Congestion is intensifying, but it is only part of the story about road safety. To better understand, we took a crash course in traffic injury prevention. Here’s what we got from Lesson 1: better cars, roads and driver behaviour all play a positive role.
Learn from history
The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) was created over one hundred years ago, in 1916. Road safety was not a top concern:
Cars were the new hot thing to have. There were no traffic lights and no driver’s licences. And there wasn’t a single provincial highway. MTO
In the 1930’s Ontario’s traffic enforcement was transferred to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and the broken white line on the centre of highways was introduced. This was the first road marking of its kind in Canada. Tracking and determining causes of, road accidents began in 1949. Ten years later, a demerit point system for driving offenses was introduced as a ‘major innovation in road safety’.
You might say Henry Ford’s invention of the automobile was the dawn of road safety issues. Looking back over 100 years illustrates we now have figured out much better ways to prevent traffic injuries. Campaigns to achieve ‘Vision Zero’ tell us there is still more to do.
Growing Road Safety Concerns
In the early 1960s, governments in developed countries began to take action on road and vehicle safety. With the encouragement of three insurance industry groups representing more than 500 auto insurers in the U.S., the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was established as an independent science-based agency. Safety crusader, Ralph Nader challenged the American automobile industry to improve safety aspects of their products in the 1960s. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) became concerned with the issue of road traffic injuries as early as 1962, with a report on the nature and dynamics of the problem.
Road traffic injuries constitute a major public health and development crisis, and are predicted to increase if road safety is not addressed adequately — World Health Organization
This emphasis on vehicle safety was once resisted, but is embraced today. Automotive brands now compete to offer the best new safety features and technologies to their fleet. Consumers place a high value on safety and consider it when they purchase or lease a vehicle. Today, an IIHS safety rating evaluates two aspects:
- crashworthiness — how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash
- crash avoidance and mitigation — technology that can prevent a crash or lessen its severity
The improvements mostly make it safer for the driver and passengers. Some new sensor technologies like pedestrian detection help to mitigate driver error. None are fail proof when it comes to protecting pedestrians or cyclists.
Engineering Safer Roads
While cars and trucks have been made more safe, so have the roads they use. Civil engineers and city planners have learned how to design and build better. They attempt to balance safety and efficient traffic movement. Associations like the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents point to learning from incidents to achieve accident reduction, and prevention. Their ‘naked streets’ and ‘shared space’ recommendations resonated with us:
Low Cost Remedial Engineering Measures range from improvements to road signs and markings, road surface improvements, applying naked streets principles to street clutter, junction re-design, traffic calming schemes, 20-mph limits and zones, improved walking or cycling facilities to major road improvement schemes or shared space schemes.–Royal Society fro the Prevention of Accidents
No matter how well built the vehicle or the road, humans are at the wheel—at least until driverless cars become the norm. Humans are, well, human. They make mistakes. Mistakes are preventable, or at least can be reduced with training.
Insurance companies acknowledge the value of driver education programs with preferred rates. Training over 1 million drivers since 1970 is Woodbridge, Ontario-based Young Drivers of Canada. Influencing in the adoption of daytime running lights back in 1979, they also participated in the development of the province’s Graduated Licensing system in 1994. Young Drivers says all drivers make mistakes and develop bad habits. Five things they note all drivers can improve are: keep out of others’ blind spots, create an escape route, turn positioning, point of no return (at an intersection) and zipper merging.
This first lesson in our crash course has taught us about three significant improvements contributing to road safety:
- Design and engineering of safer cars
- Improved roads and signage
- Training better drivers
These facts of history convince us even more that prevention is the best solution. Follow along our next crash course in road safety. Join in to learn how we can all do our part to keep the most vulnerable road users safe. We encourage schools, safety committees, companies and ordinary folks — whether walkers, riders or drivers– take part to make this preventable problem stop.