Car accident deaths are decreasing, but they could be stamped out altogether

Following on from an article posted on Accident Advice Helpline News the other day, a Guardian column has described more measures that are being taken to combat deaths from car accidents all over Europe.

The article argues that, no matter what measures are implemented by governments and safety campaigners, the only people who can make a real difference to road safety are motorists themselves. The roads are an area of great personal responsibility, but many people do not seem to take that duty of care towards other drivers seriously enough.

Too many fall into the trap, literally, of being caught speeding, for which a plethora of excuses are offered. We all know the profile of the stereotypical speeder – the young male driver who is either trying to impress his friends or a girl, or driving too quickly simply because he enjoys the sensation of it.

This does not paint the full picture. A piece in the Telegraph recently described speeding as a very middle class activity, perpetrated by people in their 40s or 50s who believe that when they drive at 40mph in built-up areas, it is somehow not as bad as when a young person does it. Outgoing Cambridgeshire Police Chief Constable Julie Spence spoke of the ‘hypocrisy’ of middle-class speeders.

“People think they should be able to get away with it. They wouldn’t tolerate lawbreaking by somebody else, but they do it themselves without thinking. It all seems OK until something tragic happens, like their child dies because of a car accident.”

This was backed up by the Conservative broadcaster Ian Dale, who was obliged to attend a road safety awareness course after being caught driving at 37mph in a 30mph zone. Initially he was skeptical about it, fearing that he was being made an example of, and joining the ranks of many drivers who wail that they are a ‘soft’ target for the police, being exploited to rake in around £100 million every year for the government.

However, after the course itself was finished, his opinion shifted. The woman who was running the course explained that she had never once exceeded the speed limit, and all because her daughter had been struck by a driver doing 37mph in a 30 zone, just like Mr Dale, and she was still recovering from her injuries five years later. This made him reconsider his actions.

He also described the other attendees of the course as being around the same age as him, rather than the ‘boy racers’ he was expecting, reinforcing what Ms Spence said.

Anyone who has been in an accident will know the feeling of intense fear that accompanies the moment before impact, when the car is out of control and you are nothing but a passenger even though you are gripping the steering wheel. Ideally, if all drivers could experience that feeling without causing injury to themselves or anyone else, then many road deaths would be avoided.
Hypothetically, perhaps if education and awareness aren’t working well enough, speed-limiting technology could be used to physically stop the vehicle from breaking the speed limit. Opponents would doubtless argue that this would inhibit them from driving quickly if they needed to, such is an emergency. This is a valid argument, but an empty one. If the host of Ian Dale’s speeding course can manage it, then so can the rest of Britain’s motorists.

Obviously there are reasons against driving too slowly as well; excessively slothful motoring causes more problems than it solves. It is all about striking a balance and making people realise that being granted a driving license gives them the right to share the road with the UK’s 25 million other motorists, not treat them as some sort of racetrack.

The driving test needs to be more stringent as well – the approach to reducing car accidents should be pre-emptive, not retrospective. Although figures show that deaths are decreasing, in theory they could, and should, be nearly negligible if every driver took their personal responsibility seriously.

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