Following the results of a recent Highways England campaign, the severity of dangerous driving in the UK has been highlighted. The campaign revealed they had caught over 4,000 dangerous drivers in a campaign that involved them using an unmarked HGV. The most common causes of dangerous driving were driving without a seatbelt, speeding and using a mobile phone.

Mobile phone usage was the most common driving offense according to the campaign’s results – catching 2,508 drivers using a hand-held mobile phone whilst behind the wheel. It appears that that new driving laws increasing the penalty to six points on your driving license and a minimum £200 fine had not deterred driving from committing the crime.

In further news, autonomous vehicles have begun trials across the globe, with some of the first autonomous vehicles involved in incidents whereby other vehicles, driven by humans, have been at fault. Ford van retailer, Van Monster, analyses the statistics of how dangerous our roads are today and discuss if the evolution of autonomous vehicles could be the answer to improving road safety.

How hazardous are Our Roads?

The RAC believe that the increase in road traffic accidents in 2014 could be directly linked to the fact that there were 27% fewer traffic police on the roads in England and Wales compared to figures from 2010. With fewer police to catch dangerous drivers, the prevention rate is significantly affected. According to Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC, “cuts to police enforcement are doubly damaging… 26,000 are still dying each year on our roads, and the numbers will not start to decrease again without concerted action.”

However, the Highways England campaign encourages 28 polices forces to partake and tackle dangerous driving. The campaign saw over 5,039 offences reported, involving a total of 4,176 drivers. Of those offences, there were a total of 133 prosecutions for serious dangerous driving offences, whilst police officers noted that they had to give verbal advice or warnings to 388 drivers, issued 838 penalty notices and filed 3,318 traffic offence reports.

Statistics have shown that driving whilst using a handheld phone is directly linked to on average two deaths on the roads every month. At least 124 people have lost their lives in road traffic accidents involving mobile phone usage in the past five years – and 521 people have suffered serious injuries.

However, whilst dangerous driving is clearly a pressing matter in the UK – figures reveal that UK roads still remain among the safest across Europe. When comparing the number of road deaths across countries in Europe, only Sweden had a lower rate than the UK. And could they be about to get even safer?

An autonomous solution

In most cases, road traffic accidents are caused by fault of the driver, due to human error or dangerous driving – professionals believe that by eliminating the human driver from behind the wheel and taking away their control, will lead to our roads becoming safer.

Some countries have already commenced trials of autonomous vehicles that do not require a human driver. Vehicles which never exceed the speed limit, stop at every traffic light and give way to road markings and follow all road rules perfectly – sounds perfect, right? It has the potential to revolutionise the automotive industry and make it safer than ever before.

However, will many drivers picking up bad habits throughout their driving history, autonomous vehicles which drive alongside human drivers are at risk of incidents. Autonomous technology will need to be rolled out across all roads for safety benefits to be witnessed. Recent reports have revealed that some of the first autonomous vehicles driving on the roads have been involved in road traffic accidents with other vehicles on the roads. A self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas had only been on the road for around an hour when it collided with a large delivery truck driven by a human driver. The accident was confirmed by the AAA as being the truck driver’s fault.

So far, during the trials in California, there have been 43 autonomous vehicle incidents reported on their roads. According to Mike Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner who specializes in advanced automotive technologies, this is because “they don’t drive like people. They drive like robots. They’re odd and that’s why they get hit.”

Autonomous vehicles are programmed to follow the rules perfectly – something which many drivers do not do, which is why other drivers are not used to the style of driving. You could say, they drive too well. For autonomous vehicles to truly contribute to making our roads safer, they must be able to integrate themselves better with human drivers on the road. Companies designing autonomous vehicles must find the right balance between emulating human driving behaviour whilst eliminating human mistakes.

For autonomous vehicles to truly revolutionise the safety of our roads, more developments are required. Vehicles need to be taught how to recognise human driving habits. Whilst the cars themselves are trained to follow road rules perfectly, human drivers are not as well-trained.