Road safety – It’s in your hands

Year on year figures from the RSA show that road fatalities are on the decrease. In 2010 the number of Irish road deaths fell to 212, the lowest level on record, down 26 from 2009. As I sit here typing we are just short of the midpoint of the year and according to the An Garda Siochana website a total of 76 people have lost their lives on Irish roads in the past six months. Research, recently announced by both the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána, has revealed that road deaths dropped by 48% over the last decade. This drop saw the EU recognise Ireland with the 2010 Road Safety PIN Award and we now rank 7th out of 27 EU Member States in road deaths per million population.

These reductions can be attributed to a number of factors such as manufacturers being obliged to fit safety systems such as ABS, ESP and crumple zones. On a local level the introduction of penalty points coincided with the drop off in deaths while the deployment of safety cameras to 750 black spots around the country was heralded by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy as “proven life savers”. So to quote an old political tagline “A lot done, a lot more to do”. But what can we, the motorists of this nation, do to play our part in making sure these figures continue to drop and to ensure that our family, neighbours, work colleagues and total strangers alike do not become another statistic? Despite what road safety campaigners say it is just a simple case of slowing down – it is about education and re-education for those of us who use our road networks.

 

As Tony Toner, co-founder of the Institute of Advanced Motorists of Ireland (IAMI) points out “Rarely do drivers voluntarily revisit the Rules of the Road or get a driving assessment – effectively passing their Driving Test at 17 and never being questioned again until they reach 70 or come under the notice of the Garda.” Mr. Toner, along with partner Denis McBride, has a unique insight into Irish road safety having founded the IAMI after his career as a member of an Garda Siochana came to its natural conclusion.

Offering Driver and Rider Road Fitness programmes for everything from motorcyclists to large heavy goods vehicles the IAMI cater for “drivers who hold full Driving Licenses and wish to bring their standard of driving up to a definitive credible level.” When you consider how much many of us have invested in furthering our academic education, after the statutory level, it seems strange how little we invest in our own safety in what is statistically speaking the most dangerous thing we undertake on a daily basis. Especially when you consider that “..developments in road structure, road vehicles and road legislation will change many times through one’s driving life.”

So what can one expect when undertaking an advanced driving course? “With human error the primary cause of 90% of road collisions, we concentrate our programme content on the principle areas where this occurs.” The IAMI Driving programme is curriculum based with all participants required to know both the theory and practical sides of each module. This means brushing up on a book I have not seen in many years, the Rules of the Road aswell as covering the principles of defensive driving, a familiarization with all the functions of your car and an introduction to the ‘LIFE’ (Look-Identify-Foresee-Evade) driving style.

But what about the experienced drivers amongst us? Those who have been driving for years without a single accident or penalty point blotting our copy book? Surely this is going to be like sitting in a class room all over again or is it? “The manner and content of our Driver Programmes is specifically designed to get around any resistance to training. We can break down each driving maneuver into a sequential planned event. Every driver does this but not always in the correct sequence.

Good Planning, Good Observation, Good Anticipation and Sound Judgment of Speed and Distance, all aligned to Good Technique are the key factors in our Driver programmes. Our Instructors are experienced in practical and instructional techniques that enable them to pass this System on in a very enjoyable and digestible way.”

Alongside the normal hazards that we have to contend with, Irish drivers have over the past few years, had to learn how to drive in conditions we are not used to – that of heavy snow and ice. The advice offered by Mr. Toner is simple “Know your car.” Something as simple as knowing which wheels the power is being sent to can make all the difference in these conditions. This may seem second nature to those who take an interest in our cars but the truth is we are in the minority. Last winter I had occasion to ‘rescue’ a stranded BMW driver who just could not understand why her car kept losing traction and spinning out. So what advice from the IAMI for drivers of cars likes this? “Depending on the gradient it may require a driver to disable the Traction Control and allow for more engine power to get to the rear wheels. Sometimes you need the wheels to spin up where they may get grip then. This requires understanding and feel for the car and conditions.”

That last point is probably the most telling with many motorists not truly understanding their cars, merely seeing them as a way to get from A to B. This lack of understanding is intensified by poor weather conditions with the only parts of the car that actually come into contact with the road being the most obviously overlooked. “Like all vehicles the tyres play a huge part is supplying the grip we require for braking, steering and acceleration. Some vehicles carry defective tyres (over-sized, badly worn and not recommended), which are under inflated as well. Add in the extra demand of severe weather and the tyres cannot cope.”

For some driver safety is not enough to sign up for a course such as this. But what about a monetary benefit? Yeah that’s right a saving you can feel in your back pocket. Some insurance companies offer premium reductions of upto 30% for drivers who have completed an advanced driving course but the techniques learned can also save you money. By driving more sympathetically savings can be made on vehicle maintenance costs, reduced tyre wear means less money spent on new rubber and fuel costs can also drop due to a better understanding of your car. Right so where do I sign then??

For more information on the IAMI and the courses they offer visit http://www.iami.ie/

  • paul.healy

    A big thanks to Tony Toner from IAMI for his input on this piece.

  • I’m not really sure the introduction of Speed or rather, “Safety” cameras as they’re being branded could or should be included as a reason for the drop in road deaths. It doesn’t take much investigating to see that in countries like England, they’ve been phasing out speed cameras because they actually cause accidents – People tend to slam on the brakes as soon as they see them, regardless of the speed they’re driving at. There’s been multiple articles since 2002 on this, the latest being in August 2010 stating that 28000 accidents have been CAUSED by speed cameras in just a decade.

    These articles are only a google away.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1300830/Speed-cameras-caused-28-000-accidents-decade.html

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/2212479.stm

  • paul.healy

    The cameras have not really been around long enough to have any tangiable affect yet. It was more the commissioner’s assertation that they are ‘proven’ life savers that I was interested in. I completely agree with you in regards the usefulness of these speed/safety cameras but in the overall context it was not the time to open that particular can of worms.