At a recent European Transport Safety Council conference a question was posed about whether driver distraction should be considered on a par with speeding, drink-driving and seat belt wearing traffic offences.

Road safety statistics suggest 9 out of 10 collisions are due to human errors, with the NHTSA (in the US) estimating that 25% of collisions are due to driver distraction. But what is distracting drivers behind the wheel and do these distractions affect everyone in the same way?

While there is much more research required in order to be able to definitely answer these questions, there is general consensus that driver distraction is a major transport safety issue, requiring serious transport policy and research attention.

It was suggested at this conference that a distracted driver is 4 times more likely to be involved in an accident behind the wheel. Mobile phones are not the only source of distraction behind the wheel either; eating, smoking or even changing a CD are but a few distractions which can remove a driver’s concentration from the road long enough to result in an accident.

But it is due to the ever increasing use of mobile phones to make calls, send text messages, take photos and use social media which have led to these concerns for driver distraction. Advertising campaigns play hypothetical – and sometimes even real – stories of the consequences of driver distraction through our televisions on a daily basis. Yet, drivers continue to take these risks.

But you use a hands-free devise?

Research presented at this conference suggested that the use of hands-free devices does little to improve driver concentration, although they did tend to prevent drivers from preforming other tasks which demand more of the driver’s concentration (for example texting or eating).

Until autonomy can be a safe and practical reality, driver distraction must be minimised. Are advertising campaigns alone capable of doing this? Are heavier penalties and stricter enforcement the answer? Or does this issue require the more drastic action of making vehicles mobile phone signal black-spots?

The dirtiest diesels will have to pay £12.50 to enter central London under plans unveiled by Transport for London.

The fee would be in addition to that levied for entering the congestion charge zone.

TfL has launched a consultation on the ultra-low emissions zone proposals which, if passed, would operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and come into operation on 7 September 2020.

From that date diesel cars will need to conform to the latest Euro 6 emission standards which all cars sold after 1 January 2015 will have to meet.

Petrol cars will have to comply with older 2006 Euro 4 standards.

TfL gives this explanation for the need of the ULEZ.

“London’s air quality has improved significantly in recent years and is now considered compliant for all but one air pollutant for which the European Union has set legal limits. This pollutant is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which has impacts on public health. London is currently in breach of legal limits. An equivalent of 4,300 deaths in London is attributed to air quality related illness. The Capital also faces challenging targets to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

In the consultation TfL made a prediction about how much NOx each category of vehicle would produce in 2020:

TfL air quality consultation

Chart source: TfL consultation.


Responding to the consultation, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“We welcome this measure to tackle poor air quality.

“What drivers want is certainty and time to react to rule changes. These proposals offer both. But by TfL’s own admission, taxis, freight vehicles and its own buses will pose as big a problem as private diesel cars. The Mayor’s challenge will be to win over businesses to these plans.

“A major question is whether the latest new vehicle emissions standards live up to expectations. Previous Euro standards have looked good in the lab but have not delivered on the road.

“Where Boris leads others are likely to follow. Town and city halls across the country will look to London to see how these proposals work and be asking whether they should be doing the same thing.”

Earlier in 2014 the RAC Foundation published a report by environmental consultants Ricardo AEA summarising the air quality problems caused by road transport and how they might be tackled.

The Foundation suggested that a scrappage scheme be considered to take some of the older, most polluting diesels off the road, something the Mayor of London has also called for.


FIRST the good news. Death and serious injury on Scottish roads has fallen sharply over recent years.

Now the bad. Based on a five-year average, 116 people are still killed or badly hurt annually because of drunk drivers.

There is reason to believe a lower drink-drive limit would make a significant dent in this total. That’s not us saying so, but Sir Peter North who, at the behest of the Westminister government, carried out an exhaustive review of the subject back in 2010.

He noted that the chances of having an accident increases exponentially the more you drink; that is, significantly faster than the rate at which alcohol is consumed.

In his recommendations, Sir Peter called for a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit, something ministers in London ignored but those in Edinburgh noted and are acting on.

Importantly this puts Holyrood in line with public opinion. And that will help when it comes to enforcement. Most laws are self-enforcing and it helps if most people understand and support them.

Which is not to say this change does not need proper policing. People must believe they are likely to be caught if they transgress. This should not be seen as over zealousness but a sign that the new rules are being treated seriously by the authorities. By the same token, it is hard to see how a lesser penalty could be imposed for a new, lower drink-drive limit than for the one it is replacing. This would undermine ministers’ credibility when they say a change is the right thing.

Arguments are made that cutting the drink-drive limit will threaten rural hospitality businesses. This might be true but the drinks industry itself actively promotes responsible drinking and backs designated driver schemes.

This change comes ahead of the festive period, the traditional time for anti drink-driving campaigns. The statistics suggest such campaigns have been successful because December actually records some of the lowest monthly figures for alcohol related road deaths. The challenge for the authorities is to promote year-round compliance.

Not for the first time, individual countries of the Union rather than the UK government are leading the way in road safety initiatives. Witness the graduated licensing rules coming into force in Northern Ireland to try and tackle young driver deaths. You can bet legislators south of the Border will closely watch what happens next.

This article was first published in the Scotsman on Saturday 25 October 2014.

Ministers claim the rate of evasion for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is 0.6%, the lowest level ever.

So assuming this rate is uniform across all types of vehicle, and looking just at cars, what does that mean in absolute terms?

At the end of June 2014 there were 29.7 million cars licensed in Great Britain, suggesting there were about 180,000 cars driving around without a tax disc.

(Of course, as of 1 October this year the paper tax disc was abolished, but not the tax.)

Using an average VED figure of £144 that means VED evasion is costing the country roughly £26 million a year.

Ministers say that the abolition of the physical tax disc is unlikely to change the rate of offending and in fact the DVLA “… has not relied on the paper tax disc in enforcement of vehicle excise duty for some time. The DVLA and the police largely rely on the DVLA’s electronic vehicle register and tools like the Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras to ensure that payments have been made.”

Which sort of begs the question: if getting rid of the tax disc is such a good idea now why wasn’t it done ages ago?

P.S. Worth remembering that two-thirds of new cars registered in 2013 paid not VED in their first year.

Paris v London public transport passenger numbers

The greater Paris region is the only urban area in the Euro Zone to have more than 10 million people (some 2.2 million of which live in the city itself). So how do inhabitants of this great French metropolitan area get about? How does the situation compare to London? And faced with a rapidly rising population what can we on this side of the Channel learn from how things are done on the other?

Those were some of the themes at yesterday’s The Franco-British Transport Conference. At the heart of the discussions were the financing of urban transport and innovative solutions for the digital age.

From France, ‘The Grand Paris’ project was showcased. This ambitious 32 billion euro programme for a new circular express metro (as well as modernising and expanding existing transport networks) will add to the existing ‘hub and spoke’ rail network in and around Paris, and once opened it has been predicted that 10-15% of drivers will give up their cars as a result.

So how do Paris and London compare when it comes to capital transport? The answers are below:

Paris v London urban transport

Oh, and when it comes to fares, the basic ticket price in Paris is €1.70 compared with £2.20 in London when using an Oyster card (£4.70 without).

Almost 1.4 million new cars registered in Great Britain in 2013 paid nothing in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) in their first year on the road.

This is almost two-thirds (63%) of the total of 2.2 million new cars registered.

The cars were exempt from VED because they emitted less than 131gCO2/km and fell into VED bands A-D.

In the first year on the road any vehicle that meets this target is zero rated for VED.

Things change from year two onwards when only those vehicles emitting less than 101gCO2/km (Band A) are completely exempt from VED.

However this still means that – assuming the rules stay the same – 324,000 cars bought last year will never be liable for VED.

This is a table of the VED bands and registration figures for each band for 2013.

VED Band CO2 Emissions Cars registered in 2013
A Up to 100g/km 324,000
B 101-110g/km 272,000
C 111-120g/km 430,000
D 121-130g/km 370,000
E 131-140g/km 301,000
F 141-150g/km 182,000
G 151-165g/km 153,000
H 166-175g/km 63,000
I 176-185g/km 33,000
J 186-200g/km 35,000
K 201-225g/km 18,000
L 226-255g/km 20,000
M Over 255g/km 10,000
TOTAL   2.2 million

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