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How to improve UK road safety

Creating safer highways in the UK has been the mission of governments, road safety campaigners and highways agencies ever since the first automobile took to the rural roads of Britain.

Back then, cars had to be accompanied by someone walking in front of them to warn oncoming pedestrians and horse-drawn carts, and they weren't allowed to drive at night or in the rain.

It's fair to say we've moved on just a bit since then! But as cars have gotten faster, road safety has become an even more pressing issue. In fact, airlines will often try and calm nervous flyers by correctly telling them that, if they manage to drive to the airport in one piece, they're already overcome the most dangerous part of that day's journey.

But with almost 120,000 road casualties of all severities on UK roads last year alone, how can we make our highways even safer for all users - from drivers and truckers to cyclists and pedestrians?

Safer cars

The first area to look at is with the cars themselves, and great strides have been made in this area over the last few decades.

New technology on the latest models are designed to keep fellow road users safer, including automatic breaking to stop collisions, and blind spot assistance wing mirrors. Some cars even come equipped with night vision cameras so you can spot any animals in the road during the evening!

Perhaps most importantly though are great improvements, as standard, that the breaks on all motor vehicles. In fact, it was a common quip by Jeremey Clarkson that all speed limits in the UK should be increased because they were set at a time when car stopping distances were more than double what they are now.

Speed limits

Talking of speed, speed limits themselves have a role to play in improving road safety. Lower speed limits, especially in pedestrianised areas, have been shown to reduce the instance of road casualties. But that's not a universal rule.

For example, Wales has recently announced that they plan to reduce the general speed limit in the country from 30 to 20. This sounds like a positive in terms of safety, and whilst roads with speed limits of 20mph only account for 3% of total road accidents across the UK, some road users in areas where new, lower speed limits have been introduced report that cars follow each other more closely in frustration.

Better road markings

Road markings are crucial for road safety as they help to guide drivers as to where they need to place their car on the road. The most common form is by way of the lines on the side and in the middle of the road, especially critical on country lanes and stretches of A road where there is no lighting at night.

But other types of road markings, such as at junctions, or to show where overtaking is unsafe, as well as speed limit and warning signs, are also crucial to help drivers navigate tricky stretches.

Just having road markings isn't enough though, and you will have noticed whilst driving yourself how difficult it can be sometimes to make markings out, especially in the dark or inclement weather. Research from Carlson, Park & Kang in 2013 found that increasing the retroreflectivity of road markings can reduce the risk of accidents by 8.6%. In the UK, that would have meant 10,320 fewer road accidents last year alone.


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