Two road safety initiatives struck me today:

Drivers will have to declare every 10 years whether they are medically able to get behind the wheel, according to proposals to be set out early in the new year.

via Drivers to have 10-year health checks under driver licence reforms and:

Automatic speed control devices should be installed in cars to force motorists to stick to speed limits, an influential pressure group recommended today.

via ‘Speed control’ devices should be installed in cars, say campaigners. The Times fails to point out that the proponent “pressure group”, the Motorists’ Forum, is part of the Government quango The Comission for Integrated Transport

Both proposals diminish personal responsibility. Both will be costly for someone. Both have voluntary elements which don’t sound like they will be voluntary for long. Neither is very convincing.

As ever, good intentions are not enough. We should face up to the fact that road safety is best enhanced by improving the attitude and skills of individual drivers. Roadcraft — the police drivers’ manual — has always made this clear. Consider this from the 1997 imprint:

What makes a good driver?

Good drivers have a quiet efficiency in their actions and this derives from:

  • a good level of attention
  • accurate observation
  • matching the vehicle’s speed and direction to the situation
  • awareness of the risks inherent in particular road and traffic situations
  • acting to keep identified risks to a minimum
  • awareness of their own limitations and those of the vehicle and the roads
  • skillful use of vehicle controls.

In 1992, Jackie Stewart published his “Principles of Performance Driving”, giving his “three Cs” for the road:

Although it may sound awfully old fashioned, slightly pompous and “do-gooding”, the three ‘Cs’ are quite useful when bearing in mind how to drive. Firstly, you have to concentrate; you have to be a conscientious driver more than anything else, because if you are a conscientious driver, you will concentrate as a matter of course; thirdly, you have to be considerate.

Don Palmer — a world-class driving coach on road and track — says:

The vast majority of risk on the road arises from human error. In fact, human error is a significant factor in 95% of all “accidents”. In other words, they are not really accidents at all but the results of unsafe human behaviour. This is risk that you can manage, not only by minimising human error in your own driving but also by making allowance for error in other people’s driving.

Police drivers, racing drivers and driving coaches are agreed: the individual driver makes the difference. It is an unfortunate fact that improving road safety requires more than devices which encourage the driver to be even less attentive. It requires more than asking MIRA what the industry can sell us. It requires people to take an interest in what they are doing.

It is no good treating people like poor lambs who cannot think for themselves or cope with simple responsibilities. If we do, we should not be surprised when, for example, the emergency services are called for frivolous reasons. As Roadcraft points out, our attitudes are shaped by the society in which we live. The hard truth is that many problems require a change in society: we must recognize our personal responsibilities and the individual interdependence that makes a neighbourhood, a nation and safer roads.

One Comment

  1. One of my contacts has pointed out that it would be a small step from speed control to tracking for road pricing and that the reverse remains true. He points out that road pricing schemes are unpopular but that Geoff Hoon has made it clear that Manchester’s pay-as-you-drive scheme was necessary to obtain central government funding for the city’s transport plan: