On April 3 in Paris, 16 speakers from the world of research, education, psychology and driver training faced a grilling by a jury on the subject of France’s accompanied driving programme ‘AAC’. Despite a lot of positive elements on paper (at least 20 hours of practical driving lessons followed by 3000kms of accompanied driving interspersed with regular feedback sessions with a driving instructor, spread over at least 1 year), a number of evaluations in its 25-year history have yet to reveal a lower accident rate for these drivers. AAC candidates have a considerably higher pass rate at the practical driving test but the expected reduction in accidents in the crucial post-test period has not materialised. Following the conference, the jury considered the evidence and submitted recommendations to the French Minister of Transport on how AAC can be improved.
A recent process evaluation by the French road safety research centre INRETS revealed a number of problems related to the practical implementation of the AAC programme, including a lack of variety in the roads and conditions practised in, ineffective use of the feedback sessions with a driving instructor and a frequent failure to complete the 3000kms required by the programme. There may also be a problem linked to the 3000km requirement. Whilst Swedish experience suggests that 120 hours (or ~6000km) of accompanied practice can significantly reduce novice driver accident risk, research in Norway suggests that lower amounts can give the learner the ‘illusion of having mastered driving’ without the necessary skills in reality. This overconfidence may go some way towards explaining the lack of safety improvements amongst the target group.
The jury finally decided on the following recommendations, deciding not only to propose improvements to the existing AAC programme, but also to recommend the introduction of measures designed to encourage learner drivers following the traditional (driving school-only) training to benefit from accompanied driving experience before the driving test:
- For learners under 18 years old, following the AAC programme, the obligation to complete at least 3000km of accompanied driving in a period of not less than one year should be maintained. In addition, these learners should be encouraged to drive between 5000 and 7000km and to increase the variety of driving situations they practise in.
- For those over 18 years old, a phase of accompanied and supervised driving has been proposed, following initial driving school training, lasting at least 3 months (before the test) and including a list of situations to experience.
- An “official’ guide should be published to support the accompanying person, especially to prepare this person for the role.
- Accompanying persons should be more involved in the learning process, including during the initial driving school training.
- E-learning measures should be developed for the accompanying persons
- A wide variety of different accompanying persons should be encouraged for each learner
- The self-evaluation process of the learner driver should be encouraged, especially by integrating specific forms in the learner logbook
- The feedback sessions during the accompanied driving period should be re-defined, for developing exchange of experience and revitalised dialogue between the learner driver, accompanying person, driving instructor and driving examiner.
Moreover, there appears to be a growing recognition in France of the need for some form of training and education on the motivational, emotional and social aspects of driving, as reflected by levels 3 and 4 of the GDE matrix. The system as a whole should continue to fit into a licensing regime which includes a strict probationary period for novice drivers (already introduced in 2004).