Readers Write

There are no dangerous roads. Just dangerous drivers. Bring on driverless cars.

Dangerous roads are a thing of fiction, but dangerous drivers are a thing of fact.

MANY MOONS AGO when Adam was a cowboy people used to “rave on”, and not Buddy Holly style, about how bad the Geelong Road was. And the RACV had it on their hit list.

I’ve have driven the Geelong Road regularly, pre and post upgrade, and dangerous?.  I don’t get it.

I would even argue that now it’s more dangerous now than before because you now have four lanes of bad drivers on it rather than two.

As this is my second article for practical Motoring I do have to declare that I worked for DECA (The Driver Education Centre of Australia) for a couple of years selling driver training. And this was an education.

As part of job I was regularly asked to comment on driver accidents. This required a lot of research reading crash reports and crash research from Monash University etc. Now let’s get one thing straight.  There are very few accidents when it comes to driving.

An accident implies that there is no blame to be assigned to any party.  The amount of time that the cause of a crash is equipment failure, road conditions, pedestrians, or otherwise is very small.

Let’s define accident.  Mr Google has a simple version.  An accident is “something that happens by chance or from unknown causes and that often causes injury or damage”.

Now at home, I stupidly have mounted my stereo speakers on the wall at head height.  This means I regularly smack my head when near them. And it really really hurts mummy.  Now some would say it’s an accident.  But it’s really me being an idiot. And a recidivist idiot.  Because I keep on doing it and I haven’t pulled those bloody speaker mounts off the wall and located them slightly higher.

So I know why it happens and do nothing to change it. That’s not an accident.  That’s willfully disregarding known conditions that are likely to cause an injury.

So when you know that your behavior has raised the risk of a bad outcome and you still proceed with that behavior, that’s will fully disregarding the known and accepted facts.

So instead of calling crashes on the road accidents, let’s just call them crashes, because that’s what they are.  Or if you have to be politically correct like the Police when reporting. An incident.

Back to the driving.

One day my boss at DECA dropped a crash report on my desk. “Read it”, he said “and tell me the cause”. So I read it.

To summarise. The driver drove a company vehicle through a forest, lost control, slid out and hit a tree. The road was wet, hadn’t been graded for a while, the tyres were quite worn and sunlight coming through the trees produced dappled lighting. His report listed all these details.

I walked into my boss’s office. “Well ?” he said. “The guy was playing rally driver in the forest, slid out and crashed” I replied.  “And how would you summarise that” He asked.  “Going too fast” I said. “Nearly” he replied. “The way we put it in driver training speak is: Not driving to the conditions”.

So Sebastien Loeb the second in his Toyota Camry had been playing in the forest and not “Driving to the conditions”.

I have been going up and down the Geelong road to holiday in Apollo Bay for over 20 years. In all this time I never once found it dangerous. Usually we drive through Moriac to Forrest and down the “Twisty turny bit” as we call it to Skene’s Creek then to Apollo bay.

Not once have I had an accident, crash or even an incident, touch wood, on the Geelong Rd or any of the roads to Apollo bay.  And the twisty turny bit can cause a serious crash if you don’t drive, and here it is, “to the conditions”.

Now there are two parts to this.  The Driving and the Conditions. People seem to think that driving is a passive activity and that you jump in your car, put it in D for Dream, and take off but that just aint the case my friends.

That’s Duh Duh Duh Driving.  Then there’s Low Risk Driving. As my old boss at DECA put it, if we could get drivers to do three simple things then we could reduce the road toll significantly.

  1. No distractions. No phone calls, no playing with the radio, air conditioning or anything. No putting on lipstick, makeup, blow drying your hair, eating, drinking or smoking. No turning around to yell at the kids (my personal favourite).  No nothing.
  2. No Speeding. Just drive to the speed limit. It’s simple. And lower speed if conditions deteriorate.
  3. Leave a minimum two second gap between you and the car in front. Preferably three seconds.

This is what we called.  Low Risk Driving.

Now don’t start the “If I leave a gap then someone gets in front of me” whining.  The RACV have proven over the average trip if you leave a gap, stay in the same lane and drive to the conditions you get your destination within 2-3 minutes of those who race and swap lanes all the time.

So if you are a low risk driver then the next biggest thing when driving is to “Drive to the Conditions”.

Simply change your driving behavior based on the road, weather and traffic conditions. This is what reduces the road toll, hospital and insurance bills.

One Friday evening I headed down to Apollo Bay as my family were already down there. I drove, care of DECA, a 4 door Subaru liberty company car, on my own and with a great winding road to play on. The boy racer in me came out as I went through the “twisty turny bit” after Forrest.  Who said 45 KPH corners were supposed to be taken at 45 KPH.  I mean, it’s only a recommendation isn’t it.

Note that I never crossed the white line, did not overtake any cars, there was no traffic, amazingly, plus it was sunny and dry. Your honour.

I consciously did not drive to the conditions. But Subaru build the best AWD system on the planet. That car stuck to the road like glue. To the point where the car was still managing the position I was putting it in, but I was becoming scared.  The intelligent part of my brain took over and I slowed down a bit. If I had crashed the police would have simply said that I was not driving to the conditions.

Cause of death: Stupidity and Driver error.

I told one of the driver trainers at DECA about my little play the next week and how I just got scared at what the car could do through corners. How I had bottled out as “macho men” say it. He replied that I would “bottle out” long before the car would. “It takes a lot to get a Subaru to lose it” he stated “Most drivers give in long before the Subie”.

So now we live in a world where the roads aren’t perfect, but most are pretty good, and the cars perform brilliantly.  They handle like they are on rails, have ABS, EBD, lane assist, adaptive cruise blah blah blah blah and more. With more to come.

But the drivers still suck. Boy racers who are 40 years old (OK yeah that was me, only a little, and only in a 2.0 litre liberty sedan, Your Honour).  Boy racers who are 20 years old (and there’s way too many of them). Drivers who don’t drive in a low risk manner and don’t seem to understand the basics.  Some cannot even stay in their own lane.

TAC figures From 01 Aug 2015 – 31 Aug 2016 show approximately 7,336 Victorian crash victims were admitted to hospital taking up over 20,000 days in hospital. Let’s say $1,000 per day that’s 20 million minimum in costs. Now not all of these are car crashes. Some are bicycles incidents etc. But the 20,000 days of hospital costs is very conservative.

And some of the causes.  Running off a straight road: 1244.  Running off a road on a curve: 567.

1,244 PEOPLE RAN OFF A STRAIGHT ROAD. WTF.

There were 73 fatalities on Victorian roads in 2016. That’s bad. But what’s even worse is the 7,336 people in hospital with the emotional and financial cost of supporting those short term and permanent injuries.

It’s the costs to the victims and families.  Yes there are victims because innocent people are killed and maimed on our roads due to drivers who don’t know how to drive safely. And never will.

So how about we do a trial.  If driverless cars can go on the road in Victoria for a year and cause less than 73 fatalities, less than 7,336 injuries with less than 20,000 days’ worth of hospital bills, we call it a success.

Driverless cars.  Yes please. I’ll be first in the queue.

  • JohnGC

    Alternatively, how about we do a trial. If we lower the speed limit to 30 km/h in Victoria for a year and this causes less than 73 fatalities, less than 7,336 injuries with less than 20,000 days’ worth of hospital bills, we call it a success.
    You need to look at the cons as well Geoff. There’s lots that can be done to reduce accidents, but at what cost. How do you think a driverless car would go on the Great Ocean Road? Slowly. A driverless car is just public transport. And people don’t use public transport because it’s slower and less convenient. A driverless taxi…yeah, that might work. Cars with driving assistance features are more likely to be adopted and can be safer (pretty much what the industry has been doing the past 30 years anyway).

  • Monty

    Easy fix. No cars. No risk. No fun. No economy. Oh, no trucks either. Rail? Someone might get hurt train surfing or trying to cross the tracks.

    There are dangerous roads. Some you need to be psychic to navigate safely. I used to drive 50,000 k’s a year in one job so I have some experience. Yes, poor drivers abound. Some are deliberately dangerous and should be in prison. They cause far more harm proportion to their numbers. They just do not care. Others should not have a license, especially older drivers and some immigrants. I still believe that active policing is far more effective than speed cameras. There is nothing like a well marked cop car to change people’s behaviour! The phone goes away, the speed comes down…. People are not taught to drive, they are taught to pass a pretty basic test. Too many essential skills (merging into a freeway for example) are not part of the test. I still enjoy driving. Driverless cars are not foolproof. The nanny state hinders people from learning properly also, especially on country roads. Overtaking a truck while keeping within the speed limit? A recipe for a head on collision. Let’s all go and live in caves. Pretty safe there I would think.

  • Guest

    Then there’s the ethical question around driverless cars. If i’m in a driverless car and the car had choice between killing you or me, then how should the algorithm be written? Does it do an analysis of who is more “valuable” to society?

    Driverless cars, great idea in theory but there are so many things that needs to be agreed on before we even go mainstream. With the advancements in telephony, we’re all connected in a virtual world (even right here) in the comfort of our desk.

    Driving is boring in Australia yet we’re so regulate compared to developing nations. I am scared more about getting nabbed for 5kmh over than that kid that runs out onto the road (sadly). The priorities centres around speed speed speed but that’s probably coz that’s all you can measure. You can’t measure how much of a pr1ck of a driver you are on the road but drilled into the public’s mind is that speed of any form, at any time and anywhere over that magical sign means you’re as bad as a kiddy fiddler.

    Want real change. Make every real fine punishable with just taking the license away for a decent period. Driving is a privilege, not a right and that it’s OK not to drive. Nail that message to everyone. Perhaps we’d have less low-performance drivers on the road.

  • Hilldene

    I believe in driving to the speed limit. I watch cars chasing up behind me and then I am tailgated. I have driven alongside cars where the driver has been on the mobile phone for about 10 kms. I believe driving is interesting but I now believe we need to give up this pleasure so that we are protected from the many idiots on the road.

Geoff Lines

Geoff Lines

AWDs and 4WDs. All good to me.