By Rosie Ogden
JUST before Christmas the UK’s Department for Transport unveiled a raft of measures to improve the safety of Britain’s roads.
The proposals will ensure learner drivers are properly prepared before their test, including the chance to gain motorway experience with an approved driving instructor. This follows plans announced in November to introduce a deposit which is returned to the learner driver if they pass, thereby encouraging them to take their test when they are ready, rather than rushing it.
Other measures include funding to train the next generation of cyclists, and extra money for police forces to crack down on drug drivers.
One of the main proposals is for learner drivers to be offered the opportunity to drive on motorways, taking a ‘motorway driving lesson’ with an approved driving instructor in a dual controlled car. This is a long-overdue measure, designed to make drivers safer once they have passed their test. It’s extraordinary that, until now, newly-qualified drivers usually get their first taste of motorway driving after they have passed their test, having had no training on how to cope with the speeds, multiple lanes and so on encountered on motorways.
There will be a £750,000 grant for police forces in England and Wales to fund more officers with drug recognition and impairment testing skills, enabling “more effective and targeted enforcement”.
Cyclists are also included in the proposals: a grant of £50 million over the next four years will support Bikeability cycle training in schools, the aim being to help increase children’s road awareness, and encouraging them to be healthy and active.
Since its inception, more than 1.5 million schoolchildren have received training through the Bikeability scheme, and the government will also consult on changes to improve cycle safety to ensure sideguards are not removed from HGVs but remain permanently fitted.
The Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) for learner motorcyclists will be strengthened and there will be a consultation on a range of further proposals to support safer motorcycling.
Motorists who endanger lives by using hand-held mobile phones while driving will face an increase from the current three penalty points to four, while the fixed penalty notice will rise from £100 to £150; for larger vehicles such as HGVs (where the consequences of an accident can be much more severe) the penalty will increase from the current three points to six and the fixed penalty notice will rise from £100 to £150.
A recent survey conducted by Europe’s largest used vehicle marketplace, BCA, suggests that these proposals will meet with approval from the majority of drivers: it revealed a growing frustration of UK motorists towards dangerous and careless driving habits. Nearly 90% of motorists who responded to the survey said the use of a handheld mobile device while driving was ‘very distracting’, with 95% claiming to have personally witnessed another motorist doing so. And over half (52%) of those surveyed believed that penalties for using a handheld mobile device should be more severe.
However, the BCA data also revealed that there appears to be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, with 42% of motorists admitting to having spoken on a handheld mobile device themselves while driving. Over a quarter (27%) admitted to texting while behind the wheel; 13% have taken a photo and 6% admitted to accessing social media whilst driving.
“The interesting thing about this study is that, whilst almost everybody was happy to vent their indignation at other drivers’ carelessness, a large number also owned-up to the very things that concerned them”, explained Tim Naylor, Editor of the BCA Used Car Market Report.
“But it is clear from our research that there is a groundswell of support for stronger penalties for using a handheld mobile while driving – whether talking, texting or accessing social media.”
Terry Hogan, Co-Founder and Director of Motoring.co.uk is adamant that mobile phone use while driving is a growing problem: “Unfortunately, the incidence of mobile phone usage at the wheel of a car is increasing as more and more people feel the need to check their phones. A few years ago it was just text messages and calls, but now a whole host of social media accounts, reminders and messaging apps are competing for drivers’ attention on our increasingly busy roads.
“It’s no wonder that accidents caused by mobiles are increasing and legislation has to keep up. The government needs to educate as well as legislate.”
Announcing the proposals, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Today we are delivering common sense proposals that balance tougher penalties for dangerous drivers with practical steps to help youngsters and other more vulnerable groups stay safe on our roads”.
Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, supports the initiative: “One in five young drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test so putting the learning process under the spotlight has to be a good thing”.
“Mile for mile motorways are our safest roads but can be intimidating places for novice drivers. Exploring ways of letting learners have controlled access to them is welcome. The important thing is the official seal of approval provided by the approved driving instructor who will accompany them down the slip-road. This is definitely not the time to have mum or dad in the passenger seat”.
A series of consultations on the specific proposals will take place in 2016.