AS the death toll of motorist fatalities continues to rise, the recent death of an anonymous teenager in Welwyn has raised concern among the residents of this town, who now call for a re-evaluation on the safety issues with vehicles, and as to whether the driving tests are far too easy.
Owning a car has always been seen as an icon of adulthood, with many teenagers viewing having cars as a symbol of independence. However, this was not always the case. “When we were younger, we were lucky to own a spinning top, let alone a hunk of metal”, explains Bob Smith, an 84 year old resident of nearby potters bar. “The extortionate amount of disposable income given to teenagers these days is ridiculous”.
Of course, the days of skipping ropes and hula-hoops are long gone, and with the poverty rate in this country at an all time low, it is understandable that many of us are able to afford luxuries such as games consoles and televisions. “The world has come a long way since the first world war, and of course, the term luxuries has evolved along with it” says historian Chris Halsey.
When talking of luxuries, perhaps top of the list would be a car. “When you drive to university, the sense of power and identity you feel is overwhelming” says Carl Jenkins, an undergraduate at Bristol University. Due to the pull of owning a car, many of the population now owns their own vehicle, and with this rise comes an increase in the number of fatalities that happen every year.
Although many may view this as being a trivial problem with no real consequence, one needs only to analyse the statistics to find out some shocking facts relating to the lives of those who were claimed on the road.
Sources from the census taken in 2009 show that there were over 10.8 million car accidents, with 35.9 thousand of those resulting in loss of life. Most significantly, the biggest cause of these deaths is by collisions with other motorists.
Perhaps most significant of all is the age group in which accidents are most likely to occur. Statistics have shown that the accident rate per number of drivers is highest in the 20-24 age brackets. This in itself raises another concern: could this show that the age limit itself is too low? Are younger drivers ready for the responsibility of owning a car and being able to drive safely amongst the presence of other motorists? It appears not.
These car accidents are often not a one off coincidence with drivers being at the wrong place at the wrong time. “Many of the accidents that occur to us are definitely preventable in one way or another”, says Dr Lewis Foster, 54, a doctor who regularly deals with injuries procured at car crashes. “Patients are often heavily influenced by alcohol”. Although laws are in place to prevent drink-drivers from being on the roads, the number of accidents caused by drunkenness has not fallen a great amount.
For example, in 2009 alone, there were over 30,000 alcohol related fatalities, with 1/3 being over the legal limit. Not only are such persons a danger to pedestrians and other drivers, but they are also a liability when transporting their passengers. Residents are now calling for stricter laws that will prevent people from driving no matter how little their consumption levels are.
Another widespread problem is speeding, with many people simply choosing to ignore the speed limit signs. Drivers are often not permitted to go faster than 30mph in towns, and 40 mph in cities. Unfortunately, these warnings are still not enough to deter others from going over the limit, with the most accidents occurring at 55mph, 10 miles faster almost double the limit for those areas.
With so many lies being claimed every day on britain’s roads, many people, including the residents of Welwyn are concerned as to where the root of the problem lies. The number of legal drivers is astronomical, with millions taking the exam every year. It is of no surprise that peer pressure and other factors can make the appeal of owning a car incredibly strong.
Nonetheless, perhaps this is where the problem lies. With such a high percentage of people passing their tests at such a young age, are the tests too easy? Such questions as to the quality of the tests have been raised not only locally, but nationally too, with the well known car show Top Gear discussing the difficulty of the exam itself.
One mentioned question during the programme highlights some of the borderline absurd multiple choice questions on the exam board, such as “if a child goes unconscious in the back seat, do you breathe into their mouths…a)gently, b)sharply, c)heavily?”It is no wonder that such sub-standard enquiries could spark such an intense media interest in this topic.
The realisation of the simplicity of the tests has raised a lot of concern with the residents of Welwyn. “With such easy questions, the department of transport is practically allowing anyone onto our roads”, exclaims Martha, 46, a long term resident of this area. And there is much truth in her words. With the rise in motoring accidents, there is need for a new revised driving test that will thoroughly test the understanding of those who are attempting to pass the exam.
Even though the main cause of these accidents lies with the carelessness of the drivers, others feel that more time should be spent in developing new ways to help prevent serious injury to those involved in crashes.
A key aspect of car safety is the seatbelts, which prevent the driver and passenger/s from being thrown through the windscreen or off their seat in high speed crashes. Although they fulfil their purpose to some extent, motorists claim that they are not as effective in low speed crashes, where injuries are also likely to occur.
In addition, there have been extensive complaints about the effectiveness of airbags placed that are often found at the front of the car. “Most of these airbags are too slow to respond”, explains Sarah Harding, 35, a specialist in analysing health and safety issues within a car’s interior. Although the average airbag response time is 0.01 seconds, they are regularly ineffective when the impact of the crash is not large enough for the sensors to detect.
A further problem with this is system in the exclusion of airbags from the second and third rows of most vehicles, where they are perhaps needed most. These areas are often seated with children, so the lack of protection there causes many concerns with parent drivers. “As a parent, our number one concern is the safety of our children, and I do not think that the cars of today ensure the well-being of our children” says mother of 2 Claire Broxbourne, 28.
So, what solutions are there to these problems? Well, the answer lies in the mechanics of the designs. With seatbelts, a higher resistance is required to allow it to be taught at lower speeds, although in order to do this, designers will have to compromise comfort in the name of safety. More efficient airbags with a more consistent motion sensors will be a great adition to any vehicle’s safety features, and the inclusion of airbags behind the front seats will greatly reduce the chance of injury to any children riding at the back
However, these changes will only prevent a small number of accidents from being fatal. The greatest flaws in our travel system are the people themselves. With so many disregarding the laws that are in place, it is no wonder that the number of deaths every year is rising. “Until the public realize the severity of their actions, people will continue to drive dangerously and the death toll of those claimed by motorists will continue to rise” comments Sarah Harding.
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