Could a traffic sign featuring a hedgehog
really be the solution to improving road safety? Unveiled last week by transport secretary Chris Grayling, the new road sign is set to be displayed in hotspots for wildlife-related accidents, aiming to reduce harm on the roads to those on four wheels and four legs alike.
Although it undoubtedly raises a smile, the addition of this new sign also demonstrates the number and complexity of potential factors impacting driver safety, and the sheer challenge of addressing these. There are multiple threats from animals alone - the hedgehog is just the latest in a series of existing road signs alerting motorists to the presence of wildlife.
Whilst there is a clear need for these accidents to be addressed, along with a slew of other existing and new driving hazards, there are arguments against the adoption of new road signs. Earlier this year, the DfT urged councils to adopt a “less is more” approach to implementing new road signs, in the face of criticism that drivers find them confusing. New research suggests that over half of UK drivers have had a near miss, or know someone who has, due to misinterpreting road signs.
Evidently, a priority should be to continue ensuring that our infrastructure is one that serves safer driving – from cleaning up traffic signs to improving road surfacing quality and bike lanes. But the DfT’s refreshed Road Safety Statement and two-year action plan, due to be published, is also, rightly, expected to focus on education. A major theme is likely to be the safety of younger drivers – the 17-24 year-old age group which, whilst constituting 7% of road users, make up 20% of deaths
related to road accidents. Suggestions to address this issue have included a minimum number of driving lesson hours prior to being able to take a test and restricting young drivers’ use of the roads.
Our own customer claims data shows that even outside of this group, a wider educational piece is needed. A number of our customers’ road accidents are caused by one of three things: drivers distracted by using mobile phones, conversing with other passengers and eating and drinking (a list of misdemeanors that certainly isn’t exhaustive); Speeding; and not adapting driving in poor weather are common contributors. All of which can be addressed through better educating drivers of the need to focus whilst driving, the danger of driving even 5 mph above the speed limit, and the importance of changing driving style to suit the weather. Road signs can be developed to warn motorists of these hazards, but they are of little use if they are misunderstood or simply not heeded.
Yet natural opportunities for education throughout the course of ones’ driving life are limited. Learning to drive is the longest and best period to instill good habits in motorists – but once the dreaded driving test is passed, it can be difficult to sustain these. Road safety charities like IAMRoadSmart urge motorists to keep up to date with their Highway Code to keep on top of new driving hazards and road laws, and tirelessly run awareness campaigns addressing specific issues such as drink driving. But the average number of casualties each day on the roads suggest that more needs to be done.
The insurance industry has, in the last few years, turned to technology to help play its part in improving road safety. Indeed, the last Road Safety Statement in 2015 called upon insurers to incentivise better behaviours through new technology to promote safer driving. Telematics reward drivers based on positive driving habits which reduce premiums, whilst 25% of motorists believe
that the use of dashcams will improve their own driving.
While the road safety landscape has undeniably evolved over the years, developing technologies such as smart motorways and autonomous vehicles will soon see us having a very different debate, focusing on the interplay between infrastructure and technology. In the meantime, policy makers, and the insurance and motoring industries need to work together, and ensure efforts strike the right balance between considered improvements to infrastructure, life-long driving education and incentives to make driving in the UK as safe as it can be.