Are we making our roads dangerous?

Are we making our roads dangerous?

There are three main components to highway safety: The vehicle, the roadway and the driver. A range of positive changes have been made over the years to our cars and roads which have aided road safety. Despite this, research suggests that human errors and distractions are still causing a tragic number of road accidents – with 24,582 people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in 2014 alone.  

We recently carried out an exclusive survey* that revealed less than half of drivers recognise driver error as a leading cause of accidents. However, according to the Thames Valley Police, in reality “95% of all road crashes are due to human error.” This huge percentage indicates that it’s in fact our own behaviour which is primarily bringing danger to the roads.

We’ve investigated the factors within the automotive industry that have contributed to improvements in safety over the past decade, as well as the human behaviours which are still causing our roads to be dangerous.

The roads are getting safer…

Car developments

Through leading engineering and design, cars are becoming increasingly safer. New vehicles have improved primary safety features designed to help avoid a crash, as well as secondary safety features to reduce injury if you do have an accident. Some safety features include air bags, Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), traction control, crumple zones and head restraints.

Innovative technology

Advancements in technology continue to help make vehicles safer. These are largely ‘active’ safety features, meaning that they intend to stop an incident from occurring in the first place. There are many cutting-edge technologies which have been developed to help protect drivers from more difficult driving conditions, tiredness or other distractions. These include:

  • Head-up displays: Projecting information onto your windscreen, so your eyes stay ahead on the road.
  • Driver attention alert: Alerting the driver if they’re tired.
  • Lane departure warnings: These can be visual, audible or vibrating indicators, warning when a car is drifting out of the lane.
  • Adaptive headlights: Designed to increase visibility around curves, when driving on winding roads at night.
  • Blind spot monitoring: Using radar sensors or cameras to detect vehicles in blind spots.  

Thorough testing

Of course, all new cars must pass a series of rigorous tests to ensure safety standards. The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) ratings examine all aspects of a car during crash tests. In 2009 they introduced an overall safety rating using a five-star system, which assesses four key areas:

  • Adult protection
  • Child protection
  • Pedestrian protection
  • Safety assist technologies

The tests are regularly updated, and recently, the inclusion of emerging crash avoidance technology has changed the measurement process considerably. 2016 will see the introduction of a test to check how well a vehicle autonomously detects and stops pedestrian collisions.

Roadway design

Roads are also continually being enhanced. Highway improvement schemes, road safety audits, more advanced highway engineering, and regular maintenance work, all help to make sure our roads are safer. Transport for London leads projects that aim to support road safety; including the introduction of pedestrian countdowns, improved cycle routes and wider footways.

But there’s still too many casualties…

Despite these improvements, the number of people involved in traffic accidents is still far too high. According to a report from the Department for Transport, in 2014 there were a staggering 194,477 casualties in reported road traffic accidents in Britain – 1,775 of whom were killed.

The World Health Organization (WHO), also highlight that “road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15–29 years.” These statistics show that it’s still a big problem that needs to be tackled, to prevent these largely avoidable and permanently tragic injuries and deaths.

So, you think you’re a safe driver?

Our survey revealed 80% of all respondents rated themselves as an 8/10 or above in terms of road safety. However, a significant proportion also confessed to carrying out distracting driving behaviours.

Of these self-proclaimed safe drivers, a surprising amount (75%) also admitted to doing at least one of the following:

Distracting behaviour


Eating or drinking whilst driving


Struggling to stay awake


Talking on the phone whilst driving


Texting whilst driving


Smoking whilst driving



The survey highlighted that only 14% of these people believed that impairment or distraction is the most likely cause of accidents in the UK. However, Phil Pinches, Head of Road Safety for South Wales Fire and Rescue, reveals that “by taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds when driving at 30mph, you travel for 27 metres effectively blind” – severely increasing your chances of a collision.

Of all respondents, 80% also said that they do their best to follow the rules of the road, and 79% expressed that stiffer penalties should be enforced for people caught using mobile phones whilst driving. This is despite many of these drivers admitting to undertaking distracting, or even illegal behaviours themselves.    

These results clearly demonstrate that there’s a difference between how safe people think they are, compared with how safe they actually are behind the wheel. This highlights driver’s misconceptions, and shows that there’s an inconsistency between current perceptions and reality surrounding road safety.

Pinches recognises that there’s “clearly loads more work to be done in engaging and highlighting the consequences attached to poor driving practices.” To address this, we need to change the attitudes and views of drivers. It’s vital for us to firstly understand just how dangerous driving distractions really are, to encourage motorists to consider and adapt their behaviour – helping to reduce these risks and ultimately make our roads safer.

* An exclusive survey of 1,094 British drivers conducted online by YouGov for Aviva in conjunction with The Telegraph on 7-9 December 2015

Additional Sources

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