Dangerous driving: are we facing an epidemic? 

Despite stricter regulations and penalties, it appears that we are no further forward in combatting dangerous driving on UK roads. Highways England recently released its findings that showed over 4,000 drivers had been caught dangerous driving by unmarked vehicles throughout its two-year campaign from April 2015. 

This is a worrying figure and is likely to have contributed to the many road traffic accidents throughout 2016 which led to 25,160 people being killed or seriously injured — a 6% increase on the number of fatalities on the previous year. Throughout the campaign, officers gave verbal advice to 388 drivers, issued 838 fixed or graduated penalty notices, filed 3,318 traffic offence reports, and helped secure 113 prosecutions for more serious offences. Audi dealership, Vindis, highlights the worrying figures to establish if the UK is facing a dangerous driving epidemic — or whether the stricter penalties could put a stop to this behaviour. 

The most common reasons for stopping drivers 

According to the Highways England report, the most dangerous driving offences were speeding, using a mobile phone, not wearing a seatbelt, and not being in control of the vehicle — and road traffic accident statistics seem to agree, too. 

A report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) revealed that 6% of all road traffic accidents were caused as a result of driving at inappropriate speeds — and during the Highways England campaign, 249 drivers were caught speeding on roads. Police reports suggest that driving at inappropriate speeds causes 15% of crashes that result in a serious injury and 26% of collisions that result in death. Furthermore, in 2015, 222 people were killed in road accidents where the driver was exceeding the speed limit, and 167 were killed when drivers were driving too fast for the road or weather conditions. However, ROSPA points out that by reduced speed by just 1mph, we can reduce the accident rate by 5%! 

In the Highways England campaign, driving whilst using a handheld mobile phone was the most common driving offence. Off the 4,176 drivers caught by police, 2,508 of them were using a mobile phone — and ignorance can’t be used as an excuse as 26% of drivers admitted to being aware of the strict penalties in place for the offence, and yet still continued to use their phone. 

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The RAC also revealed the worrying figures that 40% of respondents admitted to talking on their phone whilst in stationary traffic, 39% admitted to checking emails, texts and social media, 29% said they had written a text, email or social media post, and 16% said they had taken photos or videos. The risk of a crash is increased by 23% whilst texting, and reaction time is lowered by 35% — which is nearly three times the legal drink drive limit. Approximately 213 people die annually because of texting whilst behind the wheel.  

Drink driving is one of the most publicised dangerous driving offences. Figures reveal that in 2015, 220 people were killed in drink driving incidents, whilst a further 1,160 people were seriously injured and there were over 8,000 casualties in total. In the Highways England report, 253 drivers were reported to be not in control of their vehicle — this includes drink driving. Police officers have the right to request a breath test if they suspect that a driver could be driving under the influence of alcohol. A total of 520,219 breath tests were carried out roadside during 2015 and 12% of those drivers either failed or refused to take the test. 

Will stricter penalties work? 

Depending on the nature, and extremity of the driving offence, the penalty is a choice between a fine and driving course or points on your license. In 2017, almost 1.5 million drivers took a training course after committing a driving offence, as opposed to taking the points on their license. But are driving courses an easy way out for drivers? According to the RAC, over 6,000 drivers have been stopped at least twice for using their mobile behind the wheel since 2013 — with some drivers being stopped three or four times. So, the question remains, do we need to implement harsher penalties to stop drivers repeatedly offending on the roads? 

In 2017, new speeding guidelines were implemented to try and deter drivers from breaking the speed limit on UK roads. New guidelines outlined that speeding penalties would be stricter with higher fines. From the end of April 2017, drivers could be fined up to 150% of their weekly income for driving above the speed limit. However, despite the stricter regulations, nearly 1.2 million people attended courses throughout 2017, which suggests that regulations aren’t being implemented and the stricter regulations have not deterred drivers from offending.

Additionally, with news uncovered that half of the UK’s road speed cameras are switched off, it seems that authorities are not executing the stricter speeding penalties that provokes drivers to continue to offend. According the BBC: 

  • Fixed speed cameras in Cleveland, Durham, North Yorkshire, and Northamptonshire are all inactive.
  • Staffordshire Police has 272 fixed cameras across the region, of which 14 are active.
  • In Scotland, less than 29% of fixed cameras are switched on.
  • Forces where less than 25% of fixed cameras are active: West Yorkshire, Kent, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and Cheshire.
  • The Derbyshire force operates 112 cameras, of which 10 are switched on.
  • Gwent police force has 17 fixed speed cameras of which 8 are active, while South Wales has 88, 59% of which are switched on.
  • Police forces with all fixed speed cameras switched on include: the City of London, the Metropolitan Police/Transport for London, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, and Northern Ireland.

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With so many speed cameras inactive, drivers who speed are realising that they can get away with it without any punishments. The risk of a fine, a couple of points on your licence or a driving course does not seem to be a harsh enough punishment to stop dangerous driving — and now that they are aware that nearly half of the cameras are switched off, the chance of being caught has significantly decreased. So, what next? What can be done to stop dangerous driving?  

It appears some roads in the UK are now operating with speed cameras that never switch off, so that drivers can be caught at all times if offending. The new M1 smart motorway will issue fines to drivers who exceed the 70mph limit, thanks to 24/7 cameras. Additionally, there appeared to be 27% fewer police officers patrolling the roads in recent years, which could have been another contributor to the high level of dangerous driving. However, with the Highways England campaign, 28 police forces teamed up with the organisation to make the campaign successful, which could be a step in the right direction.