You report (LTT 15th September 2005 – “Motorcycling and poor driving habits blamed for road deaths”, p.48) the findings of a Transport Research Laboratory report (TRL 643) that there has been a recent increase in fatality figures – referred to as a “worrying development” – due to poor driving habits.
Unfortunately the authors of this report are in deep denial about part of the causation of “poor driving habits”.
The report TRL 643 (p.25) says: “It seems improbable that the reasons for these extra fatal accidents could be related to aspects of the cars or the driving environment. The new cars …will have been fitted with more safety equipment such as anti-lock brakes than the old cars they replaced, and they will have better secondary safety features to protect their occupants in accidents, such as air-bags and side impact protection. These improvements should have led to lower fatality and KSI rates, not greater”.
But everybody with a serious interest in road safety knows perfectly well that such “safety benefits” are absorbed as performance benefits, as drivers adapt to perceived changes in risk.
This does not mean that we require abolition of seat-belts etc., with sharp spikes in steering columns pointing at drivers to encourage careful driving – although there would be a dramatic improvement in driver behaviour in such a scenario. It means that we reduce danger at source through use of technologies such as automatic on-board speed governors and/or black boxes to analyse crash causation factors, allied to deterrent law enforcement and insurance programmes. These in turn need to be implemented in association with other interventions designed to control the potential of drivers to endanger others.
Above all, we require a cultural change without which road safety interventions cannot work. This would mean that endangering the lives of others becomes unacceptable, rather than being colluded with by the “road safety” establishment. That in turn needs a wider cultural change: reverting to John Prescott’s commitment to reduce motor traffic growth, and confronting a culture where driving when, where and how each motorist wants is not seen as a basic human right.
A small, but necessary part of such a change is for road safety academics to accept the substantial evidence backing up the obvious: motorists adapt or compensate to changes in perceived risk.