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How to make British roads safer

There is no doubt that the roads are a dangerous place to be. Road traffic accidents typically number around 200,000, causing injuries and fatalities, as well as costing a huge amount of money. There surely must be ways to make British roads safer. Here we take a look at some of the tactics that have already been tried, as well as potential options for the future.

Avoiding collisions and road traffic accidents

There is some evidence to suggest that British roads are becoming safer. The long-term trend in the numbers of people who are killed or injured as a result of a road traffic accident are steadily declining, and this decline has been especially noticeable in the past two decades.

However, there are still a large number of people who die every year – this number was 1,793 in the most recently released figures in 2017, and this has been consistent for a number of years. So, while the overall trend is good things, could be significantly better to make the roads safer and freer from road traffic accidents.

Protecting pedestrians against cars

While we might often think of road traffic accidents consisting of cars hitting other cars, it is worth pointing out how often pedestrians are struck. What makes this more serious is the fact that pedestrians clearly have far less protection from cars if they are struck, than if a car hits another vehicle. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, 22 per cent of all road traffic fatalities involve pedestrians.

 

“There are many things that could potentially be done, both to keep pedestrians safe and to avoid actual collisions. There are many uses for physical protection options, such as concrete barriers, which can be used both as an effective way to control traffic outside of normal road use, and to protect pedestrians in known hotspots.” Maltaward

Could removing road markings make a difference?

One of the ideas that been used in the UK in efforts to make the road safer might, on first glance, seem counter-intuitive. Many councils across the England, including in London, have begun to remove white road markings. You might think that getting rid of these markings would make the roads more confusing for drivers, and as such would make them more dangerous.

However, the moves have come as result of research that revealed that drivers on roads without markings tended to drive around 13 per cent slower and were more cautious. The slower driving, in theory, makes the roads a safer place. The schemes have currently only been trialled, as road safety specialists are keen to understand the longer-term effects of roads without white markings.

This is certainly one way to make roads safer, but if removing road markings make roads safer because people drive more slowly, it begs the question: why not just reduce the speed limit?

Do lower speed limits work?

It is well-known that lower speed limits make for safer roads. In fact, there is a truly enormously difference even at relatively low speeds. In around 80 per cent of cases of pedestrians being struck by a car at 30mph, the individual survives. However, at 40mph, only 10 per cent of pedestrians survive. At 20mph, the difference is even more impressive – 97 per cent of people hit will survive.

Historically, the concept of lowering speed limits has been extremely unpopular with drivers, although there have been some successful schemes to reduce the limit, notably in Brighton and Hove. It would seem to make sense that lowering limits could make a huge difference to safety – the challenge exists in convincing the public that it would be a good idea.

How will driverless cars change things?

Another question that is worth thinking about for the future is: how will driverless cars affect the roads? It has been debated very broadly, with some suggesting that driverless cars will can be programmed to be far safer and pointing to the fact that human error is still the major cause of road traffic accidents.

It is too soon to really know how driverless cars will change the face of road traffic accidents – it can only be hoped that safety is prioritised.

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