Covid-19 and its impact on road safety
While admitting that a dramatic reduction in traffic volumes should also mean that Road Traffic Incidents are similarly reduced, Iain Robertson notes that UK bicycle sales have increased to near-Dutch levels and Kia’s latest invention may pay dividends.
With government and most sections of the media instilling a major ‘fear campaign’ on the population, it is unsurprising that the current moves towards lightening of the recommendations on those people returning to work have also increased bicycle activities. As a means of escaping the lockdown scenario, the alternative to walking the family pet, as well as other family members, has led to a bike boom. Pedalling on two wheels is healthy exercise and even though prices have also sky-rocketed, with many of the latest mountain, or touring machines costing upwards of £1,500 each, the industry’s future is looking more secure than it has in recent times.
Yet, the greatest gains are coming from commuters, who do not wish to use public transport that might risk their social distancing somewhat. Although I applaud such activities, I have concerns about vast numbers of bicycles taking to our roads network, whether town-bound, or on the open road. A large percentage of cyclists, despite a need to comply with the Highway Code, either ignore it completely, or have simply never taken responsibility for their riding talents. Of course, despite weak calls for cyclists to carry a minimal 3rd-party liability insurance, perhaps even introducing a rider licensing system, no fresh rules, or regulations, have been introduced, as yet.
As a direct result, while personally not wishing unfortunate incidents on anyone, you can take it for granted that the number of incidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles, let alone bicycles and pedestrians, is set to increase dramatically. Although it may read as anachronistic, even taking a minor ‘risk assessment’, perhaps indulging in a bicycle proficiency test, as well as investing in a fresh copy of the Highway Code, will be an important course of action. Rider vulnerability rises exponentially with returning volumes of all forms of transport on our roads.
Naturally, it is the responsibility of vehicle operators to show due care and attention towards other road-users and pedestrians. One of the more successful and recent road safety campaigns insisted that proper clearance should be given to riders of bikes and horses; it is something that I have noticed has been adhered to by the vast majority of car, van, bus and truck drivers, most of whom slow down appropriately and move into the opposite lane (when clear) to provide a wider berth. Those that do not do so stand out like a sore thumb! However, this does not absolve riders from making over-shoulder checks, or proper hand-signals, if changing direction.
Of course, creating safety space, when driving in an urban sprawl, is more difficult to achieve but, rather than displaying impatience, being aware of surroundings and the inevitable closer proximity of cyclists, both powered and pedalled, is vital. Cyclists have a tendency to go for gaps into which larger vehicle users cannot slot, therefore it is their equal responsibility to ensure that they can carry out such convenience movements, without increasing risks to their survival.
A new development by Kia Cars links together digital dashboards and tiny camera technologies. Kia calls it ‘Blind-Spot View Monitor’. It displays a high-resolution video feed on the left or right sides of the TFT-LCD instrument cluster, should the driver indicate to change lanes, with another vehicle hidden in their blind spot. The video of the blind spot briefly takes the place of either the speedometer, or rev-counter dial (or the hybrid system gauge in Hybrid models), while still showing the driver the vehicle’s current speed. The video feed comes from discreet wide-angle, high-resolution cameras, located within each of the door mirror housings. They provide a wider viewing angle than the mirrors themselves to provide drivers with a clearer, in-instrument display view of the other vehicle, or moving obstacle.
Although it is only an option at the moment on the company’s high-specification Sorento model, as more car companies install digital instrument panels that dispense with conventional analogue dials, it is the sort of active safety feature that offers broader uptake potential in future. Prices have not been announced as yet but they are sure to tumble with a wider range of applications.
While applauding inventions like this, I am highly aware that offsetting some safety responsibilities to a vehicle, is one of the potential pitfalls related to a future of autonomous motoring. The fact remains, it is the licence-holding driver, who is responsible for conducting a vehicle considerately on the Queen’s Highways. While not wishing to presage anything of a questionable nature, following a Covid-19 break of almost two months, apart from some aspects of unreliability afflicting most forms of transport, some drivers will behave like headless chickens, when they return to regular driving duties.
To them, I say: please think responsibly and take a more circumspective view of the surroundings. While driving a car can be much like riding a bicycle, in that skills already learnt tend not to be forgotten, re-honing one’s talents could be sage advice, following a lengthy period of virus-enforced isolation. The majority of regular road-users fall into the company vehicle classification and, while the actual number of cases brought before the law courts has been relatively small over the years, since their introduction, the potential of an employer being sued under the terms of Corporate Responsibility, in the event of a fatal Road Traffic Incident, cannot be ignored.
It is certain that a mad rush to return to work will be tempered by a need to attend to social distancing in light of Covid-19 but, while you have the time available, it is possible to ‘revise’, perhaps even to take a virtual driving test online, to ensure that a return to the rat race does not result in an emergency vehicle call-out. You see, there are many other ways to ensure good health, some of which may have slipped from memory, when contemplating road safety.
Conclusion: Take nothing for granted on the roads. Milling around town is always fraught with both distractions and near-misses. Avoiding them is the answer and knowledge is the key. Drive and ride responsibly to avoid the worst issues.