Tens of thousands of people die in road traffic accidents every year, including more than 3,000 in the UK.
By Brady Haran
BBC News Online
Deaths (and rate per 100,000 population)
Figures from 2000
United States 41,821 (15.2)
Japan 10,403 (8.2)
South Korea 10,236 (21.8)
France 8079 (13.6)
Italy 6410 (11.1)
Spain 5776 (14.6)
United Kingdom 3580 (6.0)
Australia 1824 (9.5)
With an estimated 30 million people killed in crashes world-wide since the invention of the motor vehicle, debate is always raging about how to save lives.
In the latest move, the UK Government announced this week it would be banning the use of mobile phones while driving.
Below is a selection of other suggestions to improve road safety, drawn from various sources.
BBC News Online would also like to hear your views by filling out the form below.
Many of the most serious road crashes result in head injuries.
Would drivers wear these?
They may not look too fashionable, but these head bands have been identified as one way of reducing the human impact of car accidents.
Leading research in this area is the Road Accident Research Unit at the University of Adelaide, in Australia.
Its tests have already shown headbands would reduce injuries from frontal car crashes, and research is continuing on other types of crash.
Essentially the bands are crash helmets which have been scaled down to look less bulky.
It may be hard to imagine people wearing them - but many people opposed wearing seat belts when they were introduced.
Experts at the University of Leeds are working on a car equipped with a speed limiter which makes it impossible to break the legal limit.
Cars could stop their own drivers from speeding
Professor of transport safety, Oliver Carsten, said: "We believe this kind of technology can contribute to road safety.
"If all drivers kept to the speed limit, deaths on the road (in the UK) would fall by 37%, over 1,200 each year."
The system has been dubbed Intelligent Speed Adaptation.
An idea used in various countries where the risk of crashes increases on long stretches of road.
Black markers signify deaths and red indicate serious injuries
Black markers (usually small wooden posts) are installed at locations where fatal accidents have occurred.
They may be slightly morbid, but these markers, which feature small crosses at the top, are sobering reminder of how dangerous driving can be.
They also serve to highlight corners or stretches of road which may be more hazardous than they appear.
Additional red markers indicate sites of crashes which resulted in serious injuries.
DESIGN AND ROADSIDE OBJECTS
Many vehicle deaths would be avoided if authorities paid closer attention to removing or fencing off roadside objects, such as dangerous trees and posts.
Road design is crucial
Collisions with trees kill 1,600 people a year in Germany, 800 in France and more than 200 in Britain.
General design of roads is also important, with some research suggesting poor design contributes to 33% of crashes.
A concern raised by the AA is the number of middle-aged men "rediscovering their youth" by getting back on their motorcycles.
Middle-aged men are getting back on the road
It can sometimes be too late when they discover the road environment has changed over the last 20 to 30 years.
Many would benefit from refresher courses to hone their skills, which may have diminished over the years and must be adapted to modern road conditions.
Many people do not fully comprehend the horror of car crashes, and thus do not drive accordingly.
Cars can be fragile machines
Numerous advertisements have used shocking images of accidents in the hope of reforming attitudes.
Some say this could be taken a step further by occasionally putting badly damaged and burnt out vehicles at the roadside.
It would surely be a stark reminder of how fragile a car can be when travelling at speed.
LOWER SPEED LIMITS
It seems obvious, but few people realise the difference made by slower driving.
Is 40mph too fast?
Not only are you less likely to suffer serious injuries, but there is less chance of the accident happening in the first place.
Research in areas where the speed limit is 60km/h (just under 40mph) has shown the chance of crashing could be reduced by as much as 40% if the limit was lowered by just 10km/h.
However suggestions of lowering speed limits often encounter resistance from motorists who are in a hurry to get where they are going.
Alcohol is still a major cause of car crashes.
Drunk drivers can be lethal
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says the allowable amount of alcohol should be lowered from 80mg to 50mg.
Furthermore, it wants police empowered to test drivers randomly.
"They should be able to test anywhere at any time," a spokesman said.
A selection of views from BBC News Online readers:
Clear, logical road direction signs, well in advance of junctions would reduce accidents where people brake sharply because they have nearly missed a turn. A lot more thinking needs to go into how direction signs are laid out, located and lead the driver confidently to their destination.
Eric Woodcock, United Kingdom
Tail-gating is at least as dangerous as speeding, but seems to be completely unenforced. Also the comments other people have made here hardly mention it. Why is there such a blind spot about safe distances? It would be quite easy to put a forward radar in cars to warn about being too close, perhaps even to enforce a minimum distance, along similar lines to a speed governor.
Stephen Burke, England
I think those head bands are a bad idea. People will not want to be seen dead in those so will speed through towns in order not to be seen. Come on honestly is that the best they can come up with
Manufacturers still do not do enough to stop vehicles from being stolen. Many crimes, not only "joy riding" use stolen cars. The public are put at great danger by this crime. Enormous police and victims resources are absorbed by the effects and results of stolen cars. Vehicles can be manufactured so that the need to put extra steering locks on them becomes redundant. Alternatively legislation should be brought in so that vehicle security systems are far more difficult to defeat.
Roads should all be marked every 100 metres with the speed limit. All speed cameras should have the speed limit painted on them. Half the time you don't know what the speed limit is on UK roads - a cynical attempt to catch more motorists out?
"occasionally putting badly damaged and burnt out vehicles at the roadside" - anybody who has ever lived in an inner city area will be well aware that this occurs frequently and does nothing to help road safety!
I agree with the comment about sight tests. As well as doing a breath test at the scene of any incident police officers should also be required to check somebody's eye sight. Many people don't realise their eyesight is getting worse as it happens so slow. I've seen a number of people have very near misses, who subsequently go for an eye test to find out they need glasses at least for driving, and been amazed at what they were missing as regards things happening around them.
It's driver psychology which needs to be addressed ahead of any other life-saving devices
The revenue collected from "speed cameras" should be used to improve the general standard and safety of the actual roads. Placing cameras on awkward bends and corners is not the answer. Make the roads straight and fence off trees. Or even cut down trees. At the moment revenue is just another form of taxation.
Shaun Grimes, UK
The telling fact is in the chart: six deaths per hundred thousand people per year. The figure is miniscule.
Do we really need all the inconvenience of the road safety industry for this tiny risk?
Many contributors mention the physical distraction of smoking at the wheel. There seems to be a reluctance to realise that although cigarettes are legal, nicotine is a highly addictive narcotic which often causes symptoms of aggressive behavior. The smoke also reduces blood oxygen levels and increases levels of carbon monoxide in the blood, which is not conducive to clear thinking. It seems strange that whilst alcohol is blamed for so much, being "high" off cigarettes is considered "normal".
Encourage people to use their cars less. Invest in the public transport infrastructure. Use bicyles for short trips.
It's driver psychology which needs to be addressed ahead of any other life-saving devices. Until people get it into their thick heads that speeding is unacceptable, then you'll never reduce the number of fatalities on our roads. It's the "I'm bigger and better and faster and more important than you" attitude which is so destructive.
Zero mg of alcohol. No smoking in cars, especially when the driver is trying to locate the dying embers that have fallen between the seats at 80mph on the M1. No phones (soon to be law thankfully). I don't think shock tactics work. People invariably believe it won't happen to them - just ask a smoker if they fear their own mortality. Without question swift and deterrent punishment to match the offence, including lifetime bans will get their attention. Why do we pander to these lunatics who threaten us and our children everyday?
Simon, London, UK
Touching as these memorials are, they are not as effective a means of saving lives on the highways as are driving more slowly and lawfully
Road safety would be improved by encouraging better driving standards not lowering speeds to ridiculously low levels which induce boredom and reduce concentration. Some would have the return of a man with red flag walking in front of the vehicle! Equal effort should also go into the quality of car maintenance - a special stringent MoT test should be introduced for cars over 8 years old with a view to reducing the nation's stock of bangers.
All of the above ideas will most likely reduce accidents, injuries and death.
There are two other areas that should be addressed.
1. A comprehensive driving test (road and classroom) that needs to retaken every 10 years, and passed or you loose your driving license. 2. Giving the police enough resources and incentive to effectively and fairly enforced the current road rules.
These two actions are required in the UK, Australia and the US. Counties I have lived, worked and driven in over the last 13 years.
Ronald Spiers USA,
I work outdoors with children/students in a rural area. Thirty years ago, more than 95% of drivers would slow down noticeably or even stop if we were walking in single file along the edge of a narrow road.
These days the proportion of arrogant and aggressive drivers (mainly men) speeding past even young children on the same road, leaving just inches to spare, has risen to more than a quarter.
Here in New Mexico, there is a long-standing tradition of friends and family erecting roadside crosses along the sides of roads where loved ones have died in automobile accidents. Touching as these memorials are, they are not as effective a means of saving lives on the highways as are driving more slowly and lawfully (people in New Mexico are notorious speeders and runners of stop lights), paying attention, and driving sober.
Tetman Callis, USA
The seatbelt was a revelation for some but a huge step forward. I would like to see more, effective measures for in car safety such as harness type seatbelts that race car drivers wear. In fact, legal measures should be implemented to take safety innovations from the race-track where safety is a primary concern and translate them into the family vehicle arena.
Brett Jackson, US
Ban buses and taxi s from speeding. It seems that they are above the law in the UK and they too are responsible for a massive number of road deaths/injuries. Ban smoking while driving - lighting up is really dangerous and does detract attention from the road.
Ban young men from owning white nova's
Two words: SLOW DOWN!!
It is the appalling standard of driving in this country that needs addressing-inappropriate speed for the conditions can mean that 20mph is too fast. At the same time too slow a speed can also cause serious accidents-overtaking traffic at 2-3mph more than their speed in the 3rd lane of a Motorway is a common cause of tailbacks & subsequent frustration. The problem is that drivers are not taught "situational awareness"-something that motorcyclists HAVE to develop in order to survive, as do military pilots. Speed cameras are not the answer, as they are incapable of recording HGV's exceeding THEIR limit (56mph), by 20mph & yet they will result in prosecution for a driver doing 90mph at 3am on the M6 in Cumbria when there is NOTHING ELSE on the Motorway.
Mike Sterland, UK
Where can I buy one? I'd rather live than worry about fashion
Some of the suggestions in this article are already in place in New Zealand.
"Death Markers" in the form of white wooden crosses can be seen at the sides of many roads although I believe that these crosses are placed by relatives of people killed in road traffic accidents. "Shock" adverts regularly appear on NZ TV at peak viewing times. They are usually quite graphic and hard hitting. "Random" breath testing is commonplace. It may not be regarded as random as the police stop all vehicles passing through the check point. Sadly however there are still too many accidents. An apparent lack of basic driving skills and excessive speed seem to be the main causes.
Lower speed limits, head bands (where can I buy one? I'd rather live than worry about fashion), death markers are all excellent ideas. Driving would be less 'fun', and slower, but so what? I'd rather get to my destination ten minutes later than arrive thirty years early in the next world.
There appears to be an increase in speed cameras, and a decrease in police patrols. Clearly, the speed cameras aim only to catch speeding motorists (and, of course, are a great revenue generator). Meanwhile, other offences are committed, such as dangerous driving, and are not detected. We need to see more police patrols.
The UK is increasingly becoming the country of excessive restrictions on it's residents. From roadside cameras to increasing limitations on daily life, people do not appreciate how much their freedoms are being eroded. Educate but not legislate - if people don't want to wear a seatbelt so be it - their choice. Time for nanny to leave the citizens to make choices for themselves - glad i left it all behind.
Speeding may very well contributing factor, but isn't driving slow as well? I drive 25,000 miles a year and everyday I see car moving at 30-35 mph in a 60 speed limit, this causes frustration among drivers and will encourage them to overtake in places which are not safe. If a driver is not comfortable doing 60 in a 60 they are obviously not confident and therefore should not be on the road, then again these slow coaches are the same ones who do not slow down when entering a built up 30mph area!! You know who you are!!
The government should consider school safety zones where speed limits are reduced still further, extra speed humps are employed, and extra fencing used. A colour coded scheme (yellow is used in France) would also highlight the danger area to motorists. Entry into the zone should be clearly indicated e.g. 'WARNING, You are entering a school safety zone'.
Maybe a radical solution is to make all occupant safety aids on cars illegal
Soft cars - instead of hard brittle sharp heavy ponty cars why not make cars from soft but durable foam? They would be lighter and more likely to bounce in a collision. Of course this would require replacing all vehicles on the road with rubbery cars in a fairly short time frame, but imagine the jobs that would be created.
Mark S, Brit in the USA
The headband/minimal crash helmet idea is good. As a recreational downhill skier I have become used to wearing a ski helmet and while this won't be able to prevent all damage, it could help. Likewise the headband idea might help and also help users think, "I am not indestructible".
Prohibit by law all insurance that covers damage to vehicles one's own and others - drivers would be very much more cautious.
John Clark, Dominican Republic
Why are technological solutions always sought to human problems? Better training, testing and enforcement of the existing laws would reduce the number of accidents.
Mick Sheppard, UK
I feel everyone should be made to take a motorcycle cbt (compulsory basic training). I believe this would remove any false sense of security they may have when in a car, and also increase their awareness when on the road..
Maybe we are looking at this the wrong way, there is a lot of effort put into making car's safer for their occupants, this leads to drivers feeling that if they crash then they will walk away uninjured. Maybe a radical solution is to make all occupant safety aids on cars illegal!! Then maybe you would think twice before breaking the speed limit or driving too close to the car in front. Just an idea.
Here is a suggestion for stopping people driving while chatting away on their mobile phone. Simply stop calls being transferred between area cells. Our motorways seem to have phone masts every 10m so they wouldn't even get a "Hello" in before being cut off. However they could always stop and make their call if its important.
Get a big off road vehicle and then your most likely to come off best in a crash with another vehicle.
Lower speed limits, especially on country lanes
would be a good idea. Its insane to allow motorist to do 60mph (and many will be doing 70mph or more) on winding, narrow, bumpy lanes, where around the next bend there could be a tractor, horse rider, cyclist or walker, plus probably another car approaching at 60mph, resulting in a 120mph collision.
Lower speed limits, and an intelligent speed control system could prevent thousands of accidents and lives. I guarantee most motorists would oppose this, as it would spoil their fun and would out-vote their victims to-be and victims relatives, if there was ever a vote on it.
Mark Humphries ,
Getting stuck behind someone driving far beneath the speed limit because they think they're being safe is going to frustrate other drivers and is very likely to make a person do something foolish or risky
I believe the "GO-SLOW" concept is a good idea, but something should be done to encourage people to purchase such automobiles. I feel a tax credit or some type of financial incentive would be needed to encourage people to buy such vehicles. Higher speeds result in a higher level of fatal accidents; unfortunately many are ignorant of this.
How about going too slow being dangerous? Getting stuck behind someone driving far beneath the speed limit because they think they're being safe is going to frustrate other drivers and is very likely to make a person do something foolish or risky. How about having speed restrictions timed? Some people prefer driving at night when there's less traffic on the roads and yet are still restricted to speed limits. Speed should be appropriate to circumstances.
It would be nice if people actually wore the seatbelts in their cars - the amount of cars I see in the town where I live in Essex not wearing their belts is alarming; especially when you consider that (1) most of the drivers were either extremely young or not even born when wearing seatbelts in the UK became law and (2) the cars being driven are not always new enough to have airbags. Personally, I'm in favour of drivers not wearing seatbelts who are involved in accidents having their insurance voided - and having to pay for any NHS treatment. It may sound harsh, but quite often these people have children in the back of the car and are just selfish.
I think that the use of signs to show where fatal or serious accidents have occurred is one of the best measures for stating just how dangerous the roads are. When I was younger I remember seeing signs which were black spots for places of danger. Well worth considering again.
Lisa Fahy, England
Why is it assumed that all people are genetically pre-disposed to being good at driving? I think that people who don't pass their test within 5 attempts shouldn't be allowed on the road.
I think there should be a reactions test before you are allowed to drive or rid a motorbike.
I welcome any of these ideas if it helps save lives. My dad was killed in a road accident in 1998, and it never stops seeming so stupid that someone could be killed while on a cycle path, just because the path was not wide enough for two bikes to cross!
Elizabeth Warn, Albania
It's not only blokes who ride big motorcycles, us ladies do too. It seems to cause a lot of male car drivers extreme angst to see a lady rider on a big, powerful bike. So much so in fact that it appears to be a direct challenge to their penis size, and they do their best to cut us up, swerve in front of us and make extravagant hand gestures. Shouting obscenities out of car windows when the sisters pass by is a favourite too. I suggest making it law to oblige all women bikers to dress like men when on a bike, fake beards, hide it all away jackets and a mighty morphin plastic ranger attitude to the road. Us ladies want to be real men too!!!
Louisa Morgan, UK
People drive fast because they are impatient (more so in the South East of England). People get impatient because they know their car is capable of going faster, especially if stuck behind a slower vehicle. If all vehicles were restricted to the legal speed limit, there would be no impatience and no speeding. In theory anyway!
I think that all motorists should be made to do a refresher course every 10 years
I am an advanced motorcyclist and have practised as a specialist injury solicitor for over 18 years. There are two main causes of road accidents that could be reduced relatively cheaply; (1) it should be illegal to drive any motor vehicle on a public road having consumed any alcohol at all- there is no logical argument for allowing any consumption of a known inhibitor when driving (2) all drivers should be subject to compulsory re-test every 10 years up to the age of 50 and every 5 years thereafter. It is insane that drivers who passed their test 40 years ago can still drive in today's environment without retesting of their abilities.
Mike Clarke, England
The driving test is too easy. What is now called the Advanced test should be the standard. Then the people operating cars would be able to drive properly and I'm sure the number of accidents would drop. Increasing the difficulty of obtaining a licence means the threat of having it taken away becomes more serious.
James Begent, England
Stopping distance, stopping distance, stopping distance. Last week I drove along a wet crowded motorway at 65mph, in the leftmost lane, keeping a good distance behind the car in front of me. And all I could see in my rear-view mirror was the radiator grille of the huge lorry driving about a foot behind me. People like that should be prosecuted for attempted murder. But you never hear about that sort of bad driving - what you get are stories about ambulance drivers speeding on empty dry roads while trying to save lives - and being prosecuted for their trouble. Can we be grown-up about it and attack inappropriate speed rather than absolute speeding?
I like the head band protection (do they come in child sizes too?), the speed limiters on vehicles and random breath tests. I think that all motorists should be made to do a refresher course every 10 years. I would also like to see compulsory lights and reflective wear for cyclists and motorcyclists
monique denton, uk
I think all cars should be equipped with Reflective Vests, so that when cars break down at the roadside, the passengers of the car become clearly visible on the roadside. Far too many people are killed on the Hard Shoulder each year in the UK and something needs to be done about it. Perhaps they should be supplied as standard with all knew cars?
Caroline Walton, UK
Some cars make a noise when the seatbelt is not plugged in and have proper seatbelts in the middle backseat. both of these features would be great if made compulsory.
I recall reading about a proposal for a simple change to cars to save lives - the change was to replace the drivers air bag with a big spike. The idea is that when drivers can see the danger that they are in if they do not drive carefully, they pay attention and drive very carefully indeed.
Another idea might be to raise the age at which drivers can learn to drive. The number of ''boy racers'' on the road must be a contributory factor to the incidents of speed and carnage on the road (and probably road rage, too, not to mention noise pollution from the massive sound systems many have - if a mobile 'phone is deemed dangerous what about a stereo booming out 100+ watts of sound? Surely such levels of sound must be distracting to the point of danger.)
I think there is an over emphasis on road safety in this country. The roads are safer than houses.
More people are now killed in accidents in their home each year than on the roads. More than 4,000 people are killed annually in the home compared to 3,600 on the roads.
One of the safest places you can be is locked up in a padded cell but would you want to live your life that way?
To Rebecca: yes it is sometimes vital to get out of someone's way. That's what your brakes are for - speeding is never a solution top danger on the roads.
And to B Essada: how would a "driving test" for bikes "save 500 kids per year?" That's more than ten times the annual child pedal cyclist fatality rate.
The real barrier to improved road safety is our refusal to take responsibility. For the most parts these are not "accidents," over 90% are crashes resulting from negligence on the part of at least one road user. Pay more attention to the road and less to trying to shave five seconds off your journey.
Guy Chapman, UK
I think smoking at the wheel is more dangerous than using a mobile phone. You have to take both hands off the wheel to light it, and if you drop it a burning cigarette will land in your lap - very likely to be distracting!
Maybe we need to concentrate on educating pedestrians on how to use crossings and not automatically say that drivers are evil
"Collisions with trees kill 1,600 people a year in Germany, 800 in France and more than 200 in Britain" Look at the figures!
I think that Britain already has some of the world's safest roads, none of the suggestions would help to make us any safer (unless we were all banned from driving). As a driver it really annoys me how it seems that anything is the drivers fault. For instance the kill your speed, not a child campaign, if the child hadn't walked out from in front of another car he wouldn't have been hit in the first place. Maybe we need to concentrate on educating pedestrians on how to use crossings and not automatically say that drivers are evil.
Denzil Pemberthy, UK
I like the Indian solution: signs by the road - "Don't drive silly, enjoy the valley" and other little poems. Cute but totally ineffective of course. Delhi also has a large sign showing the daily death and serious injury stats for the city. Averages 4 of each per day.
I think that everyone should be required to take part in a refresher course every 10 to 15 years. I can't think of one person I know over forty who would pass their driving test if they re-took it now.
Anything that makes people less tunnel visioned when they enter their car can't hurt.
May I suggest that in place of the air bag on the steering a large spike is put there instead. It will certainly make people go slower know that they could be kebabed if they had to reduce their speed quickly.
Speeding is viewed by many as the be all and end all of road safety and seems as a consequence to be the only target when it comes to road safety. As a regular motorway driver I see far more accidents caused by people driving too close to the car in front. Wouldn't speed camera technology be better employed capturing this rather than targeting someone on what may very well be an empty road. A simple survey of passing cars still reveals a significant percentage not wearing seatbelts.
Tim K, UK
Better road markings, higher quality tarmac that can reduce 'spray' on the roads, making visibility better and safer for all.
George Williams, UK
After seeing the 'the UK's worst driver' TV program, I think that anyone caught in an accident should have to take a mini driving test, if they pass, no problem, if they perform 'acceptably', they should have their fault pointed out, perhaps made to retake this test, if they fail.. they should lose their licence completely. All accidents are caused by bad driving - whether going to fast for the conditions, or simply poor judgement. by making drivers take a test, it could be used as a means of ensuring only good drivers get to drive.
In England 14% of the driving population fail to meet the eyesight requirements for driving, which I believe are amongst the laxest in Europe. Why don't the police take any action against such dangerous drivers? Drivers should be required to take annual eyesight tests, particularly older drivers.
Andy Gambles, England
All cars should be fitted with a breathalyser tube which must be blown into to start the car. If you fail the test the car won't start. Simple!!
Bill Robertson, Scotland
My idea is that no-one should be allowed to drive a car before they have learned how to ride a motor bike and ridden one for two years. This will only increase their road awareness and make the realise that even in a car they are vulnerable to bad drivers.
Russell, London, UK
Is 71mph any more dangerous than 69mph on a Motorway?
Making cars out of sponge, banning all drivers except me,
the 'safer' driving is the more risks people take. A compulsory re-test every 5 years would be a better plan, tackling the real issue - the people who drive!
The only suggestion which I can see being as dangerous as the current situation is a go slow car. Whilst not advocating speeding on a general basis (although let's face it, most of us do it if only by a couple of miles an hour), there are times when it is vital for safety to be able to get out of someone else's way, for which it may be necessary to speed for a brief moment. Without the ability to do this, I would certainly have been in a number of accidents in my time which were totally unrelated to my own driving.
Is 71mph any more dangerous than 69mph on a Motorway? The concentration by the authorities and pressure groups on absolute speeds, instead of appropriate speed is a waste of time. How many speed cameras do we need to reduce the fatalities on the road to 0? If you concentrate solely on speed, the most cost-effective solution surely would be to bring back the Red Flag act of the 1800s, when all horseless carriages were required to be preceded by a man walking in front with a red flag. Fortunately the maximum speed under this system is about 3 to 5 mph, so no one would ever get killed on the road again, but the country would grind to a halt.
Mike Wicks, UK
Simple a driving test for bike
riders. Bikes are great kids
toys for off road use. If
they are going to be used on
road the rider should either
hold, or be escorted by someone
holding, a driving licence. This would save 500 kids a year
with very little cost.