Investigating danger

Highways Reporters

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, makes the case for an accident investigation branch for roads.

If we were ever tempted to rest on our laurels following a decades-long downward trend in the number of people killed on Britain’s roads, the just-released road casualty statistics are a stark reminder that there is still work to be done.

Across Britain 1,792 people died in road accidents in 2016, 4% more than in 2015. Looking at Scotland in particular the rise was even sharper – 191 fatalities, up 14%.

There are clear signs that the progress we have made in recent times is in danger of, at best, stalling and, at worst, going into reverse.

So where next for road safety? Cars have become much safer over time, and continue to improve. Driver-assist technology has helped greatly, and there are growing calls for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems to become standard equipment on new cars. AEB detects hazards ahead and if the driver doesn’t hit the brakes in time the car will do it for them.

In almost all incidents the human is the weak link. From wanton bad behaviour – drinking and driving, excess speed, using a handheld mobile – to the merely careless, driver or rider error is a factor in about two thirds of all reported incidents.

Yet there are things that exacerbate rather than mitigate the effects of human imperfections. That unforgiving tree on the side of the road, poor road layout, lack of central barriers, and so the list goes on. There are common threads. But are we recognising them?

It is worth looking at how things are done elsewhere – not just in other countries but on other modes of transport.

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