The number of young drivers killed or seriously injured on roads in the north of the county has fallen significantly following a six-year education and enforcement campaign.
In 2006, nine people under the age of 30 were killed in road collisions in Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre. 48 people in the same demographic were seriously injured and 376 people suffered minor injuries.
Officers in the road policing unit realised the need to take firm action to reduce these high numbers, and Sergeant Nigel Ralphson led the team with a tough enforcement strategy, backed up by a strong educational campaign. The officers worked together with Lancashire Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire County Council’s road safety partnership team, to demonstrate the wide consequences a serious collision has on families and friends of young people
As a result, in 2012 there were no fatalities in this age group - and just 27 people seriously injured.
“Young drivers are less experienced behind the wheel but they often take more risks on the road," says Sergeant Ralphson from the force's road policing unit, "which is why they can be more likely to be involved in a serious collision.
“It has been very important that we get a clear message across to young motorists that their driving behaviour could have a direct impact on the safety of both themselves and their passengers, with potentially devastating consequences. At the same time we do not want them to feel that they are being persecuted just for being young.”
Tactics employed by the road policing team have involved indentifying a ‘top 10’ list of anti-social behaviour drivers, who are then targeted by individual officers. The motorist will be visited, often in the presence of their parents, and a frank discussion is held detailing the potential outcomes if they continue to drive irresponsibly. They are then given the chance to sign up to an ASB driving contract and their future driving is monitored.
“We often find that many of the young drivers stopped by us are using their parents’ vehicles, and the parents are not aware of the manner in which the car is being driven," Sergeant Ralphson added. "Where we give out a section 59 warning letter, stating that a car may be seized, we now send a copy of this to the registered keeper, along with a letter of explanation and a copy of Missing Matthew, a partnership road safety DVD which covers the death of a young driver from Blackburn and the effect it had on his loved ones.
“The owner of the vehicle – invariably a parent – is then offered the opportunity to speak to an officer if they want further guidance on trying to change the driver’s behaviour on the roads. We have found this to be an effective method of getting parents on board with what we are trying to do - which is ultimately to save lives.”
Since the top 10 ASB driver scheme began in June 2011, 33 drivers have been specifically targeted. Of these, three have been imprisoned, 11 have been disqualified and the rest have either responded to being targeted and improved their driving behaviour, or else suffered prosecution and had their vehicle seized as a direct result of ignoring the intervention.
Sergeant Ralphson said: “One of our targets had 13 vehicles seized from him before he changed the way in which he drove. Until that point, every time he got behind the wheel he was putting people’s lives at risk. Thankfully he was an extreme case – most young drivers are sensible in their cars or respond well when we suggest they need to be more responsible on the roads.
“The Missing Matthew project, which is run in conjunction with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire Road Safety Partnerships’ Wasted Lives programme, has been particularly impactive when it comes to getting messages across to school and college pupils. Coupled with the enforcement work we have been doing, fewer youngsters are now dying or being seriously injured in collisions in the north of the county.”