When the system isn’t working
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
When people think of serious crashes they tend to think of drunk drivers, extreme speeds and people acting recklessly.
But a new study from the AA Research Foundation challenges these perceptions and found many crashes involve everyday people not doing anything extreme.
The first-of-its-kind study found in around three quarters of crashes where occupants were seriously injured, drivers were generally following road rules but made a mistake or poor decision, or something unexpected happened.
To put it another way, they were going about their ordinary business when something went wrong and they were seriously injured.
The focus in road safety is generally on the more than 300 fatal crashes each year but there are about 10 people seriously injured from road crashes for each death and the social cost to the country is estimated at $776,000 for each reported serious injury.
This was one reason the AA Research Foundation wanted to improve our understanding of serious crashes— in particular, what proportion resulted from extreme behaviours and what proportion were the result of what the research called system failures.
Hamish Mackie of Mackie Research explains: “We took detailed reports from 300 passenger vehicle crashes that resulted in a fatality or a serious injury, and analysed them in terms of the “safe system” that underpins the Government’s current road safety strategy.
We looked at whether there had been driver error, or whether speed was an issue. Was the vehicle safe? Was the road unsafe for some reason?
“And we set some criteria that triggered a “reckless behaviour” categorisation, such as driving drunk or without a licence, driving at more than 20km/h over the limit, or not wearing a seatbelt.”
For fatal injury crashes there’s an even split between reckless behaviour and system failures. But in serious injury crashes, there are many more crashes where system failure was identified.
This suggests we can significantly reduce serious injuries by not just trying to stop extreme behaviour but improving the “safe system”.
The concept behind the safe system is that the harm from crashes comes from the combination of four different “pillars”: road users, speeds they are travelling, vehicles they are in and roads they are on.
Another key finding was that most crashes, fatal and serious, involved failings across three or four pillars of the safe system.
An error by the road user was involved in over 90 per cent of fatal and serious injury crashes, but in most cases people were in vehicles that were less than ideal and on roads that could be more protecting or with speed limits that may not match the environment.
In almost 80 per cent of fatal and serious crashes in the research, the safe vehicle pillar was triggered.
The research clearly showed if two cars collide, occupants in younger cars and ones with more safety features suffered less harm. Cars older than 14 years were less protective than those under 14.
These cars don’t tend to have ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and while they may have a driver airbag, they may not have passenger and side curtain airbags.
This is a challenge in New Zealand where the average age of vehicles is more than 14 years old (compared to Australia’s 10 and Japan’s 8). Research showed SUVs, vans, 4WDs and utes had a higher risk of rolling in crashes.
From the AA’s perspective, the research highlights that to improve road safety we need to be doing more than just targeting the behaviour of road users and extreme actions.
If a crash happens on a road with barriers on it, there is less chance it will result in serious injuries or deaths. Getting more people into more modern vehicles with side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control will mean less severe consequences in a crash.
And, as individuals, we can all do things to minimise our risks of being seriously hurt on the roads like not driving when we’re tired, avoiding distractions behind the wheel, making sure everyone wears a seatbelt and looking to buy a 4- or 5-star safety rated car.
The study differentiates between deliberate ‘reckless behaviour’ causing an accident, and ‘system failures’ which defines unintentional errors.
Examples of reckless behaviour:
●Having a blood-alcohol count over the licence condition (0 for youth, 0.08 for adults)
●Not having a current licence
●Driving 20 km/h over the posted speed limit
Examples of system failures:
●A vehicle not having front or side airbags
●Hitting a roadside pillar
●Driver crossing a centre line