Sunday, 17 November 2013

Road Safety

In the 1970s road safety around the world became an issue. Road deaths in some countries were higher per 100 000 of population than troop losses in World War I. In Australia there were 31 deaths per 100K of population, and in France 32.3. France had the reputation of being the most dangerous country in the world in which to drive.

By 1972 Australia had introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts in both front and back seats and the death toll halved within 12 months. The French authorities saw these results and introduced similar legislation in 1973, also with very satisfactory effects. In both countries government will and the 'silent majority' coincided in their views and seat belts became part of life -- literally.

The next big issue was drink driving. Both countries introduced drink driving legislation, Australia in 1976 and France in 1978, setting low limits of blood alcohol for drivers and enabling the police to test drivers. Nothing much happened -- in practice the law wasn't enforced in either country, mainly because there was not really the mobile technology to do so.

The change came in Australia in 1982, when the police in New South Wales started a massive random breath testing campaign with new equipment. There was also a huge driver education campaign which flooded the media with extremely blunt messages ('If you drink then drive, you're a bloody idiot') with images to match. Once again the effect was immediate, because now there was a significant chance you would be caught.

It took France considerably longer to get a government willing to tackle their drink driving culture, but in 2003 the issue of drink driving was linked with health politically. The government of the day was very strongly committed to enforcing and strengthening existing drink driving legislation, and in 2004 a délégué à la sécurité routière ('road safety tzar') was appointed, who developed a very high personal profile and a successful driver education media campaign. The police began random breath testing and by 2006 France was one of only four EU countries meeting targets for percentage of population tested for alcohol while driving. Once again, the silent majority turned out to be in favour, and death tolls dropped.

According to one report by a French road safety expert that I read, it was as if France turned into a different country in which to drive overnight. It apparently caught certain foreign holidaymakers by surprise, as they would come over the Channel or cross the border expecting to be able to break all the rules with impunity, and fines dealt to foreign drivers went up considerably for a few years after 2003. Of course there are still people who drive after drinking, but all French people know the slogan 'Boire ou conduire, il faut choisir' ('drink or drive, you have to choose').

Coupled with the improvement in vehicles and roads, the road toll is now down to 6.1 per 100K in France and 6 per 100K in Australia. This is still twice the level of deaths in the UK, but half that of the US. In both France and Australia the seat belt campaign is won, the drink driving campaign has been a great success but remains ongoing, speeding rears its ugly head from time to time and now the use of mobile phones while driving. Driver education combined with the political will to fund education and enforcement is the key. You cannot just announce that road safety is a good thing and hope that people will behave appropriately. The investment by government in education and enforcement is repaid many times by savings in medical care, accident investigation and insurance payouts.

14 comments:

  1. My view on the level of UK road deaths is that it is very difficult to get killed when travelling at 10mph or stationary.

    Remember Speed Kills, drive a 2CV and live forever.

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  2. Colin,
    "drive a 2CV and live forever."
    That is only because a 2CV gets knocked out of the way in an accident... the tyres are so narrow!!

    Actually, in a 2CV, despite the validity of the above answer, the main reason is that you have to drive "aware"!
    Drive defensively!!

    Also you are aware of all that is going on around you....
    you are not insulated from sound or vibration, either...
    you are kept awake by the noise, in fact...
    and you HAVE to drive the car.
    Nothing is automated!!

    We rented a car, a small Renault "Euroblob", on holiday in Mallorca one year...
    I kept trying to start it when the engine was running....
    I couldn't hear any external noise because the car was so well insulated against the "outside"!!
    I did not enjoy driving it!!

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  3. Colin: That was pretty much my thought too.

    Tim: Except that the death rate trend is down as cars develop...

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  4. Someone in Barrou got done for driving home 15km on three wheels in a shower of sparks after a glancing collision. Also leaving the scene of an accident, refusing a breath test and head-butting a policeman. He had 2gm of alcohol per litre of blood. He'd been fishing with an old army mate and got sauced. Some people still disregard the drink-drive laws!

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  5. PG: They made the choice and they got caught...

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  6. Tim: Except that the death rate trend is down as cars develop...
    Death rate for who...
    the car occupants...
    or the other poor sods??

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  7. Huh? What? The total road death rate per head of population is decreasing as a general trend. Presumably the trend for numbers of new, modern cars is increasing and almost certainly the person kilometers in modern cars is more than in 2CVs, so although your theory sounds good it is unlikely to be the actual situation, which ever way you look at it.

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  8. Apparently in the UK the least likely place to be involved in a fatal road accident is in town, because most people are going slowly so all that happens is a bump and a dent.
    The next is on a motorway where speeds are high but everyone is going in the same direction.
    The most likely place to be killed is on a country road because people drive too fast, the roads are too narrow to avoid each other and crashes are head-on.
    I try to remember this when driving along the roads around the Loire. They are very bendy and narrow and people drive as if they don't expect to see anyone coming the other way. Which is hardly surprising because most of the time there isn't !!

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  9. Jean: I think this is exactly right. We have had about half a dozen near misses this year, all because the person coming the other way was on the wrong side of the road, and often driving faster than the speed limit.

    Tim: That road safety would be better in older cars that one has to actively drive. In fact, 70% of accidents and 70% of road deaths are caused by driver error.

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  10. Aha...
    you've read that into my remark!
    I said I was happier driving a car that had to be driven...
    I am also happier driving a car that is not wider than half the road!!

    Around here, as you and Jean say, people drive too fast and tend to be in the middle of the road...
    the latter, presumably, to avoid the famous French jumping plane trees.

    I am also happier driving a right-hooker on French roads, with their sudden drop-off at the edge, because I can see where I am putting the car when I NEED, all too regularly, to put half the car onto the verge to avoid an overwide, modern, "luxury" Euroblob steered by a driver who thinks he is personally safe in his reinforced steel cage...
    AND don't get me started on the size of the NEW range of tractors and combines...
    with their "low impact" tyres...
    that allow one person to work a huge field in the time it took six...
    one came past the Spar the other day...
    it's wheels rubbing the wall...
    just as an elderly lady was opening the door...
    he wasn't doing less than 30KPH either...
    a few words less in her conversation with Madame le Spar and she would have been a statistic like the ones you are dragging up...
    and the rest of us would be being treated for post traumatic stress!!
    It wasn't very nice and Madame rushed to give her a hug!

    Tractors used to be limited [and normally could only do] 25KPH [or 20MPH in the UK]...

    Vehicles have got too fast and too big for the current size of rural roads to cope with...
    as Jean rightly says, cars on motorways going in the same direction are less likely to have a head on collision, the most dangerous...
    and, normally, in town cars are doing less than the maximum allowed speeds.
    But again, it is all down to the driver, their personal sense of vulnerability and their concentration on driving within the allowed MAXIMUM speed limits!

    You should always drive below those maximums unless you have and can see a totally clear road...
    they are NOT the speeds you meant to achieve!!!

    I know I must cause a lot of swearing in cars behind...
    but on the main roads around here the new thinking of 80KPH, as a maximum, can be far too fast in certain conditions like rain... reduced visibility...
    slimy, muddy roads...
    and low profile, modern water pumping tyres just terraplane on wet mud because the cut of the tyre wasn't designed for that!!
    And the nice sleek car wouldn't look nearly as smart on knobblies!!!
    Provided of course, you could fit them under the wheel arches...

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  11. I can echo as to the dangers of speeding on rural roads.
    Our last house was out in the sticks on a stretch of road which formed a bend between two lengths of straight road....the local hillbillies would come screaming off the straight into the bend and lose control.
    Fine if that was just their problem...but the accidents involved others - the worsr being when a girl on a scooter lost a leg.
    We asked the maire to put up a speed reduction sign at each end of the bend: he refused as it might upset his hillbillies - and we had to go to the Conseil General to get it done.
    A sign alone didn't do much...the gendarmerie weren't interested as it was on the join between two casernes....and it might upset the hillbillies....only when one of them smashed into the post van were the rozzers rousted out to do a few controls - at which point the problem faded away.

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  12. Susan, an aticle I just read says that 1.09 Americans are killed fot every 100 million miles traveled in the U.S. I think I have that right, but I'm not yet sure how that statistic compares to the figures for highway deaths you give for Australia and France.

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  13. Ken: according to Wikipedia, who are using 2010 WHO figures, the US has 10.4 deaths per 100K of population, and 8.5 deaths per 1 billion vehicle kms.

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