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Is our likelihood of being involved in a road traffic accident hardwired in us?

This is a guest blog by Dr Stephen Ladyman.

Stephen was in the IT industry before becoming an MP and ultimately the Minister of State for Transport, and he’s a consultant with our expert team of road safety, traffic data monitoring and intelligent transport systems experts here at Clearview Traffic Group.

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Is our likelihood of being involved in a road traffic accident hardwired in us? There is evidence to suggest it might be.

We know, for example, that certain personality types are more prone to being involved in collisions. Arguably, the whole car insurance industry is based on this premise.

Insurance companies are no longer allowed to base their premiums on gender, but it wasn’t that long ago that young male drivers attracted the highest premiums not only because they are inexperienced, but also because they are prone to be risk-takers.

People with poor time-management skills are also more likely to have accidents, because they find themselves rushing to meetings and taking risks to get there on time.

There is even evidence that people with an ‘optimistic’ mind set face similar problems as they are more likely to underestimate journey times or overlook the possibility of heavy traffic and then find themselves taking risks to make their appointment on time.

It would also be reasonable to assume that spatial cognition skills play a role in determining how good a driver we are and these are certainly hard-wired.

We are all guilty of unconscious risk compensation, where we match speed and manoeuvring to the perceived level of risk around us, and so our ability to properly assess these risks will clearly have an impact on how good or bad we are at this.

A 2009 study led by William J. Horrey of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety concluded that drivers underestimate the dangers of multi-tasking while driving precisely because we underestimate the dangers of doing so.

This is a theme recently highlighted by a report from the Institute of Advanced Motoring and the Transport Research Laboratory:

“As driving is so complex and requires various cognitive processes, taking on another task when driving can mean a driver is unable to pay sufficient attention to all the activities required for safe driving. This can lead to a processing failure resulting in a loss of control, putting the driver and other road users in physical danger.”

They also highlight figures from the Department of Transport that suggest that in 2013 2,995 accidents were the result of distractions in the vehicle and 1,627 were caused by distractions outside the vehicle.

We have previously blogged about ‘cognitive capture’, a form of inattentional blindness that arises when a driver’s concentration is captured by distractions and activities in and around the vehicle that prevent them from seeing the real dangers ahead.

These figures back up this view -the risks that arise from allowing our focus to drift or from inadequate risk appreciation, because our mind is drawn away from the primary task at hand when we are behind the wheel are very real.

Our solutions team keep a close eye on the latest research and statistics, with Clearview’s R&D activities geared to continually improving the products effectiveness in a range of situations.

Of course, highways managers cannot be totally responsible for mitigating these risks, as primary responsibility lies with each of us when we get in our cars.

But designing roads and junctions to avoid external distractions, clear road signing, accurate and easily digested traffic information and clear road and lane delineation, including deploying active road studs to make night driving safer, can all help.

And employers can do something, too.

Everyone who drives while at work should plan their journey properly, allow adequate time to get to appointments and make time for a coffee break every two hours.

If employers insist they do so and ensure they are not expected to take or make calls while driving, then they will be making a positive contribution to road safety as well as protecting their workforce.

If you’d like to find out more about Clearview Traffic’s road safety solutions, please get in touch here.

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