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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 April, 2004, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
How can we make road travel safer?
Lollipop lady on a zebra crossing with child and parent
Today is World Health Day and the theme this year is Road Safety.

Road traffic injuries account for 1.2 million deaths each year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Ironically most of these occur in developing countries to those who'll never own a private motor vehicle - pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and public transport users.

Should speed limits and driving laws change where you live? Which country has the worst road safety?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received:

A good start would be to raise the legal driving age to 18
APF, Carluke
Tackle the boy racer culture that's quite predominant in the UK. A good start would be to raise the legal driving age to 18, then introduce controls to ensure that the noise coming out of speaker systems and those daft exhausts is reduced to a minimum.
APF, Carluke

I feel that the current UK driving test does not prepare drivers for the real world. The test requires people to drive in an unrealistic fashion, so as soon as they pass their test they ignore most of what they have been taught. Accident avoidance and skid control should also be a part of the test to be carried out off-road.
Si, Billingshurst, UK

After 40 you should take a driving test every 10 years. After 70 then every 5 years.
Whibbs, Havant, UK

Why do car manufacturers still produce cars that can go over twice the maximum national speed limit?
Graeme Findlay, Scotland

To improve safety: build more dual carriageways, add extra lanes to the existing motorways in order to remove frustration.
Mike McLoughlin, Nantwich, UK

Mandatory, annual eye-tests for all drivers
Damian Leach, UK
Improve road safety? Simple. Mandatory, annual eye-tests for all drivers. The number of people who clearly cannot see on the road, and misjudge distance and speed is atrocious. And for all those talking about fast, impatient young drivers, what about the hesitant, slow and indecisive elderly, who are just as much of a danger?
Damian Leach, UK

So the world is waking up to the fact that Dr Beeching got it spectacularly wrong. We had the infrastructure with thousands of branch lines, stations etc. Buses are a non starter, but our rail network was superb, until, of course, the politicos of the day fouled up!
Ian Hunter, Whitby, England

It should be made compulsory that every driver takes a refresher course every two years. If they fail - then back to the drawing board - licence rebuked. This may make some drivers aware that they drive too close to the one in front or they are in a hurry and take chances.
Rosie, Birmingham

Stop promoting the culture of the car in the media and instead concentrate on developing our public transport network to be the best.
Ginger, UK

The biggest danger to road safety here are people who cannot keep to near the 60mph speed limit. When you get a queue of people stuck behind someone doing around 40, sooner or later someone loses their patience and takes a risk.
Jon, Norfolk

I have lived in Vietnam for five and a half years and the standard of driving here beggars belief. Last year saw 12,000 deaths as a result of "accidents". You can have all the rules and regulations that you like in place but if people have no regard for human life then you're wasting your time.
Steve Hewitt, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

People are getting behind the wheel before they are mature enough. I would like to see: 1.the minimum Age for having a Driver's licence raised to 21. 2. Before having their first Driving Lesson, they must pass their Theory Test.
C, Swanscombe, UK

Among the most dangerous on the roads are those who think driving slowly is the way to increase road safety. People who drive too slowly on motorways or 60mph limits are usually the kind of people who find driving scary or are so naive that they believe the mantra 'Speed Kills' and don't bother to examine the facts. Statistics from the UK and Europe show that our fastest roads (motorways) have considerably less accidents per car than our slower roads.
Al McGee, Glasgow

We should face the fact that some drivers simply could not care about other road users and pedestrians. They do not think about the consequences. More speed cameras I say with heavy fines. More traffic police are needed as well to catch dangerous drivers in built-up areas.
Glenn, UK

Simply by enforcing traffic laws already on the books will make the roads safe
Lindy Brockington, Vigneux sur Seine, France

Simply by enforcing traffic laws already on the books will make the roads safer. I am a US national living in France and in the US traffic laws are rarely enforced with any consistency.
Lindy Brockington, Vigneux sur Seine, France

Restrict HGV vehicles to a single lane of all motorways, without overtaking. One of the biggest causes of accidents on our motorways is heavy goods vehicles driven recklessly or dangerously. If more road freight traffic was forced onto the railways (the imposition of effective safety measures would go a long way to achieving this, then our roads would be a lot safer.
Jim Porter, Cleckheaton

Instead of educating pedestrians and cyclists abut traffic, why not educate motorists that they aren't the only people on the road worthy of consideration: no one becomes a second-class citizen just because they're not in a car.
Al, Newcastle, UK

Cars should be designed to cause less damage in the event of a crash (e.g. bonnets with more give so that the impact is not so hard for a pedestrian). Car designers currently only really seem to take into account the safety of the driver, rather than that of road users as a whole.
Cathy, UK

Drastically increase petrol prices for all but specially-licensed vehicles (ie. taxis, buses and other public transport), discouraging people from being so reliant on cars, and as an added bonus, putting less of a strain on the world's oil problems!
Chris, USA/Scotland

I am an all year motor cyclist and I ride defensively due to not knowing quite what the vehicle in front is going to do next! I don't think that speed limits should be changed when there are many other factors that contribute to safety on the roads. I think that the general problem is lack of consideration for other road users. e.g. Many vehicles do not indicate (or maybe do not see the need to) when approaching/leaving roundabouts, or when in filter lanes at junctions. A little more thought for other road users could make a great difference on the roads.
Dan Forser, York, UK

Emphasise responsible and considerate driving rather than focusing on speed
Clare, UK

Roads are pretty safe already. Stop wrecking them with traffic calming and speed cameras. Introducing additional hazards does not contribute to safety (so say the ambulance drivers). Emphasise responsible and considerate driving rather than focusing on speed. e.g penalise bad lane discipline, horn use, cutting people up, double parking, indecisiveness at junctions.
Clare, UK

I'd like to see mandatory driving retests every five years for motorists and more thorough checks by the police on unlicensed drivers and untaxed and uninsured cars would help to keep our roads safer.
Russell Long, Royal Tunbridge Wells, UK

Here in Germany the driving is totally different than when I go back to the UK. In towns and urban areas the speed limit can be as low as 30kph and yet on the Autobahn it can be unlimited and yet they never suffer from road rage they just patiently wait for you to move over. The test system is far stricter than the UK, you have to go to a professional driving school and do written exams and learn general maintenance and learn to drive on the autobahn and in my area even learn to drive on snow. This doesn't mean they are better drivers than in the UK but they are far more disciplined and tolerant towards pedestrians and cyclists.
Steve J, Lindenberg Germany

How about rebuilding our rail system to pre-Beeching levels and diverting passengers and freight there? With semi-trained drivers operating powerful machines with no mechanical guides or built-in safety mechanisms, of course you're going to get slaughter on the roads.
John Rogers, Bristol, England

Official figures show that excessive speed is ranked 6 out of the top 7 causes of accidents. The others are far more simple to describe yet impossible to catch with a camera - failing to look, inattention, failure to judge the path of your car, failure to judge the speed or path of another car, etc. The only difference is that speed can be objectively measured. If the "speed kills" brigade were to be believed someone driving 65 on a motorway asleep at the wheel is safer than someone driving 85 but fully alert.
Jonny, England

Ban advertising of cars on film, television and other visual media (except those dedicated to car enthusiasts).
James Hewitt, London

A bit less arrogance on the part of most road users would go a long way to improving safety
Rachel, UK

The Government can spend billions on maintaining roads, it's the idiots that use them that could make road travel safer.
Linda, Hull, UK

Cars should be fitted with limiters to stop them going over the speed limit. People could then go to track days instead of treating the roads like a race track. More cameras should be fitted and people sent fines for bad driving caught on tape.
James, Peterborough

In retort to "Nigel Brookes, Castleford", look at the figures. The number of accidents on motorways is much lower than on urban roads so "speed" is not the main factor, it is mainly due to BAD drivers! Admittedly, high speed makes the outcome of an accident a lot worse but what do you want? For us all to drive at 5mph in foam covered dodgems just in case?
Richard Scott, Windsor UK

Forcing motorists to slow down by introducing a higher fine and a statutory six points would be move number one. Excessive speed is the most common cause of all road incidents.
Peter Furtek, Czech Republic

Over 90% of drivers think their driving skills are above average. I think this sums up the complacency that most road users have - they feel too safe in their vehicle of choice, even when they may be driving/ cycling/ walking dangerously. I totally agree with Lee about taking responsibility for our own actions on the road. A bit less arrogance on the part of most road users, in any country, would go a long way to improving safety.
Rachel, UK

Speed has got absolutely nothing to do with it. People who can't drive do it just as badly at speed. People who generally stay just under 100mph are typically the best drivers of all. These idiots that hog the fast lane and appoint themselves as traffic wardens are the biggest danger on the roads. While we're on the subject, could we stop messing up perfectly good roads by narrowing them or laying speed bumps?
Mark, Reading UK

It's always someone else's fault
Lee, Barnet, UK
The main problem with road safety is the same as society in general - it is a blame culture. People do not take extra care on the roads because they think they are capable of driving or cycling without having an accident. It's always someone else's fault. If people did not have insurance companies to bail them out, they would be a little more careful. It seems to be the only way to get people to take action - hit them where it hurts - in the wallet. Therefore, introduce fines for road users who are proven to have caused an accident.
Lee, Barnet, UK

A radical approach is needed and the aim should be to improve people's driving skills rather than forcing bad drivers to stick to the speed limits. There is already an Advanced Driving Test so why don't we give drivers an incentive to take that - subsidise the cost of taking advanced driving lessons and then broker a deal with the motor insurers so that drivers who pass the advanced test are guaranteed a 20-30% reduction in their insurance premiums. Use some of the many taxes drivers pay to fund this scheme.
Matt F, Bristol, UK

Educate pedestrians and cyclists to be more aware of traffic and not to jay-walk. Cyclists should have insurance and wear appropriate protective headgear.
Phil, Oxford

There are three main factors that govern how you decide to make a journey - cost, reliability and convenience. At the moment making a journey by private car wins on al three counts. When public transport wins on at least two it may become a viable option and then our roads will become less congested and hence safer. But I won't hold by breath waiting.
Chris Ransom, Colchester, UK

Why not restrict people to low powered vehicles, until they have passed a more advanced test (and reach the age of 21) - it works for motorcycles┐ In addition, make it the law that you can only drive if you are supervised by a qualified driving instructor (this has got to be better than the supervision supplied by your Dad - who probably took his test 30 years ago!).
James Murphy, Dorset, UK

I think scrapping the driving test and replacing it with an intelligence test would make a huge difference.
Andrew M, Walsall, UK

Better education of all road users is the key, including regular re-tests for drivers, and proper training for cyclists. This, coupled with proper enforcement (cameras, yes, but also traffic officers) will bring down casualty figures.
Daniel, London, UK

The problem arises with individual attitudes after passing the test
Ed Smith, Nottingham
For some years I was involved with the training of HGV drivers and because it was possible to monitor drivers after passing a driving test much stricter than the car test. The problem arises with individual attitudes after passing the test when some drivers (often ones who have found the test "easy") show very poor attitude with speeding and generally bad road behaviour together with mistreatment of vehicles. We were never able to predict which trainees would go "bad" but I think it is part of the problem of traffic accidents and it would be worth researching the subject as my experience suggests that the driving test no matter how difficult will not identify these rogue drivers.
Ed Smith, Nottingham

Making the test more difficult or putting up the cost of insurance is a non starter because so many people on the roads have neither and so there would be more. The place to start, in my view, is to have an increasingly heavy tax based on car size. For example just count how many company 4x4 are being used by the executive wife to ferry one or two children to school. Make it prohibitively expensive for companies to provide cars for staff who don't need them for work. This in its self would reduce car numbers by a considerable amount.
John, France

For all the research and debate, isn't the problem simply bad drivers? It seems to be an accepted part of our culture that there is something or someone else to blame? Maybe if drivers were held completely liable for the costs incurred after causing an accident then standards would pick up. Currently the tab is picked up by other policy holders and taxpayers.
S. Smith, Bucks, UK

Enforcing speed limits more strongly may improve safety slightly on average. However a far more serious problem to tackle is abuse of power, bullying and highly dynamic manoeuvring of wilfully reckless drivers. 'Sporty' style drivers may themselves be sharper and more skilful behind the wheel than the average motorist, but their wilful disregard for safety rules causes the vast majority of other motorists and pedestrians to suffer. If these drivers wish to show off, they should save their impressive (cough) blue LEDs, spoilers and big exhausts for the racetrack, not the public roads.
John, Cotham, UK

It is not just bad driving that makes the roads dangerous. It seems that everyone wants to blame the car driver. I hate driving near in front of, behind or by the side of a motorcyclist because you can never tell what they are going to do - and are the worst for tailgating. Also pedestrians seem to have forgotten the green cross code, indeed, kids don't seem to have been taught it at all. Cyclists complain, but then don't bother putting lights on their bikes and ride 2 abreast. The only people I don't really have a problem with are horse riders.
Sandy, UK

Speed limits are almost universally ignored
Nigel Brookes, Castleford
Speed always has been and always will be the main factor in the vast majority of accidents. It is undeniably true that the greater the speed of an impact, the greater is its force and its potential to cause injury. Bleating about vehicles having better brakes or tyres than in the past holds no water. It's too late to brake or swerve when an impact has already occurred and a child is spiralling through the air. Speed limits are almost universally ignored. The answer is not to raise the limits but increase enforcement to a point where prosecution is a threatening, tangible possibility. Then watch road deaths figures plummet!
Nigel Brookes, Castleford

Every time I come back to the UK I'm struck by how fast people drive and how aggressive British drivers are. It makes an interesting comparison with Sweden. Here, there is a zero tolerance policy for both speeding and drink driving. Any more than 20kph (that's 12mph) over the speed limit and you lose your licence on the spot (and if that means you have to walk home, tough luck).
Even tougher rules applies to drink driving. Any more than 20 milligrams of alcohol in your blood stream and its an automatic 6 month driving ban - and for a third (or subsequent) offence you also get 3 months in prison. In residential areas, pedestrians and cyclists have right of way, and the speed limit is 30kph (18mph) or less. Use of public transport is encouraged, and buses always have right of way over cars in residential areas.
Richard Loe, Stockholm, Sweden

Speed has very little to do with death rates, for evidence of this see Wales, a faith in speed cameras has seen road deaths increase by 13% this year. The driving test needs to be a driving training course as well as a test, drivers are not receiving enough training in the first place. They also need on-going training, say every 5 years. The roads have changed a lot since the 60's but the driving test hasn't changed very much at in respect of its content.
Steve, Letchworth, Herts

People go way too fast and can be really rude
Jane, Florida, USA
I visit the UK once a year and dread driving on the roads. People go way too fast and can be really rude. In England, the road system is so complicated and the lack of good traffic signs makes it very tough to get around easily. I spent many frustrating hours last summer trying to get from A to B. The worse country? I would have to say Egypt - total lack of respect for any traffic signal and Greece - fast drivers who are too impatient.
Jane, Florida, USA

A better cheaper public transport system to reduce the numbers of cars on the road would help. The volume of incorrectly parked vehicles aids congestion and increases accidents. All road users should take regular driving tests including cyclists who consistently break the Highway Code. Freight should be on the railways and not on the roads adding to the pollution of the countryside.
Sandra, Bucks

Poor road layout and congestion are the main causes of accidents. Ambiguous junctions and traffic lights are confusing and dangerous. There is too much information to consider when driving, avoiding traffic calming devices and parked cars, also watching out for cyclists overtaking on the inside.
Andy, Reading, UK

Have fewer cars on the road. If more people would stop making unnecessary journeys, use public transport more, and the government would back this up with decent cycle networks and planning policies that meant you didn't have to drive out of town to do your shopping, or transport the kids across town to the "best" school, then we'd have less traffic, less accidents, less pollution and less stress all round.
Martyn, London, UK

Make the driving test much more difficult
Mark, Blackpool, England
The easiest way to reduce casualties on the road along with congestion would be to make the driving test much more difficult. Additionally, people shouldn't be allowed an unlimited number of attempts. If someone fails their test three times they should accept that they're just not capable of being a safe driver and use public transport instead.
Mark, Blackpool, England

Get those monstrous four wheel drives off the roads for starters. They are uneconomical, handle poorly and cause most damage and injuries in crashes. A complete regression in car design.
Andrew Adams, Sydney, Australia

Introduce a mandatory periodic re-test for all licence holders. This would remove those who simply have no idea how to drive from the roads. Unfortunately this would probably account for 50% of the UK driving population.
Fergus Duncan, Stirling, Scotland

Speed limits should be reduced to 50mph on all our motorways as used to be the case in the US. If you want get somewhere distant quickly be logical go by train or plane.
Anonymous, Birmingham

The government should spend more money on educating young drivers of the consequences of dangerous driving. How often do you see cars driven at high speed around town centres by immature teenagers trying to impress their mates? Each one is an accident waiting to happen.
Rob, Bury St Edmunds, England

The driving test in all countries needs to be made much harder
John, UK/US

It is often the old and incompetent drivers who leave a trail of destruction in their wake.
Nik, Sheffield, UK

I was in Germany for six months and I never saw one accident, even though there are no speed limits. I have now been in the US for six months and I have lost count of the accidents I have seen. Although using technology to help make cars safer to drive is very important, the fundamental point is that people need to learn how to drive cars properly in the first place. When driving what could be a deadly machine, having ABS or traction control is not going to stop an accident happening unless the driver knows how to handle and deal with the situation. The driving test in all countries needs to be made much harder. It is far too easy to get a driving licence.
John, UK/US

Get people to take an advanced driving test after 5 years. It might get rid of the idiots who learn to drive at 30mph, go and buy a fast car and sit on motorways at 50mph!
Sim, Twickenham

The French experience is very interesting. The application of zero tolerance on speeding (90km/h limit means just that, and no more) plus widespread installation of speed cameras has succeeded in calming down the French driver. Average speeds have dropped noticeably over the last year, and the resulting reduction in road deaths is quite remarkable. Having been "flashed" myself at 94 km/h in a 90km/h area, I know how effective it is. That cost me 90 euros, and I'm a lot more wary now.
Neville, France (ex-UK)

There is much more to driving than speed-watching
John B, UK
The sad thing is that so many people fail to see there is much more to driving than speed-watching. Safe driving involves driving in a manner appropriate to the road and the conditions, not simply keeping to some arbitrarily defined number.
John B, UK

Re-test drivers every few years! All drivers I know stick to the Highway Code for as long as it takes to pass their test, then pick up dangerous habits.
Lisa, London

Are we not getting to the point where safety is enforced on us so much that we are not exposed to risk, therefore we don't know our own limits in driving ability, and therefore don't know when we are becoming extremely dangerous behind the wheel? The extreme emphasis and enforcement of the law is desensitising us of risk and danger, and making us all worse drivers.
Tony Humphreys, Prestatyn, UK

We need to make it a criminal offence with harsh penalties for cyclists who don't wear helmets. A potentially life saving piece of equipment, there is no excuse for not wearing them and yet the majority do not. We currently have a system whereby this is never taken into account and it's always assumed to be the fault of the motorist rather than the cyclist who fails to take minimal steps to look after himself.
David Mercier, Kent, UK

People now drive to the limit rather than a safe speed
Brian W, Chelmsford, UK
For nearly ten years the only message coming from the road safety industry has been the "speed kills" mantra. The result has been that people now drive to the limit rather than a safe speed and the previous steady improvement in fatal accident numbers has come to a halt and the figure has stuck on just under 3,500 per annum. Having seen several accidents the one common factor is poor observation. Teach drivers to look properly and act correctly on what they see and you could abolish speed limits entirely.
Brian W, Chelmsford, UK

I visit the UK about once a year and find the driving very stressful because of the number of vehicles and the speed they travel at. There also seems to be a huge intolerance for anyone who is driving cautiously, is uncertain or unfamiliar with the area. Last month I arrived at Manchester Airport, picked up my hire car and had to drive to Leeds. Although driving on the left is something I am used to there is still a period of adjustment and that coupled with trying to navigate was very difficult. I had drivers roaring up behind me, tail-gating, flashing lights, gesticulation and general intolerance.
Margaret, Canada

Technology is a major weapon in the fight to reduce road deaths. Things like ABS should be mandatory on all new cars. Traction control, automatic gearboxes - so that you can keep your hands on the wheel - these are all available now. The technology exists to enforce speed limits in sensitive places like near schools, it would require on car sensors and road side transmitters but it could be done. Make this kind of technology mandatory on all new cars, just one slowing down makes those behind do the same.
Terry, Epsom, England

The answer is tougher laws, driver education, and severe penalties which are enforced
Mark, USA
When I travel in some foreign countries, I am astonished at how unaware drivers are that they are operating a potentially deadly machine. They treat an automobile like it is a toy and driving as a game, not a means to go from one place to another safely. It's a wonder there aren't far more road accidents and deaths than there already are. The answer is tougher laws, driver education, and severe penalties which are enforced.
Mark, USA

There is too much emphasis put on speed limits. If new drivers were taught to drive at a safe speed, one that took into account one's surroundings and road conditions, rather than having a maximum limit, then we would not have motorists driving at unsafe speeds. It is the motorist with the preconceived idea that they can drive at a (certain) limit that is the cause of most accidents.
Chris Saunders, London

Current road laws seem to be OK. Enforcement is the problem - people seem to think "I won't get caught" is an excuse to break the law. And tactics such as speed-cameras are "taxes" to "steal money" from these law breakers. No other laws are treated with such disrespect, and I wonder at the morality of a nation that will not abide by its laws, but will not change them.
Phil, Leicester, UK

More use should be made of technology to help drivers keep within speed limits, stop at lights and observe other restrictions. Today too much use is being made of technology to catch out and fine drivers rather than to help them be fine drivers.
John M, Lyne Meads,UK





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