Probationary period for novice drivers - Monitoring and preventative intervention measures in Germany

05 May 2022 The Human Factor
In Germany, there is a hierarchy of measures that are taken if novice drivers commit traffic offenses during their probationary period. If someone goes through all the measures in the hierarchy and then violates the rules again, the person is defined as legally unfit to drive and has their driver’s license withdrawn. Offenses are split into serious (category A) and less serious offenses (category B) and the term “erheblichen Auffälligkeit” (significant violation) is defined in more detail. A driver is considered to have committed a “significant” violation if they have been caught committing a category A offense once or committing a category B offense twice. A-category (serious) offenses include driving through a red light or exceeding the speed limit by more than 21 km/h in a car. B-category (less serious) offenses include exceeding the speed limit by up to 20 km/h in a car.
Driver’s license holders who are in their probationary period are subject to particular monitoring during this time as part of the aforementioned three-stage system. This encompasses the following corrective measures: the first time a driver’s license holder commits a serious or two less serious offenses during their probationary period, the responsible driving license authority orders the driver to attend an advanced course. Drivers who commit alcohol or drugs-related offenses are obligated to attend a special advanced course run by psychologists. As well as fines and a driving ban of up to three months, anyone who demonstrates driving violations during their two-year probationary period is ordered to take part in this preventative measure, as it is well known that early substance-related violations in road traffic indicates that the offender will commit other relevant offenses. If the offender does not take part in the preventative measure, their driver’s license is withdrawn, or, if they apply for a new driver’s license, their application is rejected. The course programs focus on trying to motivate the participants to permanently change their attitude and behavior toward alcohol and/or drug consumption and on supporting them in changing their behavior. Through the provision of instructions on self-monitoring (for example keeping a drinking log), plugging knowledge gaps around the risks and effects of psychoactive substances, and improving behavior planning, the participants are aided in improving their competence.
If, after having attended the advanced course or the special advanced course, an offender commits another serious offense or two further less serious offenses within their probationary period, they enter stage two of the monitoring process and receive a written warning from the driver’s license authority. The driving license authority will also advise the offender to attend traffic psychology counseling within two months in order to identify and address any shortcomings in their attitude to road traffic and safe road use. As part of this, offense analyses and an evaluation of the driver’s strengths and weaknesses are usually carried out as a starting point for determining the change measures and then used to help them improve their road use behavior.
If, following stage two, the offender commits another serious offense or two further less serious offenses, their driver’s license is withdrawn. German law allows for up to three serious and up to six less serious traffic offenses during the probationary period before a novice driver is considered to be unfit to drive and has their driver’s license withdrawn. The affected driver is not allowed to drive a motor vehicle for at least six months and after that and has to undergo a medical and psychological fitness-to-drive evaluation. As part of this evaluation, the driver is assessed for whether the factors that caused their misdemeanor have changed in the meantime or remain a concern.


One way of improving road safety for novice drivers and young drivers is the use of feedback systems in the vehicle. They assist with information processing and help to prevent undesirable and risky driving behavior by monitoring driving style and providing direct feedback on any behavior that relates to safety.
The basic function of feedback systems is to filter for information from the surroundings that could be relevant for the driving task. This supports the driver in the anticipation of emerging hazard situations. Feedback systems are user-centric, provide feedback to the driver in real time, and continuously collect and analyze data. There are two types of feedback systems: attention-activating feedback systems and complete monitoring systems.
The former focus on specific behavior – they work on the basis of prediction and react or warn the driver if certain risks (tiredness, distance to the vehicle ahead, speed) are detected. For example, if there is danger of the driver falling asleep, the system will signal to the driver to take a break. Monitoring systems also monitor the driver’s behavior, but only analyze it retrospectively and then provide feedback. These systems also record safety-relevant factors, such as acceleration, speed, driving line, distance to the vehicle ahead, and similar variables.


The raw data is used to analyze situations that could represent (safety-)relevant incidents, for example, braking suddenly or veering out of lane. If certain limit values are exceeded, the system decides in which situation and at what time a risky driving maneuver occurred. This data is recorded, collated, and then fed back to the respective recipients, who could be the drivers, a family member (usually a parent), or the insurance company that provide the vehicle insurance. The latter sometimes use this information to create insurance tariffs, such as pay-as-you-drive tariffs, which are based on driving behavior. One example for Germany is the “Telematik Plus” tariff from HUK-Coburg previously described in the “Accident Statistics” chapter. The “Bonus Drive” telematics tariff from Allianz Insurance works on a similar basis. Drivers on this tariff have a monetary incentive to drive their car with particular caution, which helps to improve road safety overall. Parents can use the feedback to give their children tips on how to improve their driving behavior, as they are usually experienced drivers. The drivers themselves also learn from the feedback about what driving behavior at what point in time was safe and what risks were caused – and can then avoid these risks in future.
Studies have proven that, overall, the use of such feedback systems reduces safety-relevant incidents by up to 50 percent. Although there is still insufficient research into the link between the systems and actual traffic accidents, the data to date suggests the impact of feedback systems on accident risk is positive. It is most effective when feedback is provided to both the drivers and their parents, and providing feedback to the parents tends to be more effective than providing feedback solely to the drivers.


People sometimes have negative expectations and fears in terms of using feedback systems, which has prevented uptake of these systems from becoming more widespread. Some of the elements that concern people is data protection and privacy, as well as their independence, a lack of trust, and technological limitations, and so the number of people using these systems is limited. Young people fear that the systems could be used by their parents to monitor and punish them – which is not an unjustifiable fear. They also consider the monitoring aspect as undermining their newly gained independence through driving, and that their relationship with their parents could suffer. Affordability, however, represents the biggest hurdle. Parents who are concerned for their children’s safety tend to be more prepared to install the necessary devices.
To address these obstacles and tackle people’s concerns around using feedback systems, improving and simplifying the technical requirements for installing and using the systems is recommended. This could include making it possible to operate the systems via an app and making the user interface clear and easy to use. Furthermore, monetary incentives, for example in the form of the aforementioned pay-as-you-drive insurance tariffs, could provide a means of increasing people’s readiness to use these systems.
It is also important to clarify what the role of the parents is, which should be to improve their children’s driving behavior, and not to punish them. Parents, ultimately, also need a motivation to play their part, and they have to be involved in the process in a similar manner to the accompanied driving process. Protecting young car drivers’ data and privacy is of particular importance. The data collection process must be clear and transparent for all: what information is collected and what is it used for? Only necessary, exclusively safety-related data should be allowed to be collected. For example, GPS data should be recorded, but not shared with the young drivers’ parents, as otherwise there is the risk of it being used for monitoring. Another way of making feedback systems mainstream that should not be underestimated is through legislation. This could provide useful framework conditions, for example the mandatory use of feedback systems as part of driver training, during the probationary period, or as part of the Graduated Driver License model.


There are very few claims in specialist literature about the clear link between feedback and the laws of the psychology of learning on changes to behavior. It is well known that people learn best through success. If a certain behavior is followed by a pleasant consequence, this is called positive reinforcement. If an unpleasant consequence is removed, this is known as negative reinforcement. Both positive and negative reinforcements have both been proven to promote behavior in that they trigger an increase in the frequency of the behavior that preceded the consequence. Positive reinforcement is experienced as a reward, affirmation, or success and triggers positive emotions, such as joy or pride. Negative reinforcement is perceived as relieving, as it brings an end to an unpleasant state, such as fear or boredom. Conversely, the occurrence of undesirable behavior consequences is referred to as a punishment, which reduces the frequency of certain negative behavior and thus the person learns to avoid that behavior.


Learning psychology research results are unanimous in suggesting that punishments should not be expected to have much effect, as these suppress the behavior mostly only over the short term but do not completely eliminate the undesirable behavior. It would therefore appear sensible to explicitly reward safe behavior and to use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. What this might look like is exemplified by the following examples.
If a driver does not maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front, this could be signaled to the driver acoustically until a safe distance is reestablished. This would be a form of negative reinforcement, as the unpleasant warning signal stops. If a driver overtakes another vehicle without error and without endangering other road users, they could be rewarded for this, which would reinforce behavior that promotes road safety. Apart from verbal feedback, the driver could also collect hypothetical reward chips, which later on they could swap for vouchers or for a reduction in their probationary period. At nightfall, the driver should receive a signal to switch on the lights. If the young driver switches on the lights in time and upon their own initiative, this could be rewarded with reward chips. If the roads are icy or it is snowing, the driver could receive a warning about the road conditions by means of an acoustic signal or a notification on the display. If this causes the driver to reduce speed, this could be rewarded with verbal feedback such as “Good work for paying attention.”


These are just a few examples of how situation- based driving behavior can be directly influenced with positive feedback. Other possibilities include providing the driver with a journey feedback summary at the end of a drive. For example, if a person has driven along winding inter-urban road without cutting corners while keeping to the speed limit, they could be rewarded for this. A drive log could be displayed on the display showing what positive and negative situations occurred during the drive.
In summary, to protect lives and prevent physical injuries in road traffic, it is essential to constantly assess the effectiveness of existing road safety regulations in ensuring safety, and to optimize them if necessary. It would appear that, on a driver-vehicle interface level in terms of using technology to help young drivers habitually drive in a road-safety promoting manner, there is still considerable potential for development that must be used moving forward. It is also important to consider that constant preaching on road safety is not enough to turn people who will never be perfect into safe drivers. Lessons can also be learned in this area of behavior through the arduous task of acquiring experience, with a driver making mistakes and learning from these and so improving the behavior that led to the mistakes over the long term. Although it is a tiring method, it can be constructed in a smart, moderated, and target-group-specific manner through the ever-expanding pool of gained experience.
The next chapter “Technology” takes a closer look at how, on a driver-vehicle interface level, in addition to the feedback systems for young drivers, advanced driver assistance systems will become increasingly important in future to the continual improvement of road safety.