Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

The awful news over the weekend about the five young people who died in a car crash in Conisbrough near Doncaster. While there is no firm indication yet as to the cause of the accident, it does once again highlight the issue of road safety and in particular keeping young people safe.

The RAC Foundation supports the introduction of graduated licensing, but the government has repeatedly failed to set out its strategy to cut deaths amongst our young drivers. Below is a letter we wrote, with others, in January this year to the British Medical Journal:


The issue of the UK Government U-turn on alcohol minimum unit pricing (Godlee, 2014) is not the only evidence based public health policy that has failed to materialise recently.

Just as in January 2013 public health campaigners and policy makers were confident that a minimum unit price would be introduced across the UK, those of us working in the public health discipline of road injury prevention were similarly confident that the UK Government would carry out its commitment to publish a Green Paper on young driver safety with proposals for robust, evidence based change. However, at the end of the year a paper still had not been published.

Amongst teenagers, motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are a leading cause of death and disability (Peden et al., 2008). In the UK, MVC injuries account for a quarter of all fatalities of 15 to 19 year olds (ONS, 2011; DfT, 2011).

The Department for Transport (DfT) made a clear commitment to producing a Green Paper in the spring of 2013 that would set out options for addressing the burden of young driver crashes on health and health services. This was to be supported by an evidence review carried out by TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), commissioned by DfT, and addressing specific questions of concern with regards to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).

GDL is a legislative approach used in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which has consistently been shown to have only beneficial effects on young driver crashes (Russell et al., 2011).

The TRL review (Kinnear et al., 2013), initially delivered in April 2013, concluded that there was compelling evidence for the introduction of GDL in the UK, and supported the findings of previous modelling work demonstrating that there could be substantial reductions in crashes, casualties and fatalities on the roads of the UK if GDL was introduced (Jones et al., 2012). The conservative estimate delivered by Kinnear et al., based on observed levels of effectiveness internationally, is that a GDL system in the UK would save 4,471 casualties and £224 million annually.

The publication date for the Green Paper was pushed back to June and then September 2013. At the Road Safety GB Conference in October 2013, representatives from DfT told the audience that the paper would be published before the end of 2013. In late December, in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill MP admitted that the Government was still “wrestling with the issues” and would “issue a paper when we have considered this further.”

It appears that the Government is now looking at alternative approaches, including the use of telematics or ‘black box’ driver monitoring technologies. Telematics is an emerging field. It shows promise, but as yet is unproven as a public health intervention. We would see telematics as complementary to a GDL regime, not as an alternative.

The need for GDL is clear and there is widespread support for its implementation from the road safety sector, the insurance industry, those working in public health, the police, road safety charities and politicians.

It is not too late for Government to forward the debate. It still has the opportunity to present a range of options to reduce death and injury on the roads. The international evidence for GDL is compelling and to exclude this option from the Green Paper would significantly reduce its potential as a stimulus for evidence based change.

We remain hopeful that the Green Paper will be published after this significant delay, that it will recognise the beneficial effects of GDL witnessed internationally and include the recommendations from the Government commissioned TRL evidence review, and that a frank and open public debate will follow.

Sarah Jones, Consultant in Environmental Health Protection, Public Health Wales
Frank McKenna, Emeritus Professor, The University of Reading
Stephen Stradling, Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh Napier University
Nicola Christie, Director of Centre for Transport Studies, University College London
Tom Mullarkey MBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
David Davies, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
Elizabeth Box, Head of Research, RAC Foundation
Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive, Brake, the road safety charity
James Dalton, Head of Motor, Association of British Insurers


DfT. Reported Road Casualties: Great Britain 2010: Annual Report. 2011.Department for Transport: London.

Godlee, F. (2014) Minimum alcohol pricing: a shameful episode. BMJ, 2014;348:g110

Jones, S., Begg, D. & Palmer, S. (2012). Reducing young driver crash casualties in Great Britain – Use of routine police crash data to estimate the potential benefits of graduated driver licensing. International Journal of injury Control and Safety Promotion, 1-10, DOI: 10.1080/17457300.2012.726631

Kinnear, N., Lloyd, L., Helman, S., Husband, P., Scoons, J., Jones, S., Stradling, S., McKenna, F. and Broughton, J. (2013). Novice drivers: evidence review and evaluation – pre-driver education and training, graduated driver licensing, and the New Drivers Act. Published Project Report (PPR673). Crowthorne: Transport Research Laboratory.

Office for National Statistics. Leading Cause of Death, 2009. 2011 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=… 16 Apr 2012].

Peden M, Oyegbite K, Ozanne-Smith J et al. World Report on Child Injury Prevention. 2008. WHO. Geneva.

Russell, K.F., Vandermeer, B. & Hartling, L. (2011). Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, 10, CD003300.


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What is the most common vehicle defect causing accidents? Braking failures? No – braking comes a close second to tyre defects at 36% (braking defects at 31%).

That was one of the headline messages at a parliamentary briefing hosted by PACTS, TyreSafe and TFI.

In 2013, more than 2.2 million MOT failures were due to tyre defects. TyreSafe found that of tyres tested after removal for replacement 57% where found already to be illegal.

Have motorists become complacent? Are they too reliant on their vehicles to inform them when something is wrong? The majority of cars will tell you when the fuel tank is close to empty, when the oil level is low and when the tyres need air. But – for the moment at least – cars do not inform you about dangerous tread depths.

Checking the tread depth is simple – yet 1 in 5 motorists have never done it. Take a 20 pence piece and place it within the tread of the tyre – coincidentally, the raised edge around the side of the 20 pence piece is 1.6 mm – if you can see the raised edge of the coin than your tyres require immediate replacement.

The sale of part worn tyres was also highlighted at the briefing as a serious problem – the majority of tyres checked for resale as part worn were not found to have been certified as fit for purpose, and many were found to have reached illegal tread depths.

Stuart Jackson from TyreSafe explained that tyre defects were associated with 981 persons killed or seriously injured in the 5 year period to 2013, over £0.4 billion, while the Highways Agency’s Stuart Lovett says 66,500 incidents related to tyre defects occurred on the motorways network in the 18 months from April 2013 to September 2014. This amounts to approximately 100 incidents a day – and that is without considering any roads outside the motorway network.

This is not just a HGV issue either – 63% of motorway tyre breakdown issues involved a car, with only 21% involving a HGV.

The focuses for improving tyre safety include enforcement and education.

Enforcement is not a simple matter – police budgets are stretched. But December will see the start of a project funded by TfL for the enforcement of tread depth regulations, amongst others, on HGVs. Education involves informing people about the real dangers of bald tyres, how often they should be checking them and the 20 pence piece method for doing so. TyreSafe Safety Month, occurring last month is a part of this education process.

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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?

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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.

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Today’s news about a huge hike in the maximum level of fine that can be imposed on a speeding motorist casts a spotlight on what a magistrate’s sentencing powers actually are. Looking at speeding in particular, we see that it is a summary only offence, which means it is almost always dealt with at a Magistrates’ Court, though the case can be committed to the Crown Court for sentencing.

But presuming those on the bench decide to exercise their own powers, how will they set a fine? According to the Sentencing Guidelines Council there are three core elements:

“The amount of the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence.

“The court must also take into account the financial circumstances of the offender; this applies whether it has the effect of increasing or reducing the fine. Normally a fine should be of an amount that is capable of being paid within 12 months.

“The aim is for the fine to have an equal impact on offenders with different financial circumstances; it should be a hardship but should not force the offender below a reasonable ‘subsistence’ level.”

The guidelines say a speeding offence attracts a Level 3 fine (which under the new regime will have a maximum limit of £4,000) or Level 4 if it is on the motorway (new maximum of £10,000)

Taking into account an offender’s income sounds sensible. What is surprising and not fully explained is why there has been such a huge increase in the maximum fine level now. What is the problem that is trying to be solved? Is there a large number of wealthy speeders for whom the current deterrent is not enough?

Interestingly, the number of people breaking the speed limit, in free flow traffic, has been falling on most roads for the best part of a decade as Department for Transport figures showed last week. Clearly there are still many who are defying the rules but it does suggest that, overall, motorists are becoming more law abiding rather than less.

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Dilemma of the day.

On the way to the station this morning I was caught in a traffic queue where normally there is no queue.

The cause of the holdup was a set of temporary traffic lights showing red.

They must have been red for some time as when I joined the queue there were already about 20 cars ahead of me on what is a quiet road.

Two or three minutes later and we were still going nowhere.

By the way the car nearest the lights kept inching forward I could see the driver was suffering both frustration and a dilemma:

“Should I ignore the lights and go through?”

His hesitation in making a decision was probably based on three things:

1)      Am I legally entitled to ignore the red light? After all it is only temporary, set up by workmen.

2)      Are the lights actually working or not?

3)      If I do go will I meet anyone coming the other way? The closed lane extended around a blind corner round which other cars intermittently materialised.

Eventually the driver of the lead car made his decision and set forth with the rest of us following. Luckily we didn’t meet anything coming the other way and as it turned out the lights ‘controlling’ traffic in the other direction were blank.

I couldn’t have helped on points 2 and 3, but on point 1 the Highway Code is clear that you have a legal obligation to obey temporary traffic lights. As the code says in section 109:

Traffic light signals and traffic signs. You MUST obey all traffic light signals (download ‘Light signals controlling traffic’ (PDF, 82KB)) and traffic signs giving orders, including temporary signals & signs (download ‘Traffic signs’ (PDF, 486KB).

A look at the road casualty figures show that traffic lights – or rather broken ones – can kill. In 2012, 39 people were died or were seriously injured in accidents where automatic signals were out or defective. Another 190 people were killed or seriously injured at roadwork sites.

Luckily, no such result this morning.

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With the Transport Select Committee putting Network Rail in the firing line today over its attitude to deaths on level crossings, it is interesting – and sobering – to look at those statistics relating to fatalities amongst members of the public (excluding train passengers and workers) on the railways.

According to the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) Annual Safety Performance Report, in 2012/13 there were 49 fatalities (not counting a shockingly high number of suicides, 238 in all). Of these 49 victims, 39 were classed as trespassers, nine died at level crossings and one had been assaulted.

Looking specifically at accidents at level crossings – of which there are more than 6,000 on the mainline – of the nine people who died, four were pedestrians and five were road vehicle occupants.

The total number of collisions between trains and road vehicles was ten.

The last train passengers to die in level crossing accidents did so in 2004/5.

The report also puts into perspective the risk to people travelling by different modes, stating:

“On the basis of fatality risk per traveller km, rail travel is:

  • Around 1,600 times safer than travelling by motorcycle
  • Roughly 500 times safer than cycling or walking
  • Around 30 times safer that using a car
  • Similar to – but somewhat safer than – bus and coach travel”

Societal attitude to risk across different modes of transport was considered by the RAC Foundation in a 2009 report by Dr Chris Elliott called Transport Safety: is the law an ass?

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