The Automobile Association’s latest bit of road safetywash.

The previous two posts have criticised the AA for its attempts to portray itself as a supporter of safety on the road. A more recent AA “road safety” initiative has got some agreement from our friends in the national cyclists’ organisation, the CTC. I think they’re wrong, and this is why:The AA is running a survey called AA Streetwatch 2, in which volunteers record driver behaviour at local junctions, and recording the amount of certain behaviours, namely:

  • Using a hand held mobile phone
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • “If you feel the vehicle is travelling too fast”
  • Turning at the junction without using a direction indicator
  • A broken brake light
  • Jumping a red signal.

A bit of monitoring of anti-social illegal driving may well be a good idea. It may be churlish to point out that one of the prizes given to participants is a thrilling ride in a Ferrari (the “Virgin Ferrari Thrill Experience”).

As the CTC say:

” CTC and the AA may not agree on everything, but the latter’s idea for a survey by volunteers to monitor levels of bad driving on local junctions is a good one. CTC hopes the results may help the AA to realise that the biggest threat on the roads comes from illegal and dangerous driving: 48% of cars were observed to be breaking the 30 mph speed limit last year”

But let’s look a little more closely.

As the CTC point out, we know already from “Road Statistics 2008: Traffic, Speeds and Congestion”  about the scale of law breaking involving speed. 49% of cars exceeded the 30 mph limit in free-flowing conditions in 2008, with 18% breaking 35mph. This was better than 10 years earlier, but still indicates that a substantial proportion of drivers engage in illegal behaviour,  endangering other road users with virtual impunity. There is minimal control of speeds, with well-advertised controls at selected sites where what is judged to be the appropriate number of people have been reported as hurt or killed, and even less control through mobile cameras. That lack of control and social acceptance associated with it is why that substantial proportion of motorists speed in the first place – they know they can get away with it.

There is no mystery here – so why is the AA asking volunteers to survey it? The evidence exists – and more is being added with Highway Authorities carrying out further regular surveys on speed. On top of this, the question asks the surveyor if they feel the vehicle is travelling too fast.  So, if you are one of those in nearly half the driving population who regularly break the law here, maybe you won’t feel the law-breakers are actually speeding.

Seat belts? We’d better not go into the effects of seat belt wearing on other road users… Suffice it to say that not wearing a seat belt doesn’t pose the threat to other road users that other items in this survey do.

And these are fairly obvious: using a mobile phone, jumping lights, turning without indicators – but we already have evidence of these behaviours. What grates is that these are part of the easily observable iceberg tips of inappropriate, or careless, or plain dangerous driving.

One could go into the less easily observable – but known about – iceberg tip of bad driving: under the influence of alcohol or drugs (whether recreational, prescription or proprietary);  driving when drowsy; without being able to see properly; with psychological conditions such as Alzheimer’s; when banned; or when unregistered.

We know that there are millions of drivers engaged in these iceberg tips of bad driving (that’s not including speeding), whether observable or not. Is the AA suggesting any real action here? I would say not: the AA has a history of proudly defending the “right” of its members to speed, and even where it suggests that there are behaviours which are wrong, will it lobby hard for the appropriate levels of enforcement and deterrent sentencing to stop them? I think not – that would inconvenience their members and lead to banning not a few of them.

Which then brings us down to the bulk of the iceberg: the breaking of the Highway Code which leads to the vast majority of collisions on the road. We suggest you take a look at the relevant sections of the Highway Code for AA members and other drivers.   There really is quite a lot there which is disregarded as a matter of course by AA (and RAC, of course) members and other drivers.

Apart from the occasional polite request to motorists to try to behave properly, is the AA an organisation which will ever push for any real controls of these behaviours? Anything remotely radical, such as driver liability in collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists, has been fervently opposed by them.

In effect drivers remain unaccountable for the danger they pose to others, and the AA, aided by the odd bit of road safetywash, is part of this problem.