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article imageReview: 'How Safe are Britain's Roads?' Special

By Alexander Baron     Nov 9, 2012 in Health
This one hour long documentary takes a look at safety on Britain's roads. Safety and the other thing, that is. It also asks and attempts to answer the question: what can be done about it?
How Safe are Britain's Roads? is a short documentary series broadcast by BBC Television. The following is a review of episode 2.
The programme begins with a simple but deadly statement. Last year, for the first time in years, the death toll on Britain's roads increased.
Part of this could be due to people using mobile phones behind the wheel, which is the first subject this episode tackles. Presenter Justin Rowlatt begins by going out on patrol with the motorway police, but not in a police car. They take a heavy goods vehicle, equip it with a camera, and peer down into other vehicles. Their first mark is a woman who while speeding down one of Britain's busiest high speed roads in her van carries on her conversation oblivious not only to the undercover HGV but of two police cars close behind her. After this woman is pulled over, co-presenter Anita Rani visits Britain's leading road research laboratory where she is informed that driving while using a mobile can slow a driver's reaction times by a staggering 50% making it worse than driving under the influence in some cases.
(For some background to this always dangerous, totally inexcusable practice and a novel way of tackling it, see here).
Back on the motorway, a police officer said he felt the penalty for driving while using a mobile was far too lenient. Certainly it was two years ago for Anton Ferdinand, pictured here, who was banned from driving for six months and fined £1,000. At that time he had 12 points on his licence, otherwise he would have been looking at a fine of around £60, which is laughable.
If you thought driving while using a mobile phone was dangerous, how about driving a lorry while using a laptop computer? This driver was doing 60mph carrying a heavy load, and he was Hungarian with an apparently poor command of English. Obviously it would have been better if he had been concentrating on the road, traffic signs and such. As the saying goes, you couldn't make it up.
Anton Ferdinand  who in October 2010 was fined £1 000 and banned for six months for using a mobile ...
Anton Ferdinand, who in October 2010 was fined £1,000 and banned for six months for using a mobile phone while driving. This is a realistic penalty for this offence, even for someone in his financial bracket; unfortunately, he was dealt with so harshly only because he had 12 points on his licence already.
Creative Commons
Back at the road safety centre, a lorry is crashed into a line of stationary cars at 50mph. It takes no imagination at all to realise the carnage this would cause in a real life situation.
Other factors that contribute to road accidents besides such crass stupidity are of course alcohol, drugs, and, perhaps surprisingly, tiredness.
Arguably the most interesting part of the programme concerns differences between the sexes. Jokes about women drivers are not new, but if there has ever been a consensus it is that women make lots of technical mistakes while men drive like lunatics. There appears to be more than a grain of truth in this. Women tend to crash a lot at junctions, but of course there is no excuse or reason - sex or otherwise - for driving under the influence or while using a mobile phone. Something that should surprise no one is that young men are by far the most dangerous people on the roads, certainly where fatalities are concerned.
Finally, after comparing young and old drivers, the team go to Sweden where Anita Rani tries out driving without driving. This system, called platooning, which is certainly suitable for motorways, involves drivers' cars being controlled automatically by the driver in front.
Finally, are Britain's roads really that unsafe? Here is some food for thought for the presenters, the programme makers, and you:
In 1931, there were 1,342 deaths from street accidents in London, and in 1930 there were 6,317 such deaths in England and Wales.
In 2009, there were 2,605 in the UK!
How Safe are Britain's Roads? is currently on iplayer, but look out for it on YouTube.
More about Road safety, drinking and driving, anita rani, Justin Rowlatt, platooning
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