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Posts Tagged ‘road safety’

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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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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Following on from a parliamentary Q & A by Sadiq Khan MP earlier this week, in an RAC Foundation blog post we analysed exactly where London’s pedestrians were killed in 2012.

While 18 actually died on pedestrian crossings no one on foot was killed on the ‘footway or verge’ in that year. However more questions from Mr Khan reveal that was not the case in the two years prior:

“Sadiq Khan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what proportion of serious injuries to pedestrians in Greater London involved pedestrians hit by vehicles while on a footpath in (a) 2010, (b) 2011, (c) 2012 and (d) 2013; [184643]

“(2) what proportion of pedestrian fatalities in Greater London involved pedestrians hit by a vehicle while on a footpath in (a) 2010, (b) 2011, (c) 2012 and (d) 2013. [184644]

“Mr Goodwill: The proportion of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries in reported road traffic accidents in Greater London, which involved a pedestrian on a footway or verge, in (a) 2010, (b) 2011 and (c) 2012, were as follows:

Casualties/percentage
Pedestrian casualties Pedestrian casualties on footway or verge Proportion on footway or verge
Killed Serious Killed Serious Killed Serious
(a) 2010 58 855 10 49 17 6
(b) 2011 77 903 7 47 9 5
(c) 2012 70 1,054 0 28 0 3

“Data for the year 2013 will be available in June 2014.”

There are also parliamentary answers (scroll down the page until you get to transport questions) relating to other details of how pedestrians (and cyclists) lost their lives in the capital between 2010 and 2012.

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Our experience is that most transport problems are universal: if we are struggling with something then so will drivers and the authorities in other countries.

Today, the Foundation had a visit from the French motoring campaign group: ‘40 Millions d’Automobilistes’, along with a camera crew from the French television channel TV3. They were in London on a fact-finding trip around road safety. What was made clear during the visit was that our neighbours have markedly less safe roads. Using latest comparable data from the International Road Traffic Accident Database (IRTAD):

  • France had 3,963 road user fatalities, while the UK had 1,960 (2011)
  • France had 6.4 road user fatalities per 100,000 people, while the UK had 3.1 (2010).
  • By billion vehicle kilometres, France had 7.1 road user fatalities, compared to the UK’s 4.5 (2010).

It was also interesting to hear that the debate over speed cameras was as divisive as here. The concerns were similar, not least that the cameras are more about revenue raising than road safety.

The organisation concludes that in 2013, some 26 million tickets were issued for such things as parking and speeding offences and that in total this raised 1.66 billion euros (up from 1.6 billion in 2012 and 1.3 billion in 2013) for the French state.

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In 2012, 70 pedestrians were killed in Greater London.

This was down on the previous year (77 deaths) but up on the year before that (58 deaths).

But where did these people actually die? A parliamentary question by Tooting MP and former Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Sadiq Khan drew an answer from the roads minister which showed that 18 of the fatalities (26%) were on pedestrian crossings. Mr Khan’s questioning also revealed that in 2012 two of those who were killed were aged 0-15 (2010:8, 2011:5).

This prompted us to look more closely at the data used by the DfT in their annual Reported Road Casualties GB report which is heavily based on the Stats19 data the police collect in the aftermath of accidents. This makes for grim but fascinating reading.

This is the breakdown of where exactly the 70 people died:

On the crossing 18
On the zigzags 0
Within 50 metres of a crossing (not on the crossing or zigzags) 11
In the carriageway crossing elsewhere 29
Walking along the carriageway (road) 4
On the central reservation/island 1
Other 7
TOTAL 70

According to the data no one was killed on the ‘footway or verge’.

The figures also show that of the people being killed:

  • 39 were men and 31 were women
  • 22 were killed in darkness and 48 in daylight

The high proportion of people killed at pedestrian crossings is worrying (though any death is a tragedy) however should we be surprised that the deaths are concentrated at the very locations where road engineers and planners encourage us to get from one side of the road to the other thus bringing together those on two feet with those on two and four wheels?

Of course if you are a pedestrian you have every right to expect to be safe when you use a facility designed especially to protect you which is why we know to need more about the circumstances of these crashes.

What the publicly available figures don’t tell you is the contributory factors in these deaths. For example how many were related to distraction? How many were speed related? How many were down to drunk drivers or riders, or indeed pedestrians? How many of the people involved were talking on their mobile phones or texting?

Perhaps the next questions Mr Khan asks the Department for Transport could be formulated to shed more light on these areas.

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Media coverage of the recent Tesla Model S fires has been comprehensive, and according to Elon Musk (Chairman, Product Architect and CEO of Tesla Motors), disproportionate by several orders of magnitude when compared with conventional car fires. It is true that there are a lot of flammable materials in conventional cars and fires can break out from time to time. Although arson or other forms of criminal damage are sometimes involved, fires can also be caused by defects or routine damage to the car (including normal wear and tear as well as collisions). Most fires start in the engine, but the firewall between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment provides a protective barrier and increases the time for occupants to escape.

Fuel tank fires and explosions are very rare, largely due to the legislative testing that tanks (and whole vehicles) undergo. The minimum ignition energy of petrol vapour is relatively low; a spark can be sufficient to cause a conflagration. However, the fuel tank is cut-off from the rest of the rest of the fuel system in the event of a crash and is located away from the likely damage zones, in the majority of collisions at least.

Electric vehicles comprise a very small proportion of the fleet and it is probably too early to say (with any statistical confidence) whether their risk of fire is different to that of conventional vehicles. Some high-profile fires have been reported in the media, with the battery usually being the source of the fire. However, electric vehicles are also equipped with firewalls and these seem to have directed the flames away from the passenger compartment in these incidents, at least until the occupants were able to leave their cars safely.

Battery fires can be caused by a number of ‘abuse’ mechanisms, such as overcharging, over-discharging, short circuit, or physical damage to the cells. These mechanisms are quite different to those that cause the majority of conventional vehicle fires. However, electric vehicles are equipped with a range of systems to prevent such abuse. There are also cell- and pack-level monitoring and safety features that are designed to prevent the build-up of heat and pressure within cells that can lead to fire (and explosion). New vehicle legislation is mandating a range of battery safety and abuse tests for electric vehicles, which will establish minimum safety standards for manufacturers to meet.

This is a guest blog by Dinos Visvikis, Head of Low Carbon Vehicle Safety at the Transport Research Laboratory. His research interests include the safety of new vehicle propulsion technologies and their implications for vehicle legislation.

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Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on electric vehicles and vulnerable road users (such as the visually impaired) last week, transport minister Robert Goodwill presented evidence that attempted to counter claims from several backbench MPs that EVs represent a significant risk to such pedestrians because the latter cannot hear the former coming. “Quiet vehicles are not new,” he pointed out. “And there are hundreds more bicycles than electric or hybrid cars on the streets of London. Anyone who ventures to cross the road because they can hear nothing coming will quickly find that they might be hit by one of the bicycles ridden around London at breakneck speed.”

Mr Goodwill then added that: “Our research has suggested that there is no increased pedestrian risk associated with electric or hybrid vehicles in the UK. The published report [from TRL] has shown that, although quieter vehicles are harder to hear approaching, as would be expected, the accident rates for electric and hybrid vehicles are broadly similar to those for conventional vehicles.”

This might seem like a rather counter-intuitive finding but there might be an obvious explanation, which is that conventional, petrol-powered vehicles are nowadays much quieter than they used to be, and are still getting quieter (due to smoother running engines, stop-start systems, low rolling resistance tyres, better aerodynamics, etc.). Indeed, the TRL research found that some visually-impaired people actually thought petrol vehicles were quieter than hybrids/electrics when being played recordings from the real world.

This would tend to suggest that our lawmakers are quite right to be looking at how vulnerable pedestrian road users interact with increasingly quiet vehicles, but possibly wrong to focus so strongly on the noise levels (or lack of them) from electric or hybrid vehicles. This argument found little favour amongst the backbench contributors to the Westminster Hall debate, however, with there being a strong consensus amongst MPs that the Government should legislate to require the mandatory installation of acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) to electric vehicles. Countering this, Mr Goodwill pointed out that this would be premature at the present time, as there is as yet no consensus, either national or internationally, on what evidence is needed to establish standards for such systems.

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