Watching a TV programme a few evenings back, about how safe Britain’s roads are, reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about…. not so much about vehicle safety (although there is a link and, worryingly, road deaths are on the rise for the first time in years), but about the impact that careless driving might have on road congestion.
I’ve lost count on the amount of times I’ve given way to another vehicle at a roundabout or a junction; anticipating it is going straight ahead (because it’s not indicating); only to see it turn left before it gets to me. As a result, I’ve missed my chance to go and a queue of traffic has built up behind me.
Traffic congestion is a big problem in our crowded country. Transport policy focuses on encouraging public transport use (and quite rightly) and implementation of measures such as road pricing or congestion zones (to discourage car journeys). Yet rarely do I hear mention of the link between careless driving and congestion; let alone policies to improve driving standards. Reminding drivers to indicate could, I believe, significantly improve the flow of traffic on our roads at relatively little cost – or at least, I’d like to see more studies which test the theory.
I’m not sure it’s about making the driving test tougher – that’s a whole other debate for another day. I think the issue lies more with driver complacency. If you’ve been driving for years, it’s likely that standards will slip. We need to be reminded and therefore the same mechanisms which are used to campaign about other driver behaviour, such as electronic motorway message signs or billboards in local towns, should be considered to help improve driving standards.
Car manufacturers could also help get the message across. Most modern cars tell you if your door isn’t shut properly, and bleep incessantly if you’re not wearing a seatbelt. Today, as a combined result of legislative changes, campaigns and clever in-car technology, most people wouldn’t even contemplate not wearing a seat belt, with 95% of car drivers wearing belts according to the DfT’s 2009 seatbelt survey. Yet this was not the case decades earlier.
I agree that driving safely should be the focus of any traffic campaign to change behaviour, but we could also be devising messages that focus on some of the more personal benefits to the driver… benefits which probably explain why they choose to travel by car in the first place. The problem with changing driver behaviour is that drivers just don’t think any of the potential negative outcome will happen to them. Maybe more focus on these personal benefits will just hit the right notes.