Sydney, Australia — “Boys will be boys” is a phrase that may no longer fly in Australia’s southernmost state, as the New South Wales (NSW) government weighs out a controversial proposal that could restrict men under the age of 21 from applying for a driver’s licence.
Reports have been emerging about a startling spike in road fatalities among Australia’s young people, with particular focus on the ratio of male to female victims in these incidents.
According to data collected by The Guardian, 48 women were killed in car accidents in NSW this year, compared to 155 men—more than triple, and tracking perfectly with the ten years of crash data collected between 2011 and 2021, which has seen that 3:1 ratio carry through the decade.
Most recently spurred on by the tragic deaths of five teenagers in a Sydney suburb at the beginning of September, Australian safety experts are calling on their government to make concrete changes to the law that prevent the riskiest youth drivers from going behind the wheel.
“The first six months of licensing, in particular, people are very vulnerable to crashes,” said president of the Australasian College of Road Safety, Ann Williamson.
“It’s not that the road authorities and the policy decision-makers aren’t aware, there are a number of restrictions on inexperienced and novice young drivers … but it’s not enough. It clearly isn’t enough.”
For Williamson, the end goal of fewer youth fatalities justifies the means of what she proposes might get to the root of this whole problem.
“Undoubtedly, some young novice drivers will be better than others. If we can identify those who perhaps are likely to be inherently more risky and limit their licensing, make that a little bit later,” said Williamson.
“Young males, perhaps they should be 21 or 22, before they get their licence. This is very controversial stuff but these are all things to think about.”
Furthermore, experts on risk and injury also feel it is time to face facts and delve into the reasons behind gendered risk trends such as this.
“Men are overrepresented in injury from pretty much the time that we can crawl. It’s no different with driving and I think we’re increasingly understanding that we do need to actually start putting a gender lens on that,” said Rebecca Ivers, professor at the University of NSW and leader of a global research program focusing on the prevention and management of injury.
“They do tend to take more risks. We need to start saying ‘why is that and how do we do something about that?’”
Ivers says she would like to see communities working together at the ground level of these sorts of issues.
“There’s a system failure,” said Ivers.
“What about the laws, about the education, about the training, about campaigns? How do we get families and communities involved? As a community, we need to start taking some responsibility.”
Williamson’s proposal was met with relative disinterest from NSW premier Dominic Perrottet, who said “I really don’t believe today is the time to be talking about public policy decisions. If there are public policy decisions to be made, we will.”