This is a controversial topic. It causes many arguments and not a little distress to those involved. I sincerely don't mean to cause anyone any upset, but I will always argue that there is no such thing as a dangerous road, only drivers who don't make the right decisions.
Back in the day when my job was to supervise and investigate serious or fatal road traffic collisions, I spent day in day out going to the scenes of crashes.
The collisions that fascinated me above any others were those involving just one vehicle and one driver, with no other cars being involved at all.
Overwhelmingly, these collisions were the result of driver error. They were caused by bad decisions based on a lack of perception of the reality of the environment.
Very, very few of these collisions were unavoidable and not down to driver error. In 30 years I remember just a handful, despite attending or seeing reports on hundreds and hundreds of them. Arguably, you could say that all of them were down to driver error, but perhaps that's taking too narrow a view.
Certainly, even the Government state that at least 70% of these collisions were caused solely by the driver. I'm not convinced, I think the figure is much higher. I can only surmise, but my guestimate would be that around 95% of them are absolutely attributable to driver error.
There are many common factors with collisions as they tend to fall into certain themes. There's also a common theme with the accounts given by witnesses. They routinely say something along the lines of "it was bound to happen, that stretch of road's dangerous"
The drivers often come out with something similar.
It always made me wonder whether these people really believed what they were saying? Are we a nation of such bad drivers that, even as witnesses when not driving ourselves, we still blame the 'dangerous road' rather than face up to the truth?
I've discussed this many times, often with groups of several hundred people at Road Safety presentations or at meetings of the Institute of Advanced Motorists or ROSPA. Interestingly, the groups of advanced drivers already had the same mindset as myself and were equally as baffled by the response of most of the public. The groups at the Road Safety presentations were very often shocked and in disbelief when I said . . .
There Is No Such Thing As A Dangerous Road
I can't tell you how many arguments this got me into, usually from people who had driven off the road into a fence on a bend and wanted to blame the 'dangerous road'.
Let's get down to some real basics here and look at what's actually happening.
Imagine a stretch of road in the countryside. There are trees on either side and half a mile away there's a medium bend going round to the left. It's a sunny day and you're driving your own car at a steady speed of about 60mph. There are no other cars or people anywhere in sight.
There are 3 things in this scene that deserve our attention. If fact, there are really only 3 things there at all.
There's 1) a road (environment), 2) a vehicle (your car) and 3) a driver (you).
The environment is everything you see around you every time you drive. It's the road, the trees, the weather, the visibility, the temperature and even road layout and junctions.
The environment can be cold, icy and very slippery in the winter, or it can be wonderfully pleasant in the summer. There's an infinite number of conditions between these two extremes.
Does the road decide to become icy?
Does the environment make the decision to become waterlogged when it rains?
No, the environment doesn't make any decisions at all, it simply 'is' what it is, and it becomes whatever nature and the weather throws at it. Apart from wear and tear and the trees growing, the environment is more or less a constant, at least on a day to basis and certainly throughout the time that you're driving through it.
There are only two main things a car can do, neither of which it can do for itself (yet). A car can steer to change direction or it can change speed. Just think of a car as a metal box on wheels and really that's all there is to it.
Your vehicle is also an inanimate object. Despite lots of advances in vehicle technology, about the most intelligent part of a modern car is its ability to update the drivers social media profile.
Everything, from ABS to complex engine management systems is nothing more than a collection of sensors taking data from the vehicle and making adjustments to the car accordingly.
The car will not look at the environment and then make any decisions about the steering or its speed. Yes, there's a lot of work being carried out on driverless vehicles, but as of 2018 they all travel at about the same speed as a cyclist and any chance of assessing the impact of more than one hazard at a time is way off. Apart from staying dry, a pedal cycle seems like a better option to me just yet.
Let's not get carried away with driverless vehicles and stick with our original scenario.
The remaining thing in our imaginary drive is . . .
The Driver (You)
The last of the 3 objects in our scene is you, the driver.
You are not the environment and you are not the car, but you are the only living being in the whole picture. You are the only thing in our example that can perceive the environment fully and completely. You are the only thing that can make decisions based upon the variables in the environment that you've seen.
You use your senses to take in information from the environment. From that information you make decisions. You do this all the time, you're doing it right now even though you don't realise it.
You then use the information and the decisions you've made to adjust the controls of the car. Taking into account the environment around you, you adjust the speed and direction of the car.
The environment cannot do that, and neither can the car do it for itself. It all relies upon the driver.
And that's where it often goes terribly wrong.
Once again, just to reinforce the message, the only animate object in our entire scene that is capable of taking in information, making decisions and adjusting the controls of the car to change its speed or direction is the driver.
Unlike even the most advance software driving the best driverless cars available, your brain is capable of assessing thousands of pieces of information per second, re-assessing and re-anticipating what is about to happen and what you should do about it.
Yes, please note that I said "capable of . . . ". I did not say that you "will . . . ".
You and all other drivers are capable of doing everything you need to. Whether you do or not is a choice both you and they make.
Think about that.
The road cannot possibly come to life and make those decisions, only you can. The road cannot possibly decide to instantly freeze on a sunny day for no environmental factors that can't be seen and cause you to slide off into the trees. The road can't decide to instantly flood when it's not raining so you aquaplane and go off into the bushes.
The road itself can't decide to alter the bend or the road camber whilst you're driving along it, neither can it instantly create a hidden junction around the bend just to catch you out.
In almost all of the single vehicle collisions that will happen on our roads today the driver will make a bad decision. There's nothing more to it. Some of them will get away with it and blame the road, others unfortunately won't get away with it.
Speed Is Almost Always The Cause
I'm not talking about speeding, I'm talking about not assessing the situation ahead of you and driving into it at a speed that prevents you from stopping or taking action soon enough if anything looks like it's going wrong.
One of the key skills of Advanced Driving is to always be travelling at a speed that allows you to stop on your own side of the road in the distance you can see to be clear. If you can't do that, you're going too fast.
Simple, and it makes sense.
Most people never think about it and certainly never adhere to it. It's like they're rolling a dice every time they drive anywhere. Most of the time they get away with it, which only reinforces the idea that there's no problem, but every now and then they'll throw the dice and get a double 7. Time to blame the road or anything else other than themselves.
Anticipation Is Another Factor
Imagine our scenario above, it's now the next day and it's raining. It's been raining for a while and although our driver hasn't noticed it (yet) there's a few puddles of water collecting at the side of the road.
As they negotiate the bend the driver is really surprised by the huge area of water a couple of inches deep that's collected in the slight dip in the road they couldn't see.
Because this wasn't anticipated the car will go head first into this dangerous situation at whatever speed the driver had decided upon for the bend, perhaps managing to reduce it my just a few mph.
A lot of the time they'll get away with it. A near miss, an unpleasant incident caused by a 'dangerous road'. Now and then, they won't get away with it at all. Sometimes they won't even live to tell anyone about it.
I've seen various discussion groups talking about incidents such as this, and we can argue all day about whether this is genuinely an anticipation fault or just another example of going too fast.
It doesn't really matter. All that does matter is that the car left the road because the driver made an error. There were no factors at all that couldn't have been predicted, or in fact should have been predicted.
The Governments own official figures show that in the UK, between April and June 2017, 400 people were killed in collisions of all kinds.
400 people died in just a 3 month period.
I find it incredible that the Government state this figure with a sense of satisfaction because it's lower than the previous year's figure.
Figures for the types of accidents that happened over the same period aren't available for the UK, but for the whole of Europe (including the UK) the average over many, many years has been about 33% of all collisions, whether fatal or not, involve just one vehicle and one driver.
In our case it's not unreasonable to assume that at about 130 people died in single vehicle collisions of the type I've talked about here. And that's in just 3 months.
Please note, these figures are for those that died, not just for serious injuries. They run into the thousands.
Despite the numbers being horrific, when you consider the millions of journeys made over the same time period, it's quite surprisingly low.
At one Road Safety meeting I was asked by a member of the public if I was shocked at how high the number of single vehicle collisions actually is, and wasn't that high number an indication of the fact that some roads are inherently dangerous?
My answer was that I was genuinely shocked that the number of single vehicle collisions is so low, based on the skills of the average driver because I'm amazed that so many get away with it, but the fact that the compete myth of there being such things as 'dangerous roads' persisting is nothing more than confirmation that these collision will continue.
Do as you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. Unless drivers change attitude these collisions will continue and unfortunately many of them ruin lives and destroy families. It's such a shame.
I guess it's easier to blame the road than to say "I made a mistake. I'm not a perfect driver. I wasn't concentrating properly, I didn't drive this stretch of road properly and I caused the collision"
The shame of it is that that's usually exactly what happened. If only they'd learn from their mistakes because they might not live the next time to regret it.
Fighter Pilots Are Only Human
One of my friends was a fighter pilot in the RAF. He left a while ago and is now a solicitor. Strange change of career direction but that's the way it is.
He once told me that pilots who make a mistake in the air often ask the ground engineers if there's anything wrong with the aircraft. He said that in truth, they did this very tongue in cheek as their training hammers into them the self-examination skills to recognise when mistakes have been made. There's actually no blaming anyone but the pilot.
He once jokingly asked the engineering supervisor which part of the aircraft had caused him to make a serious error in judgement.
The reply was "I'm sure it was the seat to joystick interface sir!"
Come on, think about it . . .