Is the UK in the grip of a dangerous driving epidemic?

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Dangerous driving appears to be rife throughout the UK, despite stricter penalties and regulations being introduced to the nation’s roads recently. In fact, Highways England carried out a two-year campaign from April 2015 and found that more than 4,000 drivers had been caught by unmarked vehicles carrying out a dangerous driving offence.

It’s also important to note that 25,160 people were either killed or seriously injured from road traffic accidents during 2016, which was a rise of six per cent when compared to the number of fatalities recording throughout the previous year. Throughout the Highways England campaign, officers gave verbal advice to 388 drivers, issued 838 fixed or graduated penalty notices, filed 3,318 traffic offence reports, and helped secure 113 prosecutions for more serious offences. VW dealership Vindis, highlights the worrying figures to establish if the UK is facing a dangerous driving epidemic — or whether the stricter penalties could put a stop to this behaviour.

What are the most common dangerous driving offences across the UK?

Speeding, using a mobile phone, failing to wear a seatbelt and not being in control of the vehicle were found to by the four most dangerous driving offences according to the Highways England report. Statistics related to road traffic accidents appear to fall in line with these findings.

This is because a study by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) highlighted that six per cent of all road traffic accidents occurred due to motorists driving at inappropriate speeds. During the Highways England campaign, 249 drivers were caught speeding on roads. Police reports suggest that driving at inappropriate speeds causes 15% of crashes that result in a serious injury and 26% of collisions that result in death. Furthermore, in 2015, 222 people were killed in road accidents where the driver was exceeding the speed limit, and 167 were killed when drivers were driving too fast for the road or weather conditions. However, ROSPA points out that by reduced speed by just 1mph, we can reduce the accident rate by five per cent!

Using a handheld mobile phone while driving was deemed to be the most common driving offence recorded throughout the Highways England campaign. Of the 4,176 drivers caught by police, 2,508 of them were using a mobile phone — and ignorance can’t be used as an excuse as 26% of drivers admitted to being aware of the strict penalties in place for the offence, and yet still continued to use their phone.

Research by the RAC makes for even more concerning reading when it comes to the number of drivers who feel it’s OK to use their mobile phones while at the wheel. 40% of respondents admitted to talking on their phone whilst in stationary traffic, 39% admitted to checking emails, texts and social media, 29% said they had written a text, email or social media post, and 16% said they had taken photos or videos. The risk of a crash is increased by 23% whilst texting, and reaction time is lowered by 35% — which is nearly three times the legal drink drive limit. Approximately 213 people die annually because of texting whilst behind the wheel.

Drink driving is also rife across the UK. Figures reveal that in 2015, 220 people were killed in drink driving incidents, whilst a further 1,160 people were seriously injured and there were over 8,000 casualties in total. In the Highways England report, 253 drivers were reported to be not in control of their vehicle — this includes drink driving. Police officers have the right to request a breath test if they suspect that a driver could be driving under the influence of alcohol. A total of 520,219 breath tests were carried out roadside during 2015 and 12% of those drivers either failed or refused to take the test.

Will stricter penalties really put off drivers from committing an offence?

A driver will usually get a penalty of either a fine and a driving course or points being put on their license when they are caught committing a driving offence, though this will be dependent on both the nature and the extremity of the crime. In 2017, almost 1.5 million drivers took a training course after committing a driving offence, as opposed to taking the points on their license. But are driving courses an easy way out for drivers? According to the RAC, over 6,000 drivers have been stopped at least twice for using their mobile behind the wheel since 2013 — with some drivers being stopped three or four times. So, the question remains, do we need to implement harsher penalties to stop drivers repeatedly offending on the roads?

In an attempt to put off motorists going above the speed limit on UK roads, new speeding guidelines were introduced across the nation in 2017. These guidelines outlined that speeding penalties would be stricter with higher fines. From the end of April 2017, drivers could be fined up to 150% of their weekly income for driving above the speed limit. However, despite the stricter regulations, nearly 1.2 million people attended courses throughout 2017, which suggests that regulations aren’t being implemented and the stricter regulations have not deterred drivers from offending.

It is also concerning that it was recently revealed that half of the road speed cameras in place throughout the UK are currently turned off. According the BBC:

  • Fixed speed cameras in Cleveland, Durham, North Yorkshire, and Northamptonshire are all inactive.
  • Forces where less than 25% of fixed cameras are active: West Yorkshire, Kent, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and Cheshire.
  • The Derbyshire force operates 112 cameras, of which 10 are switched on.
  • Gwent police force has 17 fixed speed cameras of which 8 are active, while South Wales has 88, 59% of which are switched on.
  • Police forces with all fixed speed cameras switched on include: the City of London, the Metropolitan Police/Transport for London, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, and Northern Ireland.

A major potential problem here is that a driver who speeds past a speed camera but is then not punished may then become wise that the device is currently inactive. The risk of a fine, a couple of points on your licence or a driving course does not seem to be a harsh enough punishment to stop dangerous driving anywhere — and now that they are aware that nearly half of the cameras are switched off, the chance of being caught has significantly decreased. So, what next? What can be done to stop dangerous driving?

There are fortunately stretches of road in the UK which do now have speed cameras in operation which never switch off. The new M1 smart motorway will issue fines to drivers who exceed the 70mph limit, thanks to 24/7 cameras. Additionally, there appeared to be 27% fewer police officers patrolling the roads in recent years, which could have been another contributor to the high level of dangerous driving. However, with the Highways England campaign, 28 police forces teamed up with the organisation to make the campaign successful, which could be a step in the right direction.

Sources

https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/drivers/inappropriate-speed.pdf

https://www.commercialfleet.org/news/truck-news/2017/11/03/watch-highways-england-s-unmarked-hgv-catches-4-000-dangerous-mobile-using-drivers

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/588773/quarterly-estimates-july-to-september-2016.pdf

https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/drivers/mobile-phones.pdf

https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/vehicles/seatbelt-advice.pdf

https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/drivers/drinking-and-driving.pdf

http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/car-news/consumer-news/91813/scale-of-uk-drug-driving-problem-revealed-in-new-figures

https://www.tyre-shopper.co.uk/texting-while-driving-infographic

https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/thousands-of-repeat-offenders-happy-to-try-their-luck-with-mobile-use/

https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/record-number-of-drivers-opt-for-awareness-courses/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41869134

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/908831/speed-cameras-UK-M1-smart-motorway-ticket-fine