Road Safety

22 October 2011
Advice to the new Secretary of State for Transport
Patrick Crozier

I see we have a new Secretary of State for Transport.  You know what? I’ve even met her!  Long time ago, mind.

When I heard that news I started thinking about what advice I would give (fantasising that I might ever be asked).

I started coming up with a long list of sensible things like: ending the wheel/rail split, liberating fares, tearing up the Transatlantic air treaties, privatising the road network etc.

But then it occurred to me that what I am doing here is suggesting ways of making the world a better place.  That is not necessarily what politicians want.  What politicians want is to keep their jobs, be popular and climb the greasy pole.  In that case what you really want to be doing, as Ernest Benn said is to be: “...looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”

Fortunately, for Justine, most of the non-existent troubles already have plenty of wrong remedies.  Hence, we have CrossRail and HST2 and fare control.  About the only good solution is the proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph.  That is likely to be hugely popular even if (much to my annoyance) it comes from the EU.  Get your paws all over that one, Justine.

“But what about the economic crisis?”, I hear you say.  That’s the wonderful thing.  The Secretary of State can almost completely ignore it.  Sure, one day it will happen and it will happen to the Department of Transport good and hard.  HST will be cancelled, CrossRail will be abandoned, fares will go up.  It may even be so bad that the government sells the motorways to get it through the week.  But when that happens it becomes oh-so easy for a Secretary of State for Transport to say: “Oh dear, unexpected economic conditions, no money, nothing I can do etc, etc.”

So, just from a political standpoint (putting prosperity, wealth generation and morality to one side for the time being) I see no reason why Justine Greening shouldn’t promise the earth.

What has she got to lose?

11 May 2011
On the spot fines for bad driving
Rob Fisher

The government seems to be keen on changing the rules of the road.

Police will get powers to fine careless drivers on the spot, rather than taking them to court, as part of a government strategy to make Britain’s roads safer.

Ministers say motorists who tail-gate, undertake or cut others up often go unpunished and that introducing instant penalties would be more efficient.

Offenders would get a fine of at least £80 and three points on their licence.

The trouble with on-the-spot fines is that they are easy for the police to hand out, and your average law abiding citizen will just pay up, rather than risk the cost of a court case. Of course, “the proposals will have to go through Parliament”, but these things have a certain inevitability about them.

There are also plans to mess about with speed limits. The Lib Dems are against the proposal to increase the motorway speed limit because of global warming. I’m not happy about the proposal to reduce rural speed limits because driving fast on rural roads is fun. I quite like the notion of “Top Gear politics”, though: it sounds like an improvement on normal politics and green groups are against it.

08 January 2011
EU road haulier regulations suspended
Brian Micklethwait

The surprise for me, in this story about how the Road Hauliers of Britain Saved Christmas, came right at the end:

Between December 24th and 27th, the Department for Transport made the decision to temporarily relax the hours of EU drivers and working-time rules for hauliers directly responsible for the delivery of food to UK distribution centres and shops, to ensure that supplies were received on time.

So, what about the rest of the year?  Does our local government have greater powers to “suspend” EU regulations than it usually lets on?  Was this not the worst time of year, from the road safety point of view, to be relaxing safety regulations?  Were there lots more accidents, and if not ...?

30 October 2010
Just do it!
Brian Micklethwait

imageI photoed that earlier in the week, yards from my home.

Are any laws being broken?  I’d like to think: not.

After all, there seem to be thingies sticking out from the back axle, to enable such passenger transport.  Presumably the Law would have been all over that, if the Law says no to this kind of thing.

I give it three years.  If only to stop private enterprise competing with Boris bikes.


29 October 2008
Transport Committee Eleventh Report
Rob Fisher

A House of Commons Transport Committee report has been published.  Cue outraged calls for Something To Be Done about road safety.

The Liberal Democrats say the government should be ashamed of itself for not reducing drink driving casualties.  To their credit, they seem to be calling for enforcement of existing laws rather than new ones.

Here is the BBC story.  Road deaths are being presented as “the major public health problem of our age”, which is probably accurate.  That people are, when not being hectored by politicians, prepared to accept this level of risk says something about just how overblown reports of other risks are.  Why worry about eating the wrong type of food when you’re perfectly prepared to cross the road every day?

This morning, the vague and impossible to link to Radio 1 Newsbeat was reporting that “MPs” were “calling for” laws to prevent young drivers from carrying young passengers at night.  It looks like the Transport Committee likes this idea, but another report from the Department of Transport called Learning to Drive rejects it in favour of extra hoops to jump through to get a full license.

I suspect the report will quickly be forgotten and we won’t see any big changes to road laws for a while as it’s unlikely to be an election issue.

01 July 2008
New Motorcycle Test
Rob Fisher

The new motorcycle test starts on 29th September.  It’s a result of EU regulations.  Many test centres will close because parts of the test need to be done in a special off-road area.  This is mainly because the emergency stop now has to be done at 50km/h.  That’s thirty-two miles per hour.  Oh dear.

The DSA was on the radio quoting scary statistics and saying that the new test will make riding safer.  I am not convinced that a 2mph faster emergency stop and riding around some cones makes it safer.  I think motorcycle safety is largely about attitude.  Reading chapter 1 of Roadcraft, which is all about mental attitude, would do considerably more to improve safety.

An even better idea would be to let insurance companies administer tests.  They have to pay the costs of accidents, so they have the best incentive to stop them.  A range of tests could be offered, each yielding a different insurance premium.

22 April 2008
Daft restrictions on young drivers
Rob Fisher

It’s threatening to go beyond nods and winks.  “One of Stormont’s youngest politicians” has made some proposals:

  • Total alcohol ban for newly qualified drivers;
  • a curfew that would stop young motorists from driving at night;
  • a ban on them carrying teenage passengers.

This is just the usual ill-thought-out posturing that’s difficult to argue against because everyone can agree that one teenage road death is one too many, so any measures to reduce deaths are justified.  It’s not true because if you think about it, some risk is acceptable, or else we wouldn’t drive at all or we’d have universal 5mph speed limits.

And if you think about it, there are some obvious problems with this scheme:  A total alcohol ban doesn’t make any more sense with young drivers than it does with older ones, it just punishes innocent people who have drunk a harmless amount.  What happens when a young motorist is stranded in a remote location past the curfew?  How are young motorists to get experience of night driving?  And the passenger ban has been tried elsewhere.  It just results in more cars on the road with teenage drivers.

But proposals like these are about the politics of beeing seen do be doing something to protect the children.  They don’t have to make any sense.

08 April 2008
Libertarian Transport Policy
Rob Fisher

The new UK Libertarian Party has a transport section in their manifesto.  It’s something of a living document and may change over time, but there are some interesting ideas.  This one could be controversial, it’s a bit like what the Australians are trying but perhaps the truckers will be placated by the abolition of income tax:

We will end the indirect subsidy of road freight. This may require retention of a form of distance-based road pricing for HGVs, which in 38-tonne form, do 10,000 times more damage to roads than a 1 tonne car.

I like this bit best:

Motorists and riders should have the right to make their own choices on their use of safety equipment; insurance companies should have the right to charge additional premiums (or decline cover) to those who do.

These parts sound like a good opportunity to properly privatise rail, although I don’t fully understand the current situation (does anybody?)

Disband the cartel of the rolling stock leasing arrangements.  Resolve geographic monopoly that is the rail tendering mechanism.

28 January 2008
Penalty Points Changes
Rob Fisher

The fog at Heathrow is lifting but my flight is delayed for some time yet, so a blog post is in order.  My in-flight entertainment, this month’s Bike magazine, has an article about DfT’s proposed changes to the penalty points system.  The idea is to introduce 6 point penalties for “excessive” speeders.  They have a nice chart illustrating speeds at which various penalties apply under the current and proposed systems.  Currently, on the motorway, you won’t (in theory) be prosecuted until you drive at 79mph.  Between 79 and 83mph you’ll be fined and offered a “speed awareness course”.  I can only imagine how useful that course is.  Between 83 and 96mph you’ll be fined and get 3 points.  Over 96 and you’ll be banned.  The proposed change is to introduce a 6 point penalty at 94mph.

The changes make more sense in a 30mph zone, where you’ll face the 6 point penalty for going faster than 45mph, and a ban for going faster than 50.

Various people are quoted.  Paul Mostyn of the Met is the most interesting.  He says, “Personally I don’t think the threat of more points will scare people into slowing down.”  He goes on:

The DfT has completely given up on dealing with driver standards and they just want to focus on speed.  Even though their own figures show that 50% of drivers regularly exceed the speed limits—70% of drivers on motorways—excessive speed is a contributory factor in in only 5% of accidents.  The real issue is the decline in standards, with 80% of of accidents caused by the worst 20% of road users,

Suppose we drive past a school at 3:45am at 35mph.  The place is deserted and no danger is caused.  But to drive past the same school at 3:45pm with traffic everywhere and kids spilling off the pavements also at 35mph may well be extremely dangerous.  Clearly these two offences are not equal, but the new penalty proposals will make them equal.  It’s absurd.

This sort of common sense is why I like the idea of police having discretion about who to prosecute.  As ever, I wonder what type of penalty system would be used if insurance companies made the rules.

23 January 2008
“Insurers put the brakes on teenage drivers”
Patrick Crozier

I had a double take when I saw this headline in the Telegraph.  I had another when I saw some of the premiums being quoted (some were over £4,000).  I even checked them for myself - £2,300 was the best I could do for a 17-year old with an ancient Ford Fiesta.  Lower but still very high.  I certainly can’t remember this being an issue when my generation were driving for the first time.

So, what’s going on?  When government ministers are losing their heads(1), I tend to look to actuaries and their world of real, actual numbers for some sanity.  My guess is that something is going on and for some reason young drivers are having more accidents although in the murky world of government regulation and the threat of government regulation it is just possible that nods and winks are having an effect.

Does anyone know for sure?

1. They want to increase the age for driving to 18.

27 December 2007

The Drachten experiment (that’s the one where they rip out all the street signs) is spreading.  This time to Germany.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
20 September 2007
So, that’s why they use the train
Patrick Crozier

A report (in Japanese) on Tokyo’s most dangerous street.  Watch out for the (small) crash near the end:

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

14 September 2007
Shared space
Mark Holland

If there’s one thing more annoying than the over zealous greens then it’s the knee-jerk, suck on my exhaust pipe, gaze upon my carbon footprint, “oppressed motorist!”, anti green. Isn’t it funny how many folks who claim to be guided by reason can be so prejudiced at times?

Anyway, The Conservative Party released an environmental discussion document yesterday which most bloggers, in fairness, guided by experience no doubt, pounced upon before the ink was barely dry. Personally I haven’t read it so I have no opinion. Presumably there’s some good and some not so good.

However, some people should really look before they leap:

Bonkers idea #4 : removing white lines from the nation’s roads. The idea is that we would all drive more cautiously as a result, and so save fuel. It also says street lights should be turned off at night.

Whoops. Someone should have been reading Transport Blog last November. The scheme, Guido should know, is something those of a libertarian bent should applaud.

Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. “Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don’t like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave.”

In short, if motorists are made more wary about how they drive, they behave more carefully, he said.

In the immortal words of Brian: “You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!”.

16 August 2007
They’re thinking of raising the age for driving
Patrick Crozier

Longrider is against it:

The reason young drivers figure so high in the accident statistics is not purely because they are beset with the indomitable self assurance that comes with a lack of years, it is because they lack experience.

Maybe, maybe.  My view is that if you’re good enough you’re old enough.  Why shouldn’t 10-year olds or younger be able to drive?  Is there any more of a legal problem with 10-year olds than their 17-year old counterparts?  I really don’t know here but if there is it occurs to me that it ought to be changed.

At very least lowering the legal age for driving might get a few of them off the sidewalks.  Walking is the second most dangerous form of transport.

The way we were
28 June 2007
Holy Rollers
Mark Holland

The Pope obviously has friends in high places.

Watch out for his (His?) car driving edicts which Brian mentioned the other day get a boost from our new Transport Secretary: Ruth - Holy Moly - Kelly.

Related exit thought: Heathens are surely going to be safer drivers than believers in an after-life for whom a fatal crash is merely a stepping stone rather than a full stop. No?

24 June 2007
Thou shalt drive safely
Brian Micklethwait

From the BBC:

The Vatican has issued a set of “10 commandments” for motorists to promote safer driving.

The “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” call on drivers to respect speed limits, refrain from drinking before driving and avoid cursing.

Roman Catholics are also urged to make the sign of the cross before setting off on a journey.

This is said to be the first time the Vatican has specifically dealt with the growing worldwide problem of road rage.

Amen.  Via him.

15 June 2007
The sound of silence
Mark Holland

There’s an advert running on the radio the moment for a Lexus hybrid. Although, if I recall Jeremy Clarkson correctly, said car rarely if ever runs off its batteries. The advert obviously doesn’t let that get in the way of its spiel.

Them: “If you listen very carefully you can just about hear…”
Me mentally interjecting: “The sound of hapless pedestrians and cyclists getting mown down because they never heard you coming.”

I’m pretty certain some high end German sports cars play engine noises through internal speakers to “enhance the driving experience”, or sommat. Perhaps stealth motors ought to broadcast an artificial engine noise - like the odour which inserted into otherwise odourless gas - so that others might hear your couple of tons of steel heading their way?

09 May 2007
Celebrity green car is declared unsafe - it's official: the G-Wizz is a deathtrap. Oi you, stop sniggering  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (2)Road:Climate ChangeRoad Safety
17 March 2007
How they do it in Hanoi
Patrick Crozier

Without an awful lot of signals apparently.

Café Hayek has others in a similar vein.

26 February 2007
Richard Branson's carriages are not the only passenger carriers recently to have performed well in crash conditions.

Hat tip Samizdata.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)Rail SafetyRoad Safety
01 December 2006
European cities try signless streets. The Drachten Experiment is spreading. (Hat-tip Jay Jardine).

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
17 November 2006
Compulsory seat belts lead to more accidents, according to US research. Now, I am a bit dubious about this sort of research (it's the same sort of thing that makes me doubt statistics), so I wouldn't want to set too much store by it, only to say that it suggests that things are never as simple as we might like them to be.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
06 November 2006
For those of you who want to know more about the guy who took away the road signs there's a profile of him in the New York Times. (hat-tip: Jay Jardine)

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
04 November 2006
For safer streets rip out the traffic lights…
Patrick Crozier

...and get rid of the road markings.  That seems to be the conclusion of a study carried out in the Netherlands town of Drechten.  And the traffic’s speeded up:

“I am used to it now,” said Helena Spaanstra, 24. “You drive more slowly and carefully, but somehow you seem to get around town quicker.”

How odd.  How very odd.

30 October 2006
Richard Hammond’s exploit is not a licence to be reckless
Mark Holland

Despite their protestations to the contrary, I have a sneaking suspicion that certain nannying types are somewhat disappointed that Richard Hammond not only survived his 288mph jet-car crash but ultimately escaped with nothing more than a bout of depression. No brain injury, no lost limbs, no scars, no nothing really. Amazing.

Take this opinion piece in today’s Times.

Firstly, the author’s use of the phrase “penis extension” says more about her than it does about Hammond, his Top Gear colleagues or indeed anyone who’s ever had the temerity to enjoy accelerating or a well taken corner.

Secondly, apparently the fact that Hammond came away from his ordeal moderately unscathed is going to act as a green light to “impressionable” “boy racers” who are going to be mowing down innocent children outside primary school gates the length of the land any day now. (Apart from anything else, aren’t the majority of school children ferried the short walk to school in 4x4s with more armour than our servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq get to dodge roadside bombs in.)

Watch out, there’s straw man lying in the road:

“Do you realise how annoyed I am that I’ve got no marks on me?” he [Hammond] jokes. “Absolutely nothing at all, nothing for the pub. There are people who fall off their trikes at the age of 4 who have better injuries than me.” Ho, ho.

I wonder how Elizabeth Davidson felt when she read that remark. Mrs Davidson’s daughter Margaret, a 26-year-old doctor, was killed instantly when Nolan Haworth, 19, slammed into her car at 70mph after driving like a joyrider and overtaking on the brow of a hill.

Wheras I wonder what one earth the connection is between Haworth’s actions and Richard Hammond. Yes, peer pressure and the influence of others can be powerful forces but ultimately the choice to act on them is the individual’s to make. “Only following orders” doesn’t cut it as an excuse. Haworth and only Haworth is responsible for his actions. As are we all for ours. I will choose free will.

But, of course, you become the po-faced party pooper if you suggest that, actually, Hammond should be hanging his head in shame for driving a car at nearly 300mph in the first place.

You are a po-faced party pooper.

Hammond wasn’t driving a jet car along the local by-pass for heaven’s sake. It was on a closed track on private land with safety checks having been done and with medical personnel on stand by. The crash was caused by a mechanical failure. One of the tyres burst. These things happen. An identical mishap felled a Concorde. Did that not have all possible safety proceedures carried out or do Air France like to kill its passengers, employees and unlucky people on the ground? Should Ayrton Senna, Donald Campbell, Andrei Kivilev and countless others be hanging their heads in shame for not staying in bed that day?

Imagine how much he has supercharged the fantasies of hundreds of teenage twockers by bragging that he walked away from the crash with little more than a chipped tooth and is now looking forward to regaling his mates with the story over a few pints. This is the ballsy stuff of Hotspur comic legend — but it is also irresponsible.

And that Douglas Bader was a terrible influence too.

What’s wrong with a bit of inspiring derring do? Not everybody is as content to cower neath the duvet as this article’s writer. Some need to push themselves to go faster, higher and further and good luck to them. To link their exploits to some reckless idiot who chose to put his foot down in the wrong place is a) unfair and b) disregards free will.

Finally, I have no idea what on earth a “twocker” is supposed to be.

Yesterday I spotted a van covered in grass, and photoed it. (It even has its own blog.)

It is indeed a strange and eye-catching sight. I wonder if anyone will now make the case that such vehicles are a danger, by drawing the attention of drivers away from their driving. It might only take one more accident where this is the excuse offered.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)RoadRoad MiscellanyRoad Safety
27 October 2006
Not so long ago it was the Italians who held the title of Worst Drivers in Europe. But it seems the Russians are beating them at their own game. Isn't it amazing what a little freedom can do?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
04 October 2006
Mobile phone law ignored. Drivers are using them in record numbers. But what, if anything, does this prove?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
21 September 2006
Boris Johnson doesn't like the new booster seat law. It's a safety regulation, so I can't say I'm much in favour either. Does make me wonder if various laws on child seats haven't been one of the contributing factors to the 4x4 boom.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
13 September 2006
Opening up hard shoulder "a success". Call me a safety fascist but I just don't get it. For a couple of generations we have been told that the hard shoulder is hallowed ground, only to be approached in dire emergency. And now they turn around and tell us: "Oh no, it isn't."

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Road Safety
09 July 2006