Toughening up seat-belt penalties is most obvious and direct way of saving lives

IAM RoadSmart has welcomed a possible toughening up of the penalties for not using seatbelts in cars, saying it’s the most obvious and direct way of saving lives in road crashes.

Today (19 July) the Department of Transport announced this as one of 74 measures to tackle road safety in the UK.

Currently, those not wearing seatbelts are given a £100 on-the-spot fine – but now the government is considering issuing penalty points for this offence.

In 2017 27% of car deaths involved people who were not wearing a seatbelt, an increase of 7% on the previous year and a marked increase on the years before it.

IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s biggest independent road safety charity, has consistently lobbied for these penalties to be made tougher, while also noting that the fear of being caught must be greater to encourage car occupants to belt-up.

An investigation by IAM RoadSmart in February 2018 found that more than a third of police forces were using their mobile safety camera vans to prosecute drivers not wearing seatbelts or using a handheld mobile phone.

The charity made a Freedom of Information request to 44 police forces and found that 16 of those that responded routinely used their safety cameras to identify other motoring offences. Those 16 forces recorded more than 8,000 unbelted drivers between them.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “This is very welcome news. The best way of tackling this ever-present issue is to make people believe there is a high chance of being caught. This could start tomorrow if consistent guidelines on using mobile speed camera vans to enforce seatbelt laws were issued. 

“Currently there is no standard approach on using this high-profile resource across the UK. Making non-wearing of seatbelts an endorsable offence is also a quick win. Not only would it persuade more people to take the offence seriously, but it might benefit them to take a seatbelt awareness course. People avoid using seatbelts for a wide range of individual reasons and these views need to be challenged face-to-face.”

Survey finds over 70% would get the jitters in a car that drives itself.

While the car industry invests billions into the development of self-driving cars, a survey by road safety charity IAM RoadSmart has found that drivers have other ideas – with over 70% saying they would not feel safe travelling in one.

IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s biggest independent road safety charity, asked more than 1,600 visitors to its website if they would feel ‘confident and safe travelling in a fully self-driving vehicle, where there is no driver input.’ Just over 70% would feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’ with only 4% feeling ‘very safe.’

In addition, three-quarters (75%) expressed some level of disagreement with the statement that the vehicle should ‘always be in ultimate control,’ with 40% strongly against it.

There was an overwhelming view that the driver should always be able to take over from a self-driving car should he or she need to. Over 90% of respondents agreed this should be the case.

Those surveyed were also very definite over a future where there is no human involvement in driving. When asked if they agree that ‘all human drivers should be banned from driving on the roads once fully autonomous vehicles are widely available,’ over 82% either ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed.’

A future where the car takes over more of the driver functions also didn’t fill those surveyed with joy.

When asked if they were ‘concerned about the progress towards a future where the vehicle takes over more and more functions previously controlled by the driver,’ two-thirds said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned.’

Even current technology in new cars does not fill some of those surveyed with confidence. When asked if they would be ‘comfortable using current technology features on many cars such as adaptive cruise control, lane-assist and self-parking’ more than a quarter (27%) said they would be ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘very uncomfortable.’

However, over 50% were ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ with using them.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “It’s clear from the results of our survey that the motor industry has a big job ahead in convincing drivers of the safety virtues of self-driving vehicles. While on paper they offer significant advantages in eliminating human error from collisions, there is a lot of confusion, misinformation and an over-abundance of terminology which has made the public distrustful of it.

“Some 44% of our respondents felt poorly or very poorly informed on autonomous vehicles with only 6% feeling very well informed. There needs to be an industry-standard on the acronyms and product names used, and car companies need to come together, alongside government, to ensure the facts out there are clearer and easy-to-understand.”

IAM RoadSmart is focusing on driverless technology, assisted driving and autonomous vehicles this month. To see our microsite full of information and resources click here: 

Self driving cars? Hang on a second

Nic Fasci was kind enough to come to Guildford last year for the AGM – if you missed his talk about self driving cars you missed a real treat and a clear insight into the wonderful world of vehicle automation. Here is his latest blog from the IAM weekly news.

Exclusive by Nic Fasci, managing director of ATE-EL.

Nic is a road safety testing specialist and talks about road safety issues around the world. ATE-EL is a company offering automotive homologation in the area of technical certifications of vehicles and their components.

Whether you like it or not – they’re coming! An unstoppable tsunami of technology, a deluge of data and hardware that is being “sold” to the human race as a game changer, something that will make our lives better and ultimately safer on our roads, but will there be a ‘ghost in the machine’ at the end of it?

Bits of random code that will lurk in the dark corner of an electronic control unit somewhere, to make this so called “autonomous utopia” a ticking time bomb no-one will be able to control?

I am of course talking about the autonomous vehicle. Over the last few years, manufacturers have been slowly introducing chunks of technology to theoretically ease drivers into the autonomous world, subconsciously “training” drivers to use the technology so when the first fully approved autonomous vehicles hit the roads, everyone will be used to them and it will be a seamless introduction to the world.

However, nothing at the moment could be further from the truth. I am, for my apparent dinosaur views on driving sins one of the very few on this most harmless small blue-green planet that remains unconvinced that this is the right direction for the world to be heading in.

OK, I can’t really hide it because I’ll go pop – I really don’t like the thought of them being on our roads as I believe they will cause more injuries and deaths in the coming years than leaving them off the roads and for me, driver training is the key to reducing deaths and injuries.

I’m well known for my views on autonomous vehicles and driver training and I get a fair bit of flak from people saying that I’m wrong. Well I’m not entirely wrong as I predicted that there would be 10 deaths in 2018 due to poor programming and execution of AV development testing. A statistic based on things I’d seen and witnessed – and the sad thing was … I was right.

People around me who actually care about driving, who enjoy it and want to keep it an enjoyable experience share my views and passion for getting behind the wheel and feel that their personal freedom is being eroded because the legislators believe that this will save us all.

They, like me do not relish the thought of automatically guided drones on our roads as it raises some massive ethical questions and also could start lawsuits against programmers of AV’s as well as manufacturers because the training element has been painfully overlooked!

If people were trained better at the start of their driving career and took the decision to follow training programmes, with IAM Roadsmart for example, the world would instantly become a better place – because driving skill would be put back in to the world.

People might actually care about other road users as opposed to being selfish and self-centred, cocooned in a metal cage thinking they’re better than everyone else who takes massive unnecessary risks. Training and mind set is key.

Training can then be implemented back into the manufacturers’ development world where the programmers responsible for autonomous vehicle (AV) development will be driving at a higher standard, just like an IAM RoadSmart member would be to think about the driving environment and everything that this involves – right from a high skill base up to the psychological skills that are needed for driving in today’s environment.

If we can get this message through, things may get better and we can then improve all of the systems that have been gently introduced into vehicles to make the transition to AVs safer for all.

This of course will take, I believe well over a decade to implement and get right. We’re still too far away to make it work now, as the road infrastructure isn’t ready either and you can’t have AVs without a road infrastructure that works and communicates.

However, despite my concerns for the human race and AVs there may be some areas where they would be of great benefit such as a gated community, technology park or a university campus to name but a few.

I have a relative who’s sister lives in a huge community in Australia that has been specifically designed for the retired generation and people with reduced mobility. It’s like a small town within a city with all of the facilities and amenities you’d expect in your town, city or village – the only difference is that there are only one or two ways in and out and it’s ‘safe’ so people can take their time to get around and do what they need to do. It’s a perfect test bed for AV development where people can have a bit of freedom to move around and visit places and friend by calling at AV to take them there!

This kind of environment to me is the perfect place to deploy AVs where they can be of benefit and not ‘bullied’ off the roads, which is what will probably happen when they get put onto the major road networks.

I can see the pros and cons for the AV but for the moment, I’m firmly entrenched in the cons list as we are not ready for this to happen.

From where I sit; as someone who has to test and sign the vehicles off for Type Approval requirements, there is still too much work to do to let us put them on the roads and all the systems we have now need further driver training to make them effective and not an excuse when something goes wrong because the driver doesn’t know how to use something like cruise control properly!

I stand by my training convictions at the moment and this is what we should encourage, not reliance on immature technology that is being developed to line pockets, not save lives properly.

Blanket ban on pavement parking could leave thousands without a parking space.

A blanket ban on pavement parking could lead to a need for thousands of new car parking spaces that towns and cities are simply not equipped to provide, warns IAM RoadSmart.

The warning has come after the House of Commons Transport Committee launched an enquiry into pavement parking and invited comments from interested parties in April, to which IAM RoadSmart has delivered its conclusions. All submissions have now been released for public viewing.

One suggestion that has emerged from the enquiry is a blanket ban on all vehicles parking on any part of a pavement – but IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s biggest independent road safety charity, said this could cause a major parking headache for drivers across the country.

In its submission to the committee, IAM RoadSmart said: “Where data has been collated, the problems appear to be localised.

“Where pedestrians are being put in danger or denied access by inconsiderate pavement parking, or if costly long-term damage is being done, then we have no problem with local solutions being implemented for local problems.

“Local councils should be encouraged to use their existing powers to sign, define, review and enforce local bans as required.”

IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research Neil Greig noted that, with increasing numbers of cars on the road, local councils do not have the funding or the road capacity to provide the extra spaces people need to park. Nor do hard pressed local councils have the resources required to effectively implement a blanket ban.

“New traffic orders, new signposting, new road markings and new enforcement administration will all be required at extra cost if a blanket ban is introduced. Councils are already struggling to implement low emission zones, cycling and walking policies, active travel policies, 20mph zones and a host for other transport measures against a background of budget cuts and dwindling resources.”

IAM RoadSmart added that a blanket ban risked creating conflict between residents as they attempt to find a place to park, often in areas where there has never been a road safety problem.

In addition, while many would like to see stricter penalties for pavement parking, IAM RoadSmart said enforcement must always be seen to be fair and well targeted. Penalties should only be used to encourage behaviour change and the take-up of alternatives if they can be provided.

“If enforcement is going to be applied rigorously then councils should be forced to provide safe and secure alternative parking arrangements in those areas where pavement parking has been banned but worked perfectly well before. 

“If a blanket ban is to go ahead, despite our and other organisations’ recommendations, the income from fines should be ringfenced to improve parking facilities in the worst affected areas.”

IAM RoadSmart want to see much more research and pilot schemes before a decision is made to ban all pavement parking. In many urban areas, pavement parking is actively encouraged and the road marked up to allow it. IAM RoadSmart does not support a blanket ban that effectively removes this option at a stroke.

Get caravanning: tips from IAM RoadSmart

With another bank holiday on the horizon, there will be more people dusting off their caravan and packing for the long weekends. IAM RoadSmart has partnered up with the Caravan and Motorhome Club to offer some advice for a successful holiday trip.

Going away with the whole family and the caravan, trailer tent or camping trailer is a great experience. By ensuring that you load the caravan or trailer correctly, and deal appropriately with other traffic, you can help ease the stress levels, especially if you lack towing experience.

With the south west of England being a very popular place to visit, it is not surprising that they have some of the highest incident rates for caravans. Between January 2017 and May 2018 there have been 850 caravan or trailer incidents on main roads in the South West region, with 460 of those occurring in the summer months of May to September – a sure way to put a sudden end to a lovely holiday. With the majority of caravans only being used over the summer months, this figure needs to be reduced.  

Most incidents happen around the weekend. Nearly a third of all incidents occur on Saturdays and Sundays, with Mondays and Fridays not too far behind.

Caravan and trailer road-worthiness is just as important as your car’s, and particular care is needed for that first summer outing, as many are parked up and unused over the winter.

  • We recommend that before you start your trip you make sure you have checked both your car and caravan or trailer. Especially check your tyres as they should be inflated to the correct pressure, have a good amount of tread (no lower than 1.6mm) and be free from damage
  • The caravan breakaway cable (or safety chain on smaller unbraked trailers) should be in good condition and connected correctly. If you have a caravan or a large box-shaped trailer you will almost always need to fit extension mirrors – these will help make sure you have a good view behind you and comply with the law
  • Remember when loading your caravan or trailer to make sure it is not overloaded as this can put you at additional risk of instability, and mean you’re breaking the law. Ensure your heavy items are positioned correctly over the axle, low to the floor with lighter items higher up
  • A quick refresher of the Highway Code will remind you that travelling in the right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes is not allowed and your speed limit when towing is 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways and 50 mph on single carriageways, unless a lower overall limit is applies
  • Be extra vigilant on downhill stretches as your speed can easily creep up and get too high – this is a common contributory factor to your caravan/trailer losing stability. Remember, you will need more room to stop when towing and you should always have a big enough gap to be able to slow down and stop in an emergency
  • Towing in high winds needs additional care and perhaps a change of route should be considered. However it’s not just windy days you need to be mindful of. Overtaking large vehicles can place you in their “bow wave” and this can cause instability of caravans which are badly loaded and/or being towed too fast

Martin Spencer, technical manager at the Caravan and Motorhome Club says: “Towing a caravan or other trailer can be unfamiliar, but doesn’t need to be intimidating. By getting the basic set-up right, then following straightforward advice over issues such as speed and safety around other vehicles, towing can be relaxed, easy and comfortable. Above all, it will be safe.

“In almost all cases, serious incidents only occur because inexperienced drivers have not taken the right advice, or experienced ones have become complacent. The Club has 15 training centres across the country so anyone just starting out, or those needing some refresher training can receive the best possible guidance.”

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart says: “The advanced driving skills of observation, anticipation and planning are key to good towing. They will keep you a safe distance from the vehicle in front and help you predict problems ahead and around you. If you prepare yourself, your family and your vehicles for the road ahead your trip will be as relaxing as possible.”

More than 11,000 drivers hold licences legally despite having 12 penalty points or more

IAM RoadSmart has expressed its frustration that six years after calling for action, more than 11,000 drivers a year are still being legally allowed on the roads with 12 or more points on their licences.

The issue was brought back into the spotlight this month when Justin Madders, MP of Ellesmere Port and Neston, asked Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling how many holders of UK licences with 12 points or more have been allowed to continue driving.

The DVLA replied that as of 9 April 2019, the number of people with 12 penalty points or more who have an entitlement to drive is 11,105.

IAM RoadSmart first revealed the scale of the issue back in 2013 following a Freedom of Information request and subsequently met with the DVLA to discuss solutions.

Although six years ago there were 12,470 drivers with more than 12 points on their licences on the roads legally, IAM RoadSmart is still highly concerned that these numbers still run into five figures.

Despite proposing several ways to fix the issue of such an unacceptably high number of drivers holding licences legally after committing multiple driving offences, little obvious action appears to have been taken in the past six years.

Six years ago, IAM RoadSmart discussed a series of measures to tackle the issue with the DVLA:

  • Where ‘exceptional hardship’ has been used as an excuse for not losing a licence, that the reason for this plea is recorded. Then the driver cannot use the same excuse twice
  • The DVLA was due to introduce a new computer system which would allow courts to see past offences and reasons given
  • The courts with the poorest records of not banning drivers who have over 12 points should be named and shamed
  • Better training for magistrates and better sharing of information with DVLA.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said that while there is now better sharing of information between courts and the DVLA, many decisions on whether drivers should be banned are made by the courts without enough information from the DVLA – a process that needs to change urgently.

He said: “The DVLA told us they would sort this issue out years ago, and judging by the current numbers, it simply has not happened effectively enough. Licences need to be removed and drivers who have committed repeat offences encouraged to take remedial courses to bring home the impact of their behaviour and promote safer, more responsible driving behaviour in future.

“IAM RoadSmart calls on the DVLA to quickly extract all such cases manually and ask courts why there has been a non-disqualification on 12 or more points, so appropriate action can be taken to get irresponsible and dangerous drivers off our roads.”

Neil added: “Quite simply these are drivers who should be banned. Allowing them to continue to drive in all but exceptional circumstances not only undermines public trust in the well understood ‘four strikes and you’re out’ totting up method of driving punishments, it also put these motorists and other road users across the UK at greater risk.”

Graham Ranshaw wins the Fred Welch Rose Bowl

On Saturday 27th April, GAM Chairman, Graham Ranshaw, was awarded the prestigious Fred Welch Rose Bowl in recognition for all his work for IAM RoadSmart.

The trophy is awarded nationally to the car member who, in the opinion of the panel of judges, has contributed most to promoting the aims and objectives of IAM RoadSmart .

Dealing with vulnerable road users: tips from IAM RoadSmart

As we make the same commute every day to work and back, we can get used to seeing pedestrians on the streets, motorcyclists on the road and even a few cyclists appearing now that the season is changing. But this can sometimes mean we get a little too used to the things around us and may unintentionally stop paying attention to our surroundings. Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards, provides a set of tips to remind you how to manage vulnerable road users.

Note: If you have friends and family who drive, please share these tips with them to help them stay safe on the road.

  • Check to see the type of pedestrians around you. Do you see an elderly person crossing the road? They may be walking slowly, so ensure they feel safe by reducing your speed. Children can be easily distracted and are unpredictable too, especially when crossing the road, so do all you can to help them out. Drive with care and be vigilant as a few extra seconds added to your day may make all the difference.
  • A cycling club will often cycle as a group rather than in single file. This makes it safer for all of us; a simple overtake on a short group is often easier and safer to achieve than 30 overtakes on separate cyclists. Before you overtake them, make sure you have given them enough room as they could adjust their road positioning unexpectedly for a pothole or drain. A few seconds delay is better than a lifetime of regret. It’s always good to remember that a young, fit individual on a bike is likely to be more stable than an older person doing their shopping run.
  • Take note that there are two types of mobility scooters. Class 2 scooters are only allowed on pavements and have a top speed of 4mph. Class 3 mobility scooters should be registered and are driven on the road with a top speed of 8mph. Bear in mind that this group of road users may have restricted movement, vision or hearing so give them plenty of space and time.
  • Have you thought about taking a more scenic route now that the days are getting lighter for longer? You may come across a horse and its rider walking along the side of the road. To avoid scaring the horse, turn the radio down and keep the engine revs low. Slow down and take your time when passing a horse. Keep your car well away from them and proceed with caution. The British Horse Society campaign encourages ‘Wide and Slow’ which reiterates driving no more than 15mph and leaving at least a car’s width gap. 
  • Who has heard of SMIDSY (“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”)? This is a regular acronym in a motorcyclist’s dictionary and often our strategy when looking for a culprit! The science behind this is called Saccadic Masking. The simple explanation is that people don’t see clearly when their head or eyes are moving, and they don’t pick up objects travelling towards them very well. So make sure you have a good look, not just a quick glance. A good tip is that if you’re specifically looking for motorcyclists or cyclists, then you are more likely to see them.

Richard said: “The importance of sharing the road space and understanding the needs of other road users cannot be stressed enough. If we are aware of vulnerable road users, we can make provisions to keep us all safe. Remember to treat others how you would like to be treated.”

Do you want to find out more ways to stay safe on the road? Try our Advanced Driving Course and get the best out of yourself and your car.

Congratulations again

Last Sunday we were delighted to welcome back three of our newest and youngest members, Lizzy Olisa, Jess Harridge and Katie Stacey to the Sunday runs, who all recently passed their Advanced Driving test, aged 21, 19 and 18 respectively.

I really enjoyed the course; I learnt lots of new ways to improve my driving, but also ways to enhance the skills I already had. The GAM observers ran each session in a way that felt like I was a friend or colleague, rather than an instructor.

Lizzy Olisa

It is wonderful to know that GAM exists.  The volunteer Observers have enabled our daughter to develop her driving beyond the basic skills required to pass her driving test.  Thank you GAM – I can now relax in the passenger seat when she is driving as aged 19 she is a mature, aware and conscientious driver.

Niki Harridge