for practice driving in the different stages of the driver education programme. The key issue is more working the new rules into the traffic supervision activities that the police conduct anyway in a manner that is taken seriously by the general public.

In conclusion, a plan is presented for how the system could be introduced and how the effects could be evaluated. The SNRA considers it important to implement a change in driver education gradually, with well-adapted transitional regulations in order to tone down that which could initially appear to be dramatic and revolutionary. This would also increase the chances of the proposal being accepted from the very beginning by most people in society. A well-planned implementation is also a prerequisite for being able to perform a carefully thought-out and objectively-based evaluation of the effects that the change in system would actually entail. Finally, the SNRA is of the opinion that any other trial activity than the one already mentioned, concerning dual brake control, need not be conducted.

Further information

A fuller, more detailed description of the recommendations is contained in the interim reports submitted to the Government in both 1998 and 1999. The appendices to the final report contain the Committee of Inquiry's referral edition (Appendix 1), the comments received (Appendix 2) as well as the analysis of the comments including the SNRA's deliberations, judgements and more detailed recommendations (Appendix 3).


Ds 1997:13 P� v�g mot det trafiks�kra samh�llet . ["Towards the safe roads society"] Swedish Ministry of Transport and Communication Memorandum

Franke, A.; Larsson, L. & M�rdsj�, A-N. (1995) F�rarutbildningssystemet i Sverige. Delrapport 1. En historisk beskrivning av f�rarutbildningssystemet i Sverige. ["The driver education system in Sweden. Interim report 1. An historical description"] Reports from the Department of Pedagogy, G�teborg University, no.1995:16

Gregersen, N.P., Berg, H-Y., Nol�n, S. & Nyberg, A . (1998 ) Utv�rdering av 16-�rsgr�ns f�r �vningsk�rning (delrapport 2) . ["Evaluation of practice driving from the age of 16" (Interim report 2)] VTI-notat 62-1998. Published by the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute, Link�ping.

Gregersen, N.P. (1996) Unga bilf�rares trafikolyckor. ["Traffic accidents involving young car drivers"] VTI Report 409. Published by the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute, Link�ping.

SOU 1996/97:137 Nollvisionen och det trafiks�kra samh�llet ["Vision Zero and the safe roads society"] (Government Bill)

STEFUS (1998). Utredningen om ett stegvist f�rarutbildningssystem. ["Investigation into a graduated driver education system"] (Interim report submitted to the Government in December 1998) SNRA, Borl�nge, Publication 1998:114E.

STEFUS (1999). V�gverkets slutrapportering till regeringen (inklusive bilagor) ang�ende f�rslag till stegvist f�rarutbildningssystem. ["The SNRA's final report to the Government concerning a graduated driver education system" (including appendices) December 1999].

V�gverket (1998-99). Bearbetningar av olycksdata fr�n V�gverkets olycksdatabas och andra k�llor.[Processed accident data extracted from the SNRA's accident database and other sources] Road-User Division and Traffic Survey Centre.

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