Revisiting P Plate Restrictions: Could there be alternatives?

Katherine McCallum
Jan 29, 2024
min read
Close up of red car with red P plate to indicate driver is on provisional licence

In Queensland, the government has adopted a decidedly strict approach to P Plate restrictions due to a range of concerns that primarily revolve around public safety. Studies show that newly qualified drivers, particularly those aged between 17 and 20, are more prone to fatal road accidents and are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviours such as speeding and not wearing seat belts. From this perspective, the introduction of restrictive P Plate rules was viewed as a necessary measure to mitigate such risks.

Are the restrictions justified or could there be other approaches to balance personal freedoms with the safety of others on the road?

First we look at what the restrictions are, then the arguments for and against the current restrictions before looking at some alternative ideas to balance safety with personal freedoms.

What are the P plate restrictions in Queensland?

Here's a brief summary of the current restrictions.

  • Newly licenced drivers must display a red P-plate (P1) for the first year. The rationale is that newly qualified drivers lack experience and are most at risk.  This is backed up by data showing the risk of a fatal crash for P Plate drivers is highest in the first six months of driving.
  • P1 drivers are subjected to a zero alcohol limit, restricted passenger laws and night driving restrictions. P Plate drivers have a higher likelihood of being involved in crashes during night-time hours.
  • P1 drivers under 25 years old cannot use mobile devices in any way including bluetooth even if hands-free in a dock or via Apple Carplay/Android Auto.
  • After one year, P1 drivers progress to a green P-plate (P2), which they must display for two years.
  • P2 drivers must maintain a zero alcohol limit but do not have restricted passenger or night driving rules.
  • P-plate drivers cannot accumulate more than four demerit points in a year before facing suspension.
  • If no offences are committed, full licensing privileges are granted after three years on P-plates.
  • Certain high power vehicles are restricted

The primary aim of these P Plate restrictions is to slowly introduce novice drivers to all aspects of driving. This phased approach is underpinned by the belief that, with experience, drivers become safer, develop better driving habits, and learn to manage risk better.

Furthermore, the rules present a deterrence factor. Illicit behaviours such as drink-driving are heavily penalised, sending a clear message to young drivers about the repercussions of not adhering to the rules. In essence, P Plate restrictions are a combination of state guidance, enforced learning, and deterrent measures, all of which are intended to enhance safety on Queensland's roads.

The Pros and Cons of Current Restrictions on New Drivers

Here are some of the arguments that have been made for and against the current P-plate arrangements.

Pros of Current Restrictions

  • Road Safety: The restrictions imposed on new drivers heighten road safety, serving to shield both the inexperienced drivers and fellow road users from potential accidents. The introduction of P Plate restrictions has led to a decrease in the number of young driver fatalities in Queensland.
  • Improved Driving Skills: In many instances, these requirements necessitate new drivers to improve their driving skills, ensuring that they are not just licence-holders but proficient road users.
  • Encouragement for Ongoing Learning: The perimeters often necessitate ongoing training and testing, ensuring that new drivers continue to cultivate their skills and knowledge, thereby staying abreast of the latest traffic norms.

Cons of Current Restrictions

  • You get off your P plates based purely on time from when you got your licence, regardless of how much your driver skills have improved from when you took your test.
  • No access to phone based navigation including via Apple Carplay and Android Auto - Many P platers lack access to cars with their own built in navigation and can't access the clear navigation of phone based map apps which help drivers prepare for turns, get in the correct lane and warn of upcoming hazards. It could be argued that having new drivers who are still learning the roads could increase risks.
  • Restricts Independence: For many young drivers, these regulations may bandy their independence, making it difficult for them to transit at will or undertake long drives.
  • Undue Pressure: The strict consequences of minor misdemeanours could cause undue stress, potentially leading them to make even riskier decisions on the road.
  • Stymie Social Development: Public transportation may not be a feasible alternative in all circumstances, and the prohibitions on new drivers can possibly hamper their social activities and job prospects which require a full licence.
  • Arguments of Discrimination: Young people might feel targeted by some restrictions since not all mature drivers are necessarily safer drivers.
  • Some of the safest pre-2010 cars are restricted: Young drivers tend to have lower budgets and therefore have older cars. Queensland P-plate regulations restrict turbo-charged vehicles made before 2010 despite this being common as a fuel-saving engine design on many European cars such as the VW Golf. It's possible to apply for an exception but it makes the process harder.

However, despite any cons, the evidence shows that although only 15% of licence holders are aged between 17 to 25, they contribute to 25% of yearly road fatalities. As a result, some form of additional restrictions aimed at reducing serious accidents is wise.

It compels us to consider, why exactly are young drivers overrepresented in fatal accidents?

The factors responsible are lack of experience and supervision, the use of older vehicles, succumbing to peer pressure, and higher propensity for risky behaviours.

Studies suggest that P-platers are more likely to indulge in risky driving than their L-plater counterparts. With their transition to independent driving, young drivers, now unsupervised by a parent, guardian or driving instructor, may experience a heady sense of freedom that results in risky driving. Combined with their relative inexperience, the risk magnifies considerably.

Ideas for alternatives

Examining the current P Plate system prompts a discussion on possible modifications that could be made to optimise it. Several alternatives that merit consideration are:

  • Acceleration of P Plate phase through an Advanced Driver Course Certification: This would involve drivers going through an advanced training course, post which they can phase off the P Plates earlier than usual. The intention behind this is to instil confidence, not just in the process, but also in the driver who now possesses enhanced skills, leading to a safer journey on the road. Despite this, one must not dismiss the importance of having a certain amount of experience before transitioning from the P Plate.
  • Reducing restrictions with the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Driver Monitoring Systems: This system makes use of AI computer vision equipment, which effectively monitors driver behaviour, offering a continuous analysis of the driving style. The equipment is directly plugged into vehicles' In-car Multimedia Entertainment (IME) systems, thereby providing a detailed evaluation. This can facilitate the lifting of some restrictions, as long as the AI system monitors and confirms the appropriateness of the driver's behaviour.
  • Introducing higher fines for P Plate drivers that breach restrictions: A further increase in fines for breaches could serve as a deterrent to P Plate drivers violating road rules, thus promoting adherence to rules which are primarily designed to ensure safety.

Such changes are envisaged not only to make the journey from being a novice to an experienced driver easier but also to ensure road safety and reduce traffic mishaps.

Assessing the Strictness and Effectiveness of Queensland's P Plate System

Despite certain criticisms, the available data overwhelmingly supports the proclaimed benefits of the current regulations. Primarily, these rules aim not to inflict excessive burdens on inexperienced drivers but to ensure the safety of all road users to reduce accidents causing injuries and fatalities.

New technological innovations or policy changes may allow the scheme to be modified but any changes would have to demonstrate a positive outcome in injury reduction.

Share this post
Back to Articles
Next Article

If it's time to talk, we're here to help. Get free advice direct from our solicitors today.

Our company and team are members of