Saturday, 9 May 2015

GUEST - How can we improve safety on Britain's roads?

A higher minimum driving age or better education: how can we improve safety on Britain’s roads?

Every 30 seconds someone, somewhere, dies in a road accident, and ten people are seriously injured. Crashes are actually the leading cause of death for 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide [PARA 8], so it’s no wonder that new research shows 35% of 1,054 parents think driving tests should be delayed by three years and the legal minimum driving age raised to 20.

Many thanks to RAC Car Insurance for providing this article...

But RAC spokesman Simon Williams said, "The suggestion that the legal age for taking a test should be put back three years is frankly unworkable as so many young people, particularly in rural areas, rely entirely on being able to drive to get to work or college.”

But if lowering the age isn’t the answer, what is? How are other European countries performing and what steps are they taking to ensure their motorists, and other road users, are kept safe?

According to the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD), you’re least likely to get injured in a road accident in Denmark. In 2006, just 0.1% of the population were injured on the roads there. However, the Netherlands has the lowest fatality rate of any European country, with just 4.5 people per 100,000 dying on their roads in that same year. In startling contrast, 321 people per 100,000 were injured on British roads in 2006 and 5.4 people per 100,000 were killed.

One European country that has made incredible improvements in its road safety is Sweden, which has seen the number of road deaths fall by four-fifths since 1970 even though the number of cars in circulation and the number of miles driven have both doubled. The minimum driving age in Sweden is 18. Therefore, it’s unfounded to think that raising the UK’s minimum driving age to 20 will make a difference to driver safety. So what are they doing differently?

Well in 1997, the Swedish parliament wrote into law a "Vision Zero" plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. This saw the introduction of low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes, as well as 12,600 safer crossings, which are estimated to have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years. As a result, road safety campaigners are confident that Sweden can hit its ‘zero’ target.

Simon Williams said "Driver education for young people should start before they have the chance to get behind the wheel… in other parts of the world that education starts in schools.” For example, Italian primary schools have courses divided into three sections, and in Poland, traffic rules are taught to schoolchildren as young as seven.

An overhaul of how young people are taught to drive has been discussed. The Association of British Insurers is right behind this, saying that changes could reduce the high casualty risk among young drivers and potentially lower car insurance premiums.

The UK could take a leaf out of Sweden’s road planning book by introducing more, and varied, safety features. Compulsory education on staying safe on the roads and a reform of driving lessons could also have a positive impact on the safety of Britain’s roads. And in fact, the DVSA recently announced that the practical driving exam is due to be overhauled as part of a series of major revisions to ensure that the test prepares motorists as fully as possible for their driving careers.

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