Across the Atlantic, single-car crashes are the biggest cause of fatalities on the road, which may seem surprising. While only one in five accidents fit into this category, they are responsible for more deaths, proportionately, than their multi-vehicle equivalents. In the US, roughly 8000 people are killed by single-car rollovers alone.
While it is irritatingly difficult to obtain concrete statistics for the UK, there is no reason to suppose that our car crash figures will be much different.
A quick scan of Google News for the term ‘car crash’ yields pages of stories of young men wiping both themselves and their friends out in horrendous accidents that involve no other vehicles except their own. Multi-car collisions are not quite as prevalent, although they are obviously still a huge social problem.
So what can be done to cut down on these accidents? Throughout this week we’ll explore a few factors. Here are the first two. No matter how many times they crop up, they are always worth emphasising.
Don’t drink and drive
No matter how many millions governments spend on blood-curdlingly graphic advertising campaigns, designed to quite rightly shock us to the core of our souls, there are still road users who think the drink-drive rules apply to somebody else. A sixth of car crash deaths are thanks to inebriated drivers who shouldn’t be behind the wheel.
There is a legal limit in place, but the problem with this is the notion of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood is rather abstract. Nobody has a concrete idea of how much alcohol actually puts the driver over this figure. Some think they can get have a couple of glasses of wine and be fine, others get nervous after a glass of shandy. Some people carry mini-breathalysers on their keyrings, but most don’t.
In June this year, a review by government adviser Sir Peter North proposed reducing the figure to 50mg/100ml, which he claimed would save hundreds of lives. This may well be true, but why not go further?
The truth is that the limit should just be set at zero. A no-tolerance rule to drinking and driving would both save lives and leave drivers in no doubt as to how much they can have to drink. Any whiff of alcohol on the breath or in the blood and there would be a penalty to pay. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have already implemented a 0% limit, so why can’t the UK follow suit?
Of course, the most responsible drivers will know that there’s no point risking it. If they are holding the car keys, they stick to the orange juice.
Don’t drive if you’re tired
It is a widely held belief that driving while exhausted is just as bad as being drunk at the wheel. Tiredness affects drivers’ reactions and perceptions of the environment around them in much the same way as alcohol or drugs do. If the tiredness is temporary, for example after a bad night’s sleep, then the driver should pull over at the first opportunity and have a nap. Driving on motorways rather than windy roads is more likely to induce fatigue, as is driving on either in the morning.
Factors such as drinking strong coffee and leaving the window open are advised by some safety websites, but they are just temporary measures. If a driver is tired, they need sleep.
There is no specific law in the UK relating to tired-driving but if a car crash results from fatigue, then the driver could face prosecution for either driving without due care and attention, or the more severe charge of dangerous driving.
If the driver is suffering from a medical condition that leaves them in constant fatigue, then as harsh as it sounds to say, they shouldn’t be driving until they have recovered. They are putting both their own and other road users’ lives at risk.