Tuesday 20 August 2019

Watch out: The five activities you say worry you most on our roads

* Our Road Safety Authority expert reveals what compels people to contact them

Mobile phone use while driving is one of the top concerns among people who contact the Road Safety Authority
Mobile phone use while driving is one of the top concerns among people who contact the Road Safety Authority

Every year we receive hundreds of letters, emails and comments on our social media pages from members of the public. Most of them are to share a road safety concern they have. The majority tend to follow similar road safety themes.

Here they are - with a comment on why they represent such a threat to life and limb.

1. The behaviour of cyclists:

The topic that's exercising drivers most these days is the behaviour of cyclists.

Of course, for every story a driver tells us about the bad behaviour of a cyclist, there's a similar one from a cyclist about how a driver nearly 'ran me off the road'.

To be honest, sometimes we feel like a parent stuck between two warring children. Top of the drivers' list of complaints is cyclists travelling two abreast and would we do something about it to stop them.

It's not about taking sides but drivers really do need to appreciate that cyclists are entitled to use the road, just as much as they are. Drivers don't have any exclusive rights to this space.

It's a public road, not a 'for drivers use only' route. We all share it and we have to treat each other with courtesy and respect. Cyclists are entitled by law to cycle two abreast.

From my own experience, the times when we drivers would just wish they would ride single file, and let us overtake, are precisely the times we shouldn't do it.

Because it's usually on the crest of some dead-ground, or the lead up to a bend with a solid white line running down the middle of the road.

2. Mobile phone use while driving:

The second big issue for people is mobile phone use. Or specifically would we, the RSA, please do something about the number of drivers using their phones while driving.

It's usually a close shave with a driver that motivates individuals to fire in an email or put pen to paper.

Using the phone while driving has reached epidemic proportions in this country. For some, using the phone while behind the wheel of the car is a symptom of a wider problem they have with a phone addiction.

I used to say that about drink driving. I'm not exaggerating. It's recognised as such by the Addiction Counsellors of Ireland.

There is even a name for it - nomophobia. People just cannot resist checking their phones to see if there is a new message or post on Facebook.

The feeling or rush is the same one that gamblers experience when they hit the jackpot.

The danger, of course, is when you take this behaviour behind the wheel. Their obsession with their phones is such that they ignore the risks.

They convince themselves that they can cope with the multiple tasks involved in driving a car and using a mobile phone.

It's now an accepted scientific fact that using a phone while driving increases your risk of crashing. You are four times more likely to crash using a hand held mobile; 23 times more likely if texting.

The most definitive study on the topic was done by David Strayer, a psychologist at the University of Utah, back in 2006. His study used driving simulators to compare the performance of drivers who were chatting on a mobile phone to drivers who had drunk enough alcohol to be over the legal blood-alcohol level in the US.

Drivers on the mobile didn't adopt the aggressive, risk taking style of the drivers who were under the influence but they were unsafe in others ways. They took much longer to react to obvious hazards outside the car.

The conclusion of this landmark study was that driving while using a mobile phone is as dangerous as drink driving. Of importance too was his other finding that hands-free devices were just as bad as hand held phones.

The problem with talking on a mobile phone, whether hand held or hands free, is that it causes a form of tunnel vision; you cannot see properly what's happening in your peripheral vision. Or as one commentator recently and aptly described it 'The problem with talking while driving is not a shortage of hands. It's a shortage of mental bandwidth.'

The problem is getting worse in this country. Our last observational study, which was carried out in 2014, showed that 1-in-12 drivers are using the phone while driving. This was 1-in-24 in 2013. Compared to the UK, the problem is four times worse here.

Increasing the points from two to three for the offence, should make a difference. But like drink driving, it's not a social problem that's going to be solved overnight. It may take a decade of enforcement and educational efforts to change the majority of attitudes and behaviour. Although, there may also be a simple technological solution just around the corner.

3. Poor standard of motorway driving:

"Dear RSA, Can you please tell people how to drive properly on a motorway…. How to exit and enter a motorway…. Who is supposed to give right of way when entering a motorway?"

These are some of the comments we receive from people concerned about the third most complained about road safety topic.

Legally the driver arriving onto the motorway, from a slip road or 'on ramp' as it's sometimes called, must give way to those already on the motorway.

However, it is courteous driving for cars who are already on the motorway to move into the outer lane to let cars join the motorway, but only if it's safe to do so, and you don't impede other traffic.

Another big bug bear is people driving in the right or outer lane on a motorway. When on a motorway the golden rule is to always stay in the left hand lane. The outer lanes are not 'fast lanes', they are overtaking lanes and should only be used to overtake slower moving traffic. Once the overtaking manoeuvre is completed, you need to return to the left hand lane.

From a safety point of view, there are two issues that give us real concern when it comes to motorway driving.

The first is stopping on the hard shoulder and the second is pedestrians walking on the motorway. These two factors are all too common situational factor behind motorway deaths.

It is an offence to stop on the hard shoulder for a reason. It's incredibly dangerous. And you really are taking your life in your hands if you attempt to walk on a motorway.

4. Defective lights on cars:

The late Pat Costello, Chief Executive of the National Safety Council used to call them 'One Eyed Jacks'.

That is, cars with only one working head light. This is another of the big bugbears that members of the public have. It's quite scary to come across these cars at night.

At a distance they look like motorcyclists. So you can imagine the consequences if a driver tried to overtake a vehicle, while mistakenly thinking that the oncoming light in the distance was a motorcyclist.

Because you may not actually be aware that a light is broken, it's important to check them regularly.

If you discover a broken light, take it to your local garage. I say this not because I don't want people to change the lights themselves, but because based on my own experience, changing the headlight, is a difficult job.

Getting to the bulb is almost impossible. If I was a cynic I'd say it's done on purpose by vehicle manufacturers to force consumers to go to their local garage.

If you didn't realise a light was out it would be a bit unfair if gardaí handed out fines and penalty points for this offence.

That's why consideration is being given to a 'rectification scheme'. It would require prompt repair of any vehicle defects and is being considered as part of the current Road Safety Strategy.

5. The misuse of fog lights:

The misuse of fog lights follows close on the heels of broken lights for motorists.

Because they can dazzle drivers travelling in front and following behind, it's an offence to use them in conditions other than fog or falling snow.

So please, turn them off. They are not a fashion accessory.

Safe and happy motoring.

Indo Motoring

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