Why anyone who genuinely wants to see safer roads should join the ABD
In 1966, UK road deaths reached a postwar peak of 7,985. Thirty years later, despite the number of vehicles on the roads rising from 12 million to 26.3 million, that figure had more than halved to 3,598 — a major public policy success that is not given the recognition it deserves.
The reasons for this are fairly well understood:
- The provision of a network of motorways and high-quality dual carriageways taking through traffic away from town centres and inadequate single-carriageway A-roads.
- Improvements in the primary and secondary safety of vehicles so they are less likely to crash in the first place and less likely to injure their occupants and other road users if they do.
- A reduction in death and injury resulting from the general adoption of seat belts and motorcycle crash helmets.
- A dramatic fall in drunken driving achieved through a combination of high-profile publicity campaigns and intensive enforcement.
- An increased level of expertise amongst highway engineers of how to re-engineer roads and junctions to reduce the level of accidents.
- A series of memorable road safety education campaigns, such as "Think Bike", "Remember the green cross code" and "Only a fool breaks the two second rule".
However, in the past few years the rate of reduction in road casualties has slowed to a trickle and indeed actually reversed. The ABD believes this is because the proven safety policies pursued in previous years, which have brought about such clear improvements, have been largely abandoned in favour of a "one-club golfer" approach of reducing traffic speeds through a combination of ever lower limits, "traffic calming" and the replacement of trained police traffic officers with speed cameras on clear roads.
This policy is fundamentally misguided, not to say downright irresponsible, and is not going to deliver the hoped-for benefits. The ABD believes instead that improvements in safety can be brought about by sensible measures across a range of areas, as listed below. It also believes that there is one significant policy option that has not yet been seriously tried, but does offer the strong possibility of achieving real advances in safety, namely improved training.
- First, and most importantly, there must be a greatly increased emphasis on road user training, including:
- Providing stronger incentives for newly qualified drivers to take the "Pass Plus" course.
- Ensuring that all newly qualified drivers receive training on motorway driving, where practicable.
- Encouraging more drivers to follow advanced driving courses such as those offered by the IAM and RoSPA.
- Encouraging companies to invest in training their fleets of drivers, something that has been proved to achieve significant reductions in accident rates.
- Requiring drivers found guilty of dangerous or careless driving offences to undertake retraining rather than simply meting out punishment.
- "Education, education, education" should become the mantra of road safety.
- There should be greatly increased expenditure on building new roads and improving existing ones, to take through traffic out of built-up areas and eliminate conflicting traffic movements by the provision of grade separated junctions.
- Local authorities should work to eliminate the record backlog of expenditure on road maintenance to get rid of the ever-growing number of cracks and potholes that endanger all road users, but particularly those on two wheels. Councils should not be allowed to get away with statements like "potholes are an effective form of traffic calming".
- Local authorities should invest in genuine safety improvement measures based on statistical analysis of accident causation rather than questionable traffic calming schemes.
- It should be impressed on all road users — not just drivers — that they must take a share of the responsibility for their own safety. Of course drivers have a duty of care towards more vulnerable road users, but far too many cyclists and pedestrians needlessly put themselves at risk by careless, unobservant behaviour.
- There should be a crackdown on driving by uninsured, unlicensed and disqualified drivers who are responsible for a grossly disproportionate number of accidents.
- The ABD supports the use of speed and red light cameras at recognised blackspots with a clear record of accidents caused by excessive speed. All cameras should be highly visible day and night with the objective of deterring unsafe driving, not catching drivers out.
- Speed limits should be set on a consistent basis appropriate to road conditions and determined by established safety criteria, particularly the 85th percentile rule. Inappropriate and inconsistent speed limits send out a confusing message to drivers and devalue limits that are necessary.
- Traffic policing, downgraded by many forces in recent years, should be restored as a core police function with the aim of identifying and deterring genuinely dangerous and irresponsible behaviour on the roads.
- Local authorities should be prevented from introducing deliberately confusing and ambiguous road layouts and reducing sightlines at junctions — policies implemented in a misguided attempt to reduce speeds that have the effect of increasing risk.
- More public information campaigns should be mounted to remind road users about the whole range of dangerous behaviour such as tailgating and using mobile phones.
Currently, speed reduction has become the main plank of road safety policy, despite many studies that have shown that excessive speed is only a primary factor in a small proportion of accidents (around 5-6%) and that most accidents are caused by failures of observation and poor judgment of risk. The ABD recognises that a minority of drivers do travel at inappropriate and dangerous speeds on our roads but does not accept that reducing the speeds of already safe drivers will make any difference to casualties. "Keep your eyes peeled" would be a far better slogan than "Kill your speed".
An inappropriate emphasis on driving more slowly leads to an erosion of driving skills and will make drivers less able to judge appropriate speeds and to cope with hazardous situations when they arise. It also encourages drivers in the dangerous belief that simply by keeping within the speed limit they are driving safely and there is no need for them either to exercise proper vigilance or reduce their speed further when conditions require it. An inattentive driver can do serious damage at very slow speeds.
The ABD believes that the present approach to road safety is unlikely to pay significant dividends unless speeds are reduced to the extent that drivers cannot do any serious damage to people or vehicles, in other words returning to something very like the Victorian "Red Flag" law.
Anyone with a genuine interest in reducing death and injury on our roads (rather than simply making using the roads more frustrating and unpleasant) should join the ABD to campaign for real road safety.
Promoting effective road safety instead of the criminalisation of safe driving