We've all had that moment when a young driver pulls up alongside us at the traffic lights, stereo booming, and starts revving their engine. As the lights change and they squeal off into the distance it's easy to think that all young and newly-qualified drivers are anti-social lunatics; speed-crazy and without a care in the world.
But is it fair to tar all young drivers with the same brush? And if there's a trend among newly-qualified drivers for dangerous or antisocial driving, what's being done to tackle it? The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is conducting a public consultation into the learning process, but just how bad is the problem?
Learning to drive is an exciting time for most people: driving can be fun, and getting around easily can prove a massive advantage. "The best thing about driving is the freedom it brings me," explains 18-year-old Josh. "I live in the countryside with very little public transport available to me. So for me, having a car is great!"
Annabel, a 26-year old currently preparing for her first test, can also see the difference driving will make to her life. "Going to see family easily will be great," she says. "I live only two hours' drive away from my parents but at the moment it take me up to four hours and £40 to get there."
Young drivers = bad drivers?
It takes time to perfect anything, and with the sheer range of roads, drivers, traffic and weather in the UK, driving can be a challenge. But while there's no such thing as a typical driver, a look at the UK's accident statistics does reveal that young drivers face - and pose - much higher risks.
According to the accident-prevention charity RoSPA, 3,000 drivers under the age of 25 are killed or seriously injured on our roads each year. A worrying 20% crash in the first year after they pass their test, while a typical 18-year-old is three times more likely to have an accident than a 48-year-old.
Car insurance companies base their premiums on such statistics, so it's no surprise that insurance for young drivers costs more: on average, they're a higher risk.
Older and wiser
The risk is something that plays on parents' minds, too. Derek, in his late 50s, taught three of his children to drive. "When you're older you're so much more aware of horrible things that can happen," he says.
"For me, the biggest frustration was getting them to understand that control of the clutch was the most important skill to master, that once control of the car was automatic - when they could start off and change gear without thinking - then they could actually concentrate on driving.
"Until they mastered this, there were some difficult moments. My step-son famously demolished a bollard in Safeway car park and virtually wrote off our Volvo."
In its leaflet on safer driving for parents and young drivers, RoSPA says that young drivers are put at risk by their lack of experience, their attitude to driving and the influence of their friends on their behaviour behind the wheel. So what's being done to improve newly-qualified drivers' skills and behaviour on the road?
PassPlus is one of the main initiatives. It's a training scheme for new drivers that aims to improve their confidence, and to reduce the risk of their being involved in a crash. Established and run by the DSA, it's supported by the Department for Transport and the driving instruction industry.
Under the scheme, newly-qualified drivers are able to take extra lessons spanning a wider range of experiences than the driving test itself covers. The modules cover driving in busy towns and quiet country roads, in adverse weather, at night, and on dual carriageways and motorways - the overall aim is to help new drivers better cope with real-life driving.
The course isn't compulsory, and it costs money, but PassPlus drivers qualify for a substantial discount with participating insurers. Around 750,000 people pass their practical test for a car driver's license each year. In the twelve months to September 2008, 92,901 PassPlus certificates were issued.
"I think I won't be doing the motorway and night driving lessons," says Annabel. "I will want to just test it out for myself."
She adds that she hopes to have driven in most circumstances and asked all the important questions before sitting her test. "Everything I am learning feels useful. I never realised before how much I look at the way others drive and at road signs and so-on - I have picked up quite a bit!"
Learning never ends
Another thing that all new drivers need to pick up from this month is so-called 'eco-safe driving', the DSA's initiative to school drivers in smooth and economical car control. Although it's not included in the test, driving examiners will be 'encouraging' drivers to demonstrate enhanced planning and awareness on the road - improving safety and fuel economy.
Tim is 36 and has been driving since 1989. He wonders what he could learn from a DSA leaflet that he hasn't learned in 19 years on the road. "I've driven at night, in snow, on motorways, abroad, with a van full of furniture and alone in a sports car," he says, "the best way to learn is to get out and do it.
"I already keep the revs down and drive smoothly, and as fuel prices have gone up I've backed off the speed a bit more. I'm not sure there's anything else a driver can do," he adds.
Meanwhile, Derek jokes that teaching his children to drive made him "realise that I'm a perfect driver".
One thing experienced drivers certainly shouldn't be doing is passing on their bad habits, but it's easily done. Common driving habits like resting your hand on the gear leaver or leaning an arm out of an open window could result in a test failure, while not indicating or using mirrors appropriately almost certainly will.
If you're planning on helping to teach another driver, RoSPA's Helping L Drivers site recommends that you make sure that you, the learner driver and your car are all within the law - there are age, experience and insurance restrictions that must all be satisfied. If you need more information, you can download RoSPA's PDF booklet.
Whatever you do, teaching somebody to drive is a serious responsibility and an opportunity to influence their future safety. By teaching them properly and with care, you can help to make sure they stay safe on the roads.