Measures to improve road safety: Basics of driver training

12 May 2022 The Human Factor
The frequent involvement of young drivers in accidents, their occasionally poor regard for traffic regulations, and the inappropriate actions that this might result in can be traced back to two key causes: youth-based risk and novice driver risk. Youth-based risk can be understood to mean the effect of an incomplete maturation process in terms of the brain restructuring itself, individual learning experiences, and social influences. As mentioned above, the consequences of this are the formation of attitudes that impair safety, an increased willingness to take risks, and a tendency to overestimate one’s abilities. Novice driver risk refers to the fact that novice drivers’ driving skills are not fully developed, as these skills are acquired through driving itself; in other words, they lack driving experience. This process includes the conversion of acquired factual knowledge into mental action programs, which are developed and refined through practice, feedback from other road users, trial-and-error learning, and negative experiences, such as near accidents or fines.
Drivers can build up effective mental action programs by methodically educating themselves on road safety and participating in road traffic through other modes of road use – for example, as a pedestrian, cyclist, or motor vehicle passenger. The importance of professional and educational programs that focus on imparting knowledge in closing the gap between self-evaluation and external evaluation, as well as the limits of human competence in traffic, must not be underestimated. It has also been recognized that the driving school training period should encompass more than just learning about vehicle handling and traffic regulations; driving training must be a time for imparting higher-level skills, such as a regard for safety, self-control, self-monitoring, and the acceptance of traffic rules. The theoretical basis for this is provided by the GDE matrix model.
The GDE matrix (Goals for Driver Education) is a competence-based theoretical model for driving behavior. It was introduced as part of the EU-funded research project GADGET, which stands for Guarding Automobile Drivers through Guidance Education and Technology. The basic framework of the GDE matrix (Figure 14) is based on empirical studies that research causes of accidents and describes five different levels of influencing factors on road use behavior. The levels are assumed to be hierarchical, with each level influencing the challenges for, decisions, and behavioral patterns of the driver on the next level down. As such, the following applies (from top to bottom, or from level 5 to level 1):
5. The social environment influences
4. the driver’s personal values and attitudes as well as life goals, which influence
3. the goals and context of driving, which in turn condition
2. how the driver masters traffic situations on the road.
1. Vehicle control and maneuvering in a certain traffic situation, i.e., vehicle operation, can be viewed as a synopsis of the higher levels 5 through 2.
The GDE matrix also has three columns in addition to the five levels:
  1. Knowledge and skill
  2. Risk-increasing factors
  3. Self-evaluation
The first column describes what knowledge and skills a driver requires across each of the five levels in order to drive safely. On the lowest level it relates to vehicle control and, with each ascending level, to aspects such as traffic rules, risk-related matters, and motives for driving. The second column contains risk-increasing factors on each level, from worn out tires, disobeying rules, and alcohol consumption through to dangerous driving motives and risky lifestyles. The third column concerns the driver’s ability for self-control with the prerequisite of realistic and adequate self-evaluation on each level. This starts with the ability to critically assess one’s vehicle control skills, one’s driving style, and one’s driving motives. The higher levels require the ability for self-reflection.
The GDE matrix can be used to determine training goals and training content in the context of driver training. Driving motives, attitudes, evaluation dispositions, cultural background and lifestyle preferences can be socialized and form homogeneous groups. Depending on one’s group affiliation and profile characteristics, this results in either a defensive and safe driving style or a reckless, risky one. The pivotal point is the ability to accurately judge one’s personal knowledge and ability on each level and for this to tie in with the desire to drive safely – i.e., the motivation to following basic traffic rules.



Driving motor vehicles on public roads is associated with extensive risks. For this reason, in Germany it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle on public roads without a valid driver’s license. According to German Road Transport Law, the issuing of a driver’s license is dependent on meeting the following seven conditions:
  1. Residence in Germany
  2. Minimum age
  3. Fitness to drive
  4. Training (according to driving instructor law)
  5. Competence (passing one’s driving test)
  6. First aid course
  7. Not possessing another driver’s license from an EU member state or a non-member state which is party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area.
Fitness to drive and competence form the main requirements in the right to have a driver’s license, as they have a direct influence on road safety. In the hierarchy of requirements, fitness to drive is conceived as a precondition for training and competence. To this effect, if the respective administrative authority is given information that someone who has applied for a driver’s license is not fit to drive, that person is not permitted to take the qualification examination until the deficiencies have been addressed. To be considered fit to drive, a person must meet the necessary physical and cognitive requirements and have not significantly or repeatedly violated traffic regulations or criminal law. Some of the factors that are relevant to someone’s fitness to drive include medical conditions or health impairments, which include a poor sense of sight or hearing, heart, vascular, and renal disorders, and issues resulting from alcohol and drug consumption and from taking medication.
Every time a driving license authority receives a first-time application for a driver’s license, it must identify whether there are any concerns regarding the applicant’s fitness to drive a motor vehicle. If this is the case, the applicant must undergo a medical and psychological evaluation, or medical evaluation. In special cases, such as a physical impairment due to a missing limb, the applicant must also undergo an evaluation from an officially approved expert or examiner. These evaluations help the driving license authority to make their decision.
If there a no concerns around the applicant’s fitness to drive, and the relevant registers, such as the Register of Driver Fitness (FAER) and the German Federal Central Register, do not contain any incriminatory data, the applicant is allowed to proceed with their driving theory and practical training. The core of this is teaching the applicable traffic rules, traffic signs, and traffic regulations. This includes the fundamental obligation to always be cautious and considerate in road traffic, and to avoid posing a hazard and causing damage to, obstructing, and causing disturbance to other road users.
In the driving theory examination, applicants have to answer questions on the risks of driving in traffic, how to behave in traffic, priorities and right of way, traffic signs, and vehicle- class-related material. In order to pass the exam, applicants must score approximately 90 percent. Applicants are only allowed to answer one right of way question incorrectly. The practical driving test for a car driver’s license lasts for at least 55 minutes and is then evaluated by the officially approved examiner and expert on the basis of a test report with clear error criteria. In general, the driver training concept practiced in Germany seems to be positively received. In the aforementioned DEKRA-commissioned Forsa survey, 92 percent of people surveyed stated that the training they received in driving school prepared them very well or well for driving in actual road traffic.



The legal and specialist requirements to be granted a driver’s license vary considerably – not only between continents, but between countries within continents, for example in Europe. One way in which countries differ is, for example, in the health checks associated with first-time driver’s license applications. Different countries have different methods for determining whether an applicant has any health defects that could impair driving safety. These range from self-declaration by the applicant and health screenings through to an assessment for certain areas of the body, such as the cardiovascular system, and for potential substance addiction (alcohol and/or drugs) conducted by a specialist physician (Luxembourg).
Some countries use certified organizations, whereas others utilize the communication channels within the general health system and empower primary care physicians or the health department doctor to transfer the required health data. In some countries, drivers are obligated to declare whether they have any conditions that could affect driving safety (e.g., Estonia, Finland, Great Britain, Ireland), whereas in other countries they are not obligated to do so (e.g., Denmark, Germany, Switzerland). In some countries (Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Portugal, Sweden), doctors are obligated to report any drivers with conditions that could impair the driving of a vehicle to the driving license authorities. In cases concerning temporary conditions, a medical certificate is usually required by the driver’s license office, and some countries withdraw a person’s license until further investigations have been carried out. In addition to a health check and a sight test, some countries require people to take a computer- based hazard perception test (Belgium and Great Britain).
Other aspects that vary between countries include the evidence and documents required for processing applications and the legal and technical framework conditions around training, testing, and downstream measures to prevent risks. The driver’s license licensing systems differ mainly in terms of the following: minimum age of applicant, type and scope of driver training (for example training curriculum, single-phase or multi-phase training), other parties involved (for example professional driving instructor or non-professional trainers – generally parents), importance of driving tests, and measures to ensure the desired road use behavior is ensured, improved, and remains stable over the long term.
One aspect that is particularly widespread is the concept of an official driving school. The idea behind this is that a fully qualified road traffic expert with the requisite specialist and teaching expertise should be in a better position to impart the relevant knowledge, skills, and capabilities in a manner that ensures they are carried over into driving practice over the long term. Driving school training is often formalized and includes explicit learning goals, learning schedules, and a systematic phase-based structure to the training including a close link between theory and practice. Beyond professional driving school training, Northern European countries in particular except Denmark as well as the Netherlands and Great Britain also use the opportunity to involve non-professional trainers in driver training.
Although drivers put substantial effort into completing their driver training, the results of a knowledge-heavy training course are comparatively modest. Driving tests merely ascertain a person’s knowledge about driving a vehicle and to what extent the candidates are able to apply this knowledge during a test drive – an artificial situation of a limited time period. Candidates who lack driving competence are therefore excluded from driving in public, as they do not pass their test and are not granted a driver’s license. However, what driving tests do not do is ascertain how a driver will behave in traffic in future, or what their general attitude is to accepting rules and adhering to traffic regulations. Evaluation studies have shown that it has not been possible to reduce the accident risk of novice drivers through driver training. Age and, in particular, driving experience have proven to be the decisive factors in this respect.


Some newly qualified drivers interpret passing their driving test as proof that they are already good drivers and have nothing more to learn. In fact, the opposite is true. This insight has brought about new approaches to driver training – approaches that combine a gradual transition to bearing responsibility for the vehicle as the driver with learning from the expertise and driving experience of close family members.
In France, for example, there is a combination of driving school training and accompanied driving. First, trainee drivers attend driving theory classes and complete 20 practical lessons. Then they sit the theory test. After this, they are allowed to practice with a family member who has a certain amount of driving experience. Trainee drivers are allowed to be accompanied by a person who has held a driver’s license for at least five consecutive years and has completed a special training course. Accompanied driving runs for at least one year and comprises at least 3,000 kilometers within France. It is also mandatory for trainee drivers to attend two educational seminars (with their accompanying person). Everything has to be documented in a course book. France has also introduced a points system. Beginners who have just received their driver’s license receive six points as a form of credit. After three years of driving experience, they receive the full driver’s license with twelve points. If they commit any traffic offenses, points are deducted. Once their points credit is used up, their driver’s license becomes invalid.
Driver training in Austria is structured into multiple phases. First, trainee drivers complete their theory training with 16 course units, their practical training with 18 hours of driving, including preparing for the test stage, and the theory and practical tests. After being granted permission to drive a subcompact car, for example, trainee drivers have to complete a second training phase. For this, they have to complete three modules within one year after passing their driver’s license (subcompact): an initial advanced feedback drive with a driving instructor (two to four months after being granted permission to drive), a driving safety training course with a traffic psychology element (three to nine months after being granted permission to drive), and a second advanced feedback drive (six to twelve months after being granted permission to drive).
For the example of the multi-phase training for subcompact cars, in the approximately twohour advanced feedback drives, which comprise a practical part and a feedback part (50 minutes), particular attention is paid to where the driver directs their eyes, to what extent the driver’s driving style is accident-avoiding and defensive, and environmentally conscious and fuel-saving, and to their social behavior toward other road users. The feedback part focuses on the most prominent aspects of the person’s driving competence. The second advanced feedback drive focuses on elements relating to an environmentally conscious and fuel-saving driving style, including measuring fuel consumption and drive duration, as well as a discussion of the key points of an environmentally conscious and fuel-saving driving style. The advanced feedback drives can be completed in a driving school of choice and in the person’s own vehicle.
The other module comprises a driving safety training course with a traffic psychology element. It focuses on strategies for dealing with hazards (for example, braking exercises and evasive maneuvers). Driving safety training for subcompacts consists of six teaching units in total and is split into a theory part (one teaching unit) and a practical part (five teaching units). This is followed by a traffic psychology group discussion on the same day, in which mainly types of accident and risk factors, such as sensation seeking, are discussed. This group discussion is divided into two lots of 50 minutes.


The Graduated Driver License (GDL) concept is the idea of gradually extending a person’s permission to drive over three phases. It was developed by Waller and Reinfurt in the 1970s. The first time the system was introduced in the USA was in Florida in 1996, but in other countries it appeared earlier than this, for example in 1987 in New Zealand. The aim of the GDL is to support young drivers in learning the necessary skills and capabilities, and for them to benefit from the expertise and feedback of the people accompanying them to help minimize their risk of having an accident. The basic principle of the GDL is that trainee drivers obtain their driver’s license over the course of several stages. It combines the concept of accompanied driving with restrictions which include a ban on driving at certain times of the day so that critical driving situations per se are excluded. The individual stages are generally not age-dependent, but are based on the learners’ amount of experience.
The GDL starts with a mandatory stage of accompanied driving: the Learner License (LL). When they obtain this LL, novice drivers are only allowed to drive a motor vehicle when accompanied by an experienced and officially recognized adult supervisor. This role is usually assumed by the novice driver’s parents. The period of time for which an LL is valid is different in the various states in the USA, and is between six and twelve months. Once novice drivers have spent a certain amount of time driving with their supervisor and acquired sufficient driving experience, they are allowed to apply for the second stage of the GDL. The Intermediate License, also called the Provisional or Restricted License, permits a novice driver to drive a car without an accompanying person, albeit with restrictions. These restrictions include, in particular, the number of other passengers allowed in the vehicle (in addition to the accompanying person) or the exclusion of night time driving. In the USA, car drivers with an Intermediate License are not allowed to drive alone after 10 pm or 12 am, for example. This is grounded in the evidence-based assumption that there is a significantly higher accident risk for young drivers at night. The number of other people of the same age allowed in the car is also often restricted to one.
After successfully completing the second stage, the novice drivers receive their Full License (FL). Holders of Full Licenses are allowed to drive without restrictions, no longer require supervision, are allowed to drive at night, and can have more than one person in the vehicle with them. They are, however, subject to certain age-dependent regulations. For example, in the USA, people up to the age of 21 who have a Full License are not allowed to drive after consuming alcohol. Alcohol consumption itself is still illegal at this age.


Novice drivers in New Zealand also undergo the same GDL process that has just been outlined. Before young people in New Zealand with a Learner License are allowed to drive a car, they must be at least 16 years old. Applicants must also pass a theory exam, in which they are tested on traffic regulations. As described above, they can then drive with certain restrictions. They have to designate a person who will accompany them as supervisor. The supervisor must have been in possession of a Full License for at least two years and must themselves not be subject to any restrictions. Other passengers are allowed in the car, as long as the accompanying person permits this. Novice drivers under 20 are not allowed to drink alcohol. People over 20 are allowed to drive with a maximum of 250 micrograms per liter of breath alcohol concentration, which roughly equates to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 BAC. The LL is mandatory for six months, with the learner being recommended to accumulate 120 hours of driving practice, and is valid for a maximum of five years. After this period, it can either be renewed, or the novice drivers can apply for the next level – Restricted License (RL).
Before novice drivers can receive their RL, they have to pass a practical driving test. They have to be at least 16.5 years old to apply for this. The RL also has a minimum period for which it must be held and a maximum validity period. Novice drivers under 25 must have driven a car with their RL for at least 18 months before they can apply for the FL, although this time frame can be shortened. They can apply for their FL after just twelve months if they have completed an advanced driving course. The minimum time for which novice drivers over 25 have to hold their RL is six months, but can be shortened to three months by taking an advanced driving course. The maximum time novice drivers can drive with their RL is also five years. After this, they have to pass another theory test to extend it, or they can apply for a Full License. Driving with a Restricted License also comes with restrictions. For example, novice drivers who have their RL can drive alone, but only between 5 am and 10 pm. Night time driving is only allowed with the designated supervisors, and only one other passenger is allowed in the car. Although driving with another passenger is only permitted without the presence of the supervisor under certain conditions. In terms of alcohol limit values, the same rules apply as for the LL.
A person must be at least 18 years old to be granted a Full License, or 17.5 if they have completed an advanced driving course, on the condition that they have had their sight tested and passed a practical driving test. The driving test lasts for around 30 minutes with a driving examiner, who evaluates the driver’s hazard perception ability and asks them to name aloud all of the hazards that they notice during the drive.