Road safety education is the best prevention

Jun 2017

The Human Factor

The most important and effective measure, however, is continuous road safety education – from our very earliest years to the end of our lives. Indeed, as early as 1997, the Ministère des Transports/ Directorat Sécurité Routière in France developed the concept of “continuum éducatif,” whereby road safety education is seen as an ongoing process that extends across all phases of our lives – family, school, when we start taking driving lessons, throughout our professional career and into our retirement. Since most accidents can be attributed to inappropriate behavior and/or responses, road safety education should take into account individual behavioral aspects regardless of a person’s age or level of education.

A variety of programs aimed above all at young people have been available in many EU member states for years now. A couple of examples: An integral part of the curriculum of schools in Belgium are “De Grote Verkeerstoets” and “Het Grote Fietsexamen” with special tests on road traffic behavior and cycling proficiency for children aged up to 12 years old. The response has been overwhelming: In 2016, almost 45,000 schoolchildren nationwide took part in these two programs.

Another road safety education measure in a broader sense was the “Truckveilig Charter”, which was launched in 2012 by the Belgian Flemish Government and is aimed at transport companies and truck drivers. Anyone who signs this charter obligates themselves to implement at least seven road safety action points of their own choosing every year. These action points could include, to name just a few, adopting a more anticipatory driving style with the appropriate speed and sufficient distance from the vehicle in front, making sure that the mirrors are set correctly, complying with driving and rest periods or taking part in training sessions. Anyone who can prove after a few months that they have met these obligations receives the “Truckveilig Charter” label. The declared aim of this measure is to raise awareness of safety within the industry.

One example from Brazil is the “Maio Amarelo” (“Yellow May”) campaign launched by the Brazilian Observatório Nacional para Segurança no Trânsito (national road safety authorities) to prevent road accidents. The title of this campaign, which is aimed at all road users, refers to the month in which the United Nations launched the “Decade of Action for Road Safety” in 2011. May is also the month in which “Pedestrian Safety Week” is celebrated worldwide. The vivid color of yellow symbolically refers to road warning signs.

Driver training courses raise people´s awareness of high-risk situations

Another important measure for increasing road safety is driver safety training. After all, whether you are a beginner driver, a professional driver or an elderly person, whether you drive a car or truck or ride a motorbike, nearly all of us have likely encountered dicey situations on the road. Somehow, the situations usually resolve themselves without incident, but hardly any of us feel truly safe when our car starts skidding on a wet road. If this results in a crash, very often the lives and health of the people involved are endangered. And we should not ignore the financial costs of a crash, either – for example, as a result of vehicle repairs, deductibles and rising insurance premiums.

One thing is clear: Even highly skilled drivers can find themselves facing a scenario like this, but driver safety training can help people to identify potentially hazardous situations and respond to them quickly and appropriately. In Germany, many professional associations and accident insurers provide financial support for driver safety training, provided that certain requirements are fulfilled. Likewise, road haulage companies operating vehicles in excess of 7.5 metric tons and that are subject to toll fees are entitled to submit annual applications for the financial support of defined advanced driver training measures to the Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG). The latter also applies for the advanced driver training courses stipulated according to the EUwide professional driver qualification act.

Driver safety training is divided, for good reason, into a theory-based and a practical part. Before participants get to explore not only the dynamic behavior of their vehicles but also the limits of their own capabilities in a safe environment under the instruction of experienced instructors, they first learn a little about the physics of driving and potential accident risks. For example, they learn about the relationship and dependencies between speed and braking distances, the technical condition of vehicles and road conditions. They learn about how vehicles behave during cornering and what factors potentially lead to oversteering or understeering. The theoretical part also looks at the active and passive safety systems available in and on the vehicle.

And then the fun begins. Participants experience heart-stopping moments when they are asked to brake hard while driving on a specially prepared slippery track and to regain control of the vehicle as it spins around its own axis. Others are shocked to learn how long the braking distance is at a speed of just 50 km/h even on a dry road, or how diffcult it is to maintain control over their vehicle when avoiding a sudden obstacle on the road ahead.

But it is precisely these preventive exercises that could save lives in a real-life emergency. They learn about the potential consequences of misreading the traffic and not understanding how the vehicle behaves in critical situations, and also become more attuned to unpredictable risk situations.

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