According to the results of the most recent Highways England campaign, over 4,000 drivers were caught on UK roads breaking road laws. The most common causes of dangerous driving were driving without a seatbelt, speeding and using a mobile phone.

Mobile use behind the wheel was the most common driving offence by a mile, with the campaign catching 2,508 drivers using a hand-held mobile phone whilst behind the wheel.

In other news, human error has been highlighted as a big contributor to road traffic accidents. This could be partly due to the fact that some of the first autonomous vehicles to be driven on roads have been involved in incidents whereby other vehicles, driven by humans, have been at fault. Used van retailer, Van Monster, analyses the statistics of how dangerous our roads are today and discuss if the evolution of autonomous vehicles could be the answer to improving road safety.

How unsafe are our roads?
According to the RAC, in 2014, there were 27% fewer traffic police on the roads in England and Wales compared to figures from 2010 – which they say directly links with the increase in road death figures in 2014. According to Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC, “cuts to police enforcement are doubly damaging… 26,000 are still dying each year on our roads, and the numbers will not start to decrease again without concerted action.”

However, the Highways England campaign encourages over 28 police forces to get back on the roads to help combat dangerous driving. During the campaign, police forces reported over 5,039 offences involving a total of 4,176 drivers. Of those offences, there were a total of 133 prosecutions for serious dangerous driving offences, whilst police officers noted that they had to give verbal advice or warnings to 388 drivers, issued 838 penalty notices and filed 3,318 traffic offence reports.

As the most common – and potentially most dangerous – offence, driving whilst using a hand-held mobile phone is directly linked to on average two deaths on the roads every month. At least 124 people have lost their lives in road traffic accidents involving mobile phone usage in the past five years – and 521 people have suffered serious injuries.

Furthermore, injuries to motorcyclists are out of proportion to their presence on our roads. Motorcyclists are just 1% of total road traffic, but account for 19% of all road user deaths. Young riders represent 15% of motorcyclists but make up more than 38% of motorcycle rider casualties. Highways England has launched ‘Distressed’, a campaign highlighting the true cost of not dressing appropriately for the ride. Worryingly, motorcyclists are roughly 38 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than car occupants, per mile ridden. 30 motorcyclists are killed or injured every day at junctions

However, whilst Highways England highlight a problem on our roads, the UK roads still remain among the safest across Europe. When comparing the number of road deaths across countries in Europe, only Sweden had a lower rate than the UK. And could they be about to get even safer?

An autonomous resolution
Autonomous technology has arrived in most modern-day vehicles. Furthermore, some countries and companies already in the process of trialling vehicles that do not require a human driver.

Dangerous driving and human error are significant contributors to road traffic accidents – industry professionals and pioneers hope that by eliminating the human driver from behind the wheel and taking away their control, our roads may become the safest they have ever been? Vehicles which never exceed the speed limit, stop at every traffic light and give way to road markings and follow all road rules perfectly – sounds perfect, right? It has the potential to revolutionise the automotive industry and make it safer than ever before.

Recent reports have revealed that some of the first autonomous vehicles driving on the roads have been involved in road traffic accidents with other vehicles on the roads. A self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas had only been on the road for around an hour when it collided with a large delivery truck driven by a human driver. The accident was confirmed by the AAA as being the truck driver’s fault.

43 accidents have been reported in California with autonomous vehicles. According to Mike Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner who specializes in advanced automotive technologies, this is because “they don’t drive like people. They drive like robots. They’re odd and that’s why they get hit.”

Unlike human drivers, autonomous vehicles are programmed to follow all road rules to a fault, which is why other drivers are not used to the style of driving. You could say, they drive too well. For autonomous vehicles to truly contribute to making our roads safer, they must be able to integrate themselves better with human drivers on the road. Companies designing autonomous vehicles must find the right balance between emulating human driving behaviour whilst eliminating human mistakes.

Further work is required before autonomous vehicles will be ready to be rolled out on a broader scale, but they could certainly be the answer to safer roads. Whilst the cars themselves are trained to follow road rules perfectly, human drivers are not as well-trained.

Sources
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/using-mobile-phones-when-driving-the-law

https://fullfact.org/news/are-uk-roads-among-europes-safest/

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-3650973/Britain-second-safest-roads-Europe-European-Safety-Transport-Council-reveals.html

https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/8/16626224/las-vegas-self-driving-shuttle-crash-accident-first-day

http://www.thedrive.com/sheetmetal/15023/autonomous-cars-are-getting-into-accidents-because-they-drive-too-well

http://think.direct.gov.uk/motorcycles.html