Road Safety campaigns have been a feature of our lives since the government starting trying to cut casualty rates in the 1970s. Although the campaigns are frequently controversial, there’s little doubt that the messages they deliver have reduced the number of injuries and deaths on the roads. Even in the last few years there’s been a dramatic drop in road deaths and injuries. The average between 2005 and 2009 was 2816 deaths per year, but in the 12 months leading up ending 30th June 2013, just 1730 died on our roads, representing a 39% decrease in death on the road. The most dangerous roads in the United States are also high in fatalities as well as some of the United Kingdom’s most dangerous roads and districts. Yet while accident rates have declined, our roads are far from safe and we shouldn’t be complacent. Local newspapers are full of stories of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists being injured or killed on our roads, and typically the party at fault was a car driver not following basic safety rules. In this guide we’ll look at how you can improve your own driving, how safe our roads really are, ways that telematics technology is improving road safety as well as safety for specific groups more likely to be involved in road traffic incidents.
How to be a better driver
Ditch the distractions
With mobile in their hand, three or four text conversations to keep up on, tweets to send, phone calls to answer, radio station to change, and the sunset to document on Instagram, drivers, particularly young drivers, often have their attention on anything but the road. Using a hand held phone behind the wheel has been illegal in the UK since 2003, but enforcement is often lax. Harrowing campaigns and high profile stories of thumb-twiddling drivers and the deadly crashes they cause mean that more than half of Brits know using a mobile phone, even with the legal hand free kit, while driving is hazardous.
[pullquote align=”left”]fully 44% of young drivers admit to texting at the wheel, compared to 27% of older drivers[/pullquote]But despite warnings, stiff penalties, and increased insurance bills, drivers often find themselves scrambling for their phones when it bleeps or when they’re idling at a red light. A 2012 survey of British drivers found that 42% admit to using hand-held phones behind the wheel, with 20% admitting to sending a text while driving and 2% admitting to reading Facebook or Twitter updates on the move. Novice drivers are more likely to flout the rules than older drivers: fully 44% of young drivers admit to texting at the wheel, compared to 27% of older drivers. 21% of those same young motorists confessed to using apps, email, or browsing the internet while operating a vehicles, compared to just 9% of older drivers. Texting and the use of hand-held devices have been widely reported to cause more impairment behind the wheel than driving while intoxicated or under the use of cannabis, and in the U.S. the number of teens killed in crashes caused by texting recently outpaced those killed in drink driving accidents. For increased safety–and savings on insurance–drivers should keep their phones in the pockets at all times, even while waiting in traffic or at red lights. Drivers should also think twice about using hands-free phones and sat navs, which have been shown to decrease attentiveness and performance behind the wheel.
If you need to make an urgent call or send a text, find a safe place pull off and park. Avoid pulling onto the shoulder of a motorway to make a call except in emergency and always turn on your hazard lights to alert passing cars of your presence when the highway code calls for you to do so. Worried about a teen texting behind the wheel? There are a number of apps on the market for both iOS and Android devices to discourage novice drivers from texting. DriveOFF (free for Android) detects when drivers are traveling at more than 10mph and stops incoming calls and text messages and shuts down any other apps that may be distracting. DriveScribe (free on iPhone and Android) gives parents a more hands-on approach to managing their teen’s driving. The app blocks texts messages and calls while the vehicle is in motion and monitors speeds and instructs drivers to slow down if they’re going too fast. It also allows parents to access a report about their teen’s driving, logging any time the driver exceeded the speed limit or ran a stop sign.
Safely share the road with cyclists
After Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and British cyclists performed amazingly in the Olympics, it seemed that the whole country had decided to dust off their own bike and take it out of the garage and back onto the streets. The number of cyclists on the roads is increasing for other reasons too: the recession has put some off the high costs of motoring, while others are keen to get fit without needing to join a gym. Whatever the reason, you’re far more likely to encounter a cyclist while driving today than you were a few years ago. Yet many of us have forgotten how we were trained to react to their presence.
[pullquote align=”right”]the number of child cyclists killed on our roads increased 117% in just a year[/pullquote]Cyclists don’t need to pass any tests to be on the road, and this means some are more skilled and safe than others. It’s therefore important not to preempt that the cyclist will follow the same rules of the road as you, or expect them to act in a certain way. The best way to avoid incidents is to give them space so that even the most unpredictable cyclist won’t come into collision with your vehicle. The most common accident involving motorists and cyclists occur at junctions where the cyclist is going straight on while the motorist is turning. Always check your mirrors before turning to the left at junctions as they may be going forward at the side of your vehicle, and look for cyclists as you would for other drivers at all junctions. When overtaking cyclists give them at least the width of a car door between yourself and their bike, and if possible treat them as you would another car. On narrow roads not being able to safely overtake might be annoying, but staying back and waiting until you can safely could prevent a serious accident.
Mind the elements
Snow, ice, rain, and fog can dramatically transform road conditions, often very quickly. Drivers, particularly young and inexperienced ones, need to stay informed about the weather and be aware of several important strategies for driving safely under adverse conditions. In 2007 there were 369 people killed, nearly 4,000 people badly injured, and around 25,000 slightly injured in car accidents involving inclement weather. Last year slippery roads were a contributing factor in 9% of crashes involving young drivers, but 0% of older drivers. Experience clearly plays a role in keeping drivers save on rain or ice-slicked roads: new drivers often don’t know to drive slowly in the rain or haven’t had practice maneuvering out of a skid. But while driving in heavy snow may require specialist equipment and a full arsenal of driving tricks borrowed from Ice Road Truckers, amateur motorists can safely arrive home after a light British snow or rain with a little bit of know-how and a lot of caution.
[pullquote align=”left”]In 2007 there were 369 people killed in car accidents involving inclement weather[/pullquote]Whether you’re contending with icy roads, falling sleet, or pea soup fog, the most important thing to remember is to drive slowly and carefully. On slippery roads, avoid high revs, sudden braking, and sharp turns: maneuver as smoothly as possible. Double or even triple your stopping distance and keep more space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If you begin to skid, take your foot off the pedal, steer into the skid, slowly release the accelerator, and most importantly, don’t brake. When visibility is reduced by fog, rain, or spray, turn on headlights or fog lights but be aware of drivers who won’t be using them. Slow down, increase the distance between you and the car in front, and check your mirrors before you slow down. Make sure you’re able to slow down in the distance you can see.
When heading out in adverse conditions, make sure you’re well prepared for any contingency. Make sure you’re dressed warmly or have an extra parka and pair of boots stashed in the boot. Ensure your tyres are fully inflated, your tank is full, and your battery is charged. If braving the elements on deserted roads, you may want to carry a emergency kit with jump leads, a torch, a shovel, an ice scraper, a first aid kit, and food and water.
Road Safety Facts
- In 2012 there were 1754 deaths on Britain’s roads. Despite improvements in car safety 46% of those killed were car occupants. 118 were pedal cyclists while 328 were motorcyclists. 420 were pedestrians.
- While overall deaths have been declining on our roads – a full 8% between 2011 and 2012 – death rates for cyclists have been increasing, 10% in the same years. Even more worrying is the increased in number of child cyclists killed on our roads, which increased 117% in just a year.
- Road safety campaigns focusing on child safety appear to be working: there was a 45% decrease in pedestrians under the age of 18 killed on Britain’s roads in the year between 2011 and 2012.
- While overall deaths declined in 2012, there was no significant change in the number of serious injuries and 23,039 people were seriously injured.
- While woman are often stereotyped as poor drivers, men–who are more likely to speed, drive recklessly, drink and drive, and overestimate their driving abilities–are more likely to be involved in, and to die in, motoring accidents. Men accounted for 54% of all causalities from accidents involving young drivers and 75% of all traffic fatalities in 2011.
- Young drivers are particularly likely to be involved in a accident: eighteen year olds are more than three times as likely than 48 year olds.
- In some aspects of driving young drivers are as good or better than older drivers, for instance the percentage of accidents attributed to failing to look properly is higher in older drivers, perhaps because young drivers are told that this is a major reason for failing the driving test.
- However young drivers are far more likely to make serious mistakes in other areas. Loss of control accounted was the reason given for 15% of accidents involving drivers between the ages of 17 and 24, contrasting to just 6% for those above this age. Carelessness and recklessness was the factor in 13% of accidents involving young drivers, compared with just 7% for older drivers. Somewhat surprisingly losing control due to slippery roads was the biggest difference between the two groups: 9% of young drivers reported this as the reason for accidents, compared with almost 0% of older drivers.
How telematics can improve road safety
Good driving, when logged by a black box device fitted into your vehicle, can help you cut down insurance costs. Telematics devices record– and reward–drivers for turning corners gently, braking smoothing, accelerating steadily, and obeying speed limits. Notch a good score and your insurance premiums could tumble. Drive badly and your costs could leap. With the financial incentives sometimes in the hundreds of pounds, telematics insurance can encourage motorists to watch their driving, making the road safer for everyone. Younger drivers, who are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents and therefore often pay steep insurance costs, can be the biggest savers. With a black box device monitoring their every turn and brake and converting them into potential savings, or penalties, novice motorists may finally be encouraged to ditch the texting behind the wheel and slow down.
Some telematics insurance policies also reward drivers for avoiding nighttime driving excursions–and the accidents that can accompany them. Although there are few drivers on the road in the middle of the night, fully 5% of all accidents occur between midnight and 5 a.m. Nearly 15% of crashes happened between 8pm and midnight, including the highest portion of fatal accidents of any time of the day, including the congested morning and evening rush hours. Weekend nights, predictably, are the most perilous. A considerable number of accidents, particularly those involving young people, occur between 8pm and 4am on Friday/Saturday and Saturday/Sunday when alcohol is often a factor. Low visibility, slick or snow-covered untraveled roads, fatigue, intoxication, and empty roads, encouraging speed, contribute to nighttime accidents. A telematics device, with either a curfew or incentives for avoiding late night trips, can encourage motorists to run their errands early and stay home during darker, more dangerous hours.
Many insurance companies with telematics device send motorists a report about their driving, alerting them to habits that can inflate their premiums, reduce saving, and potentially lead to accidents. Maybe you’re taking turns too fast, veering around corners sharply, and braking too suddenly. These driving routines haven’t caused an accident and you aren’t even fully aware you’re doing them. A telematics log from your insurance company can make you aware of these patterns and with money, not to mention safety, on the line, you may be inspired to change your driving habits, or even take a driving safety course to refresh your skills.