The opinions expressed in the studies are those of the consultant and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.
Learning to drive demands a lot of practice before expert levels are reached. In comparison, vehicle handling skills are relatively easy to master in only a few hours, while skills such as anticipation of potentially hazardous traffic situations require years of practice. The driving task is partly determined by the demands of the road environment, such as road design, the presence and manoeuvres of other road users, and traffic rules. However, the complexity of the driving task is also very much under the driver's control because of his personal choices on driving speeds, following distances, and position. These choices may lead to either small or large safety margins, and are based on his personal estimates of his ability to deal with these traffic situations. In making these choices, inexperienced drivers in particular need to aim at large safety margins in order to compensate for their lack of experience. In reality, however, young inexperienced drivers tend to choose safety margins that are too small. To a large extent, this phenomenon is a consequence of the fact that this age group, tends to overestimate its skills and to underestimate the complexity of the traffic situation. This is particularly the case for young males.
Extensive practice is an essential prerequisite for developing expertise in a given task. To be successful, driving education should develop skills in the youngster that he/she will apply in real traffic. This implies that not only should the driver be able to apply what he has learnt, but he should also be motivated to do so. Therefore, driver training should ensure that the driver understands why he/she needs to execute tasks in a particular way, for instance to keep to the speed limit or not to drink and drive.
For experienced drivers, driving under normal circumstances is less demanding than for novice drivers. With practice, a task becomes more routine, requiring less mental capacity.
Inexperienced drivers need all their attention on the road, and cannot cope with additional tasks adequately, such as turning on the radio, or talking to a passenger. This limitation becomes highly visible in demanding and unexpected situations.
Other difficulties that the lack of experience will pose on novice drivers are their reduced ability to use peripheral information and their ability to detect hazards. That is, to discover, recognize and react against potentially dangerous situations in traffic. Several studies have shown that experienced and expert drivers detect hazards better and faster than novice ones, with the difference being even greater for hazards further away from the driver.