Learner and young drivers are being encouraged to gain as much experience driving after dark as possible, as a new campaign aims to warn the community about the risks associated with driving at night.
While learner drivers are statistically less likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers, the likelihood of a serious injury or fatality crash increases for young drivers once they obtain their probationary licenses and begin sporting their red P-plates. This risk increases at night or in bad weather.
New research released by Victoria's Transport Accident Commission's (TAC) reveals first-year drivers are seven times more likely to be killed or seriously injured while driving at night (between 10pm and 6am) than drivers with their full licenses.
While only 10 per cent of Victorian licence holders, 18 to 25-year-olds made up 18 per cent of those killed on the state's roads in 2019.
Of approximately 50,000 new drivers hitting the roads each year, an average of 31 first-year drivers are killed or seriously injured while driving across Victoria at night each year.
The new TAC campaign urges learner drivers and their supervisors to ensure driving practice includes enough experience with night driving, while the risks associated with it are discussed.
The TAC's Ballarat L2P program involves volunteers assisting learner drivers to clock up the required 120 hours of driving practice with a fully licensed driver before they sit their probationary licence test.
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Ballarat L2P Driving Mentor Stuart Bell has been involved with the program for three years, during which he has assisted four young drivers to obtain their probationary drivers' licence.
Mr Bell said driving safely at night was a "high priority" in helping learner drivers.
"Driving spread over 120 hours presents the opportunity to experience driving over a range of seasonal conditions, this is especially beneficial for night driving," he said.
"Driving at night presents extra challenges regarding restricted visibility and the unknown of potential hazards.
"Some of the bigger challenges are driving in the rain where visibility is reduced, also the need to allow extra space for braking and the hazard of excess water on the roads.
"Amongst many other issues there are considerations of driving beyond the town boundaries onto country roads, dangers can exist with the change in road conditions, animal life and the sharpness of lights from other vehicles from both directions."
In 2017 the number of night-time driving hours required of learner drivers before they sit the test for their probationary licence was increased from 10 to 20 hours, though it is recommended to do more.
"The best advice is to extend the night driving experience beyond the required 20 hours where it is possible," Mr Bell said. "Safe driving must always be the key focus".
While funded by the TAC, the Ballarat L2P program is coordinated and managed by The Ballarat Foundation.
Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Eales, said the program helped young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to gain driving experience and their licence.
"From our perspective, it's important for learner drivers to gain experience in all different conditions - whether weather conditions, times of the day or the road environment," he said.
"We are really supportive of giving all young drivers the opportunity of varied experience and circumstances so when they do get their full licence and probationary plates they have a great skillset to make them safe on the roads."
There are currently 74 learner drivers participating in the program, primarily from Ballarat.
Mr Eales said the program was not only important for those whose parents or guardians were unable to teach them to drive, but also to gain other opportunities such as employment.
Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Ben Carroll, said experience and maturity were pivotal when it came to the safety of young Victorians behind the wheel.
"Parents, guardians and supervisors play a key role in instilling safe habits in our next generation of safe drivers," he said.
"The more experience our learner drivers get in at night and in bad weather, the better equipped they will be to be safe solo drivers - at least 20 of the 120 learner hours must be at night, but I encourage all young people to get many more."
TAC CEO, Joe Calafiore, said young people were vulnerable in their early years of driving.
"It is critical that we are talking to them about the risks and enabling them to get the practice they need, in all conditions - that's what this campaign is all about."
The campaign, called Parental Control, will run until mid-May online, on catch-up TV services, on radio and at petrol stations.
The L2P program is free for participants and is always looking for more volunteer mentors. While funded through the TAC, sponsorship assists the Foundation in covering costs such as purchasing the vehicles for the program.
For more information, visit: www.ballaratfoundation.org
For more information about teaching learner drivers to drive at night, visit www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/road-users/parents