Road Safety and our Students / Young Road Users
Every year we lose many young road users in road traffic crashes. We witness and share the anguish and despair in the eyes of parents, friends and lecturers attending the funeral of these young lives lost. But why do we lose so many young lives and what can we do to prevent this?
Our young drivers pose high risk on roads not only in South Africa but globally. High crash risk for young drivers starts at the youngest age when drivers are just learning and extends into the mid-twenties.
International research reveals that the characteristics of crashes involving young drivers differ from those involving older drivers in some important ways. For example, crashes involving alcohol, speeding, and carrying of passengers are about 20 times more likely for teens than for middle aged adults. Crashes occurring at night and involving both alcohol and passengers are about 9 times more likely.
Fatalities peak among our younger male road users and occur most often at night and during the weekend.
This is confirmed by available data from South Africa as well as the calculations from actuaries in the insurance industry. Young drivers are deemed to be a higher crash risk and are required to pay significantly higher for car insurance premiums.
What makes young drivers a bigger crash risk?
Factors include the following:
- Driver Inexperience
- Bravado / Ego / Feeling “Invincible”
- Failure to Wear Seatbelts
- Drunk Driving / Impaired Driving
- Night Driving / Driver Fatigue
- Distracted Driving / Distracted Walking
The above factors are not exclusive to our students and younger drivers – there are however reasons why they are more prevalent among this age group. In this section we would like to analyse this in a bit more detail.
- Young drivers do not have the necessary driving experience and often display a lack of mature judgment.
- A new driver has seldom been exposed to driving in difficult conditions such as in bad weather, on icy roads, in strong winds etc.
- They also may not have the experience of driving in remote locations, driving in mountainous areas, on gravel roads and with different models of vehicles.
- They fail to adjust their driving to the conditions, leading to numerous vehicle rollovers.
- Inexperience is the reason why these drivers are more likely to underestimate hazardous situations.
- They are more likely than older drivers to speed, run red lights, make illegal turns, ride with an intoxicated driver, and drive after using alcohol or drugs.
We would recommend continuous driver training and attending advanced driver training. The advanced driver trainer is focused on ensuring the following outcomes:
- Safety - Position and speed must always be put aside and sacrificed for safety.
- Systematic driving – Driving by using skills to deal with any environment or situation, in enough time to decide on the best position, speed and gear of the vehicle to negotiate hazards safely.
- Smoothness - The vehicle should be stable with little bounce or roll on the road and any passengers should be comfortable in the vehicle and have the utmost confidence in the driver's ability. Nothing the driver does should look or feel rushed or hurried, resulting in an economical use of fuel as well.
- Restraint - The ability to recognize when to hold back from particular hazards to ensure the safety and reassurance of passengers and other road users, or to avoid causing others concern, even if this concern may be unjustified.
With some additional training the young driver can be assisted to prevent collisions by making use of the Standard Accident Prevention Formula:
1. Recognise the hazard: Think and look as far ahead as possible. Never assume everything will be all right and always expect the unexpected.
2. Understand the defence: There are certain methods of handling each traffic situation, know these and teach yourself to react positively when the need arises.
3. Act in time: Once you have seen the hazard and you have recognised the defence, never adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude as you will be wasting valuable time and space.
Bravado / Ego / Feeling “Invincible”
- Young drivers [especially the male drivers] tend to have an attitude of “feeling invincible”.
- There is the mistaken belief that “it will not happen to me” and “I know what I do”.
- Young drivers have a sense that they can get away with transgressions – a feeling of bravado whereby “I can get away with anything”.
- There is peer pressure and the desire to impress friends.
- This leads to unnecessary risk taking, aggressive driving behaviour and road rage.
- The predictable characteristics associated with young driver crashes include excessive speed, carrying passengers, and not wearing seatbelts.
Recommendations and helpful safe driving tips from professional driving instructors
- Attitude Check: Although exterior and interior checks of your car are vital, an attitude check is just as helpful in preventing accidents.
- A positive, pro-active attitude can really help reduce collisions. These include:
- A tolerance and consideration for other road users.
- Restrain yourself from reacting aggressively to another road user’s aggressive behaviour.
- A realistic view of your own driving abilities.
- Concern for your safety and that of your passengers and other road users.
Awareness of the dangers of speeding needs to be instilled in the minds of these young drivers:
- At 20 km/h a minor driving error can easily be corrected but at 120 km/h the same error could prove deadly.
- Never attempt to drive over the speed limit as it leads to late reactions in an emergency. If it is necessary to drive at the speed limit it should be done with complete concentration, clear visibility and knowledge of your stopping distance.
- If you increase your speed, you should expect an increase of your required braking distance.
Failure to Wear Seatbelts
- Research indicate that teens have the lowest rate of seatbelt use.
- Teen passengers greatly increase the crash risk of teen drivers – an increase with each additional passenger – the more passengers the greater the risk.
- Young drivers and student drivers often carry more passengers than can be safely secured with seatbelts in the vehicle.
- Unbelted passengers become projectiles in a road crash often killing their fellow vehicle occupants.
- Most deaths involving unbelted vehicle occupants occur between midnight and 3 AM—also prime time for impaired driving.
- Much more awareness is needed on the importance of being buckled up and that wearing seatbelts is the Law!
- There is often a false sense of security that airbags will save lives and prevent injury in a road crash.
- With our low seatbelt wearing rates we need to emphasize that “the back seat is no safer” and that everyone must be buckled in – front and back seats.
- Also important to emphasize that seatbelts should not only be used when driving on the freeway – they are designed to protect the best at residential speed limits and should be used however far or slow the drive to be taken!
Drunk Driving / Impaired Driving
- Drinking and associated problems have become a significant threat to the lives of our road users.
- Several countries are experiencing serious problems with binge drinking among young people.
- Alcohol influences the young driver's performance to a larger extent.
- Many young people are only introduced to alcohol at university, college and other tertiary institutions and have little knowledge of the effect this has on their abilities as driver and road user.
- Students are at particular risk of heavy drinking and the serious consequences thereof, including impaired driving.
- Illicit drug use is on the increase in this age group.
- The military is another population that poses particular problems. Young recruits tend to be risk takers and are primarily male.
- Impairment most often results from alcohol and drug use, fatigue and distraction.
- More awareness is needed on the symptoms associated with the intake of alcohol.
- Even though we recommend a ZERO alcohol intake for drivers, it is important to also educate on the legal limits and the units of alcohol, the absorption of alcohol in the body etc.
- Our younger road users who are not consuming alcohol themselves should be advised not to climb in a vehicle with a driver who is impaired.
- Self-testing and breathalysing should be encouraged!
- Designated driving services should be promoted as part of informed decision making.
Night Driving / Driver Fatigue
Fatigue is a condition that affects everyone and is often blamed for contributing to up to 20% of road crashes. A high proportion of these crashes are fatal as there is no braking or steering adjustment prior to these crashes/ collisions.
Although typically associated with long-distance driving, fatigue can set in after a long day at work, studying for an exam, participating in a sports event and many other activities. Circadian rhythm, the body's natural rhythm associated with the earth's rotation, causes nearly everyone to be less alert or even drowsy between 1 and 5 p.m.
- Sleep-related crashes are most common in young people, who tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night during sleeping hours.
- Students and young drivers are more often affected by loss of sleep contributing to increased fatigue and increased risk.
- Road crashes by young drivers occur mostly on Friday and Saturday nights between the hours 9pm and 6am.
- Whereas the elderly tries to avoid driving at night, the bravado and over confidence among young drivers result in them driving long distances through the night.
- It is estimated that night driving is up to 3 times more dangerous than driving during the day.
- In South Africa the young drivers at night need to be extra cautions of lawlessness at intersections, criminals lurking in the dark, animals crossing the road etc.
- If possible to avoid driving through the night or late at night, it is best to delay driving till daytime.
- The best way to prevent driver fatigue is to start a journey well rested.
- Good, clear visibility is vital, so make sure your windscreen is clean and that your windscreen wipers are used in wet weather. Keep your windscreen free from mist at all times.
- Head and tail lights should be in good working condition with the lenses clean and headlamps properly adjusted to give a good beam ahead without dazzling other road users.
- It is also very important to drive at a speed at which you feel comfortable, and which will enable the vehicle to be brought to a stop within the range of the headlamps.
- Slow down when in dimly lit, urban areas and remain alert to the not so visible and impaired pedestrian.
- Approach and proceed across Intersections with caution.
- If you feel drowsy, stop the car, stretch your legs, enjoy some refreshment and rest your eyes.
- A short rest will help to restore the failing powers of concentration and observation.
Before cellular phones driver distractions were limited mostly to conversations, eating and drinking or distractions outside the vehicle next to the road. Cellular phones brought with it the dangers of telephone conversations and texting and driving. Smartphones multiplied the risks with a wide variety of social platforms to attract and occupy the attention of the driver.
There is growing concern of the dangers posed by motorists using cellular phones whilst driving. An international survey amongst 837 drivers with cell phones found that almost half swerved or drifted into another lane, 23% had tailgated, 21% cut someone off and 18% nearly hit another vehicle while using the phone.
- Distraction as a cause of driving error is typical for young drivers.
- Students and young road users are too often engaging in social media behind the steering wheel.
- Best advice is to avoid using cellular phones when driving.
- When the phone rings, let it ring! It’s better to use your phone’s voicemail or even miss a call than to put yourself, your passengers or others at risk.
- If you have to make a call on a hands free cellular phone – ask a passenger to dial or answer the phone for you.
- Keep your calls brief.
- If you expect such a call to last longer than a few seconds – be on the lookout for a suitable spot to pull over.
- Never take notes or jot down numbers whilst driving.
- When in heavy traffic –rather tell the person you will call back when it is safer.
There has been a significant increase in road crashes into distracted pedestrians of the younger age group. A diverse set of circumstances and activities result in pedestrians not allocating appropriate attention to their surroundings.
The distractions inhibiting situational awareness include:
- Cell phone conversations
- Text messaging
- Listening to music [i-pod]
- Looking at something other than the direction of travel
- Conversations with friends
- Eating on the run
- Looking on one’s watch
- Attempting to find something in a backpack or luggage
- Reading a book or newspaper
- Being lost in thought [love J ]
- Always be alert and watch for traffic!
- Just as drivers should limit cell phone use while driving, pedestrians should avoid cell phone use while crossing streets!
- If you're going to talk on cellular phones, stay stationary!
- Don't walk and talk on mobile devices in traffic!
- Just stay stationary for a minute or call them back – Your life is more important than the conversation!
- Be fully aware of your surroundings – don’t let music take your attention away from the sound of oncoming vehicles, hooting or sirens.
- Be especially attentive near level crossings.
- Do not assume that you have the right of way and that cars will stop for you!
- Pay attention to warnings from gadget manufacturers and mobile providers on the dangers of using their products while crossing roads.
Road Safety Advice to Students by the Free State University
What can we do to reduce road trauma among young road users?
Technology can distract but can also offer some of the best solutions to protecting our younger drivers.
- The same platforms that can cause distractions can be used effectively to share safety information with road users for informed decision making.
- Creating awareness is the first step to ensuring responsible behaviour on the roads.
- It is important that these road safety messages be shared in a manner that is easily accessible and in a manner that appeals to the younger road user.
- It is important to emphasize that being safe, protective and caring on the road IS COOL!
- Vehicle insurance telematics technology can reward the responsible young driver.
- This technology can offer feedback to both drivers and their parents on excessive speeding, harsh braking and acceleration and dangerous cornering.
- Other technologies can be applied to young drivers who have already committed offenses. These include continuous alcohol monitoring systems to prevent alcohol use and alcohol ignition interlock devices that prevent the driver from starting the car if he/she has used alcohol.
- There is a wide variety of safety and emergency rescue apps that could help the young driver caught in an emergency on the road.