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Drivers can save lives by making a few modest changes

This week Alison talks about national road safety week and the new No Excuse team.

It wasn’t speeding, bad roads or drink and drugs that killed three young car passengers and left another paralysed but a moment’s inattention.

After police had dealt with the distraught relatives and conducted their investigation they found that one of the men had opened a can of fizzy drink which had squirted towards the driver and been enough to cause him to swerve across the road. The car in which the men were travelling – in convoy with friends and family who had enjoyed a meal out – hit a tree with tragic consequences.

This terrible tale was told to my office staff last week as part of a programme of driver training that my staff and I undertook in recognition of the fact that those driving for business are more likely than most to be involved in an accident.

Yes, smarter working means we can connect offices and people with technology, reducing the need to travel. But ultimately we are here to serve the people of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and, like a lot of organisations, there are occasions when we need to get behind the wheel.

Our trainer for the day was a former police officer of 30 years’ experience who advised companies and government agencies around the world. We discussed the effects on those who use cocaine, heroin, cannabis and alcohol while they are driving, and, as you would expect, these drugs seriously reduce reaction times. This impairment makes the difference between being able to brake or take evasive action in time or not.

Even a small amount of cannabis or alcohol – an amount that wouldn’t push the driver over the legal limit for driving in this country – has a marked effect on a driver’s ability. This is something we all know. It has been illegal to drink and drive in this country since 1966, there have been countless drink drive campaigns since then and no doubt many hundreds of lives saved by this legislation and the ensuing enforcement.

What most of the driving public are guilty of, however, is failing to engage properly in the driving process. We’ve all driven while angry, running late or tired because we have been up for too long or we’ve got up unusually early. If a driver has had a row with their boss or partner will they be concentrating 100 per cent on the fact they are in charge of a two-tonne vehicle?

There were a few uncomfortable silences as we considered scenarios that perhaps we’d all been in. When taking on a hire car how much time do we take to familiarise ourselves with the controls? Do we know whether it’s front or rear wheel drive? Are we ready for the different ways an electric vehicle might handle?

This summer my team surveyed 5,000 people in Devon and Cornwall to see what their road safety priorities were. By far and away their largest concern was distraction driving, with drink driving second and speeding their next biggest worry. Interestingly the responses varied depending on where we went. In cities speeding was the largest concern. North Devon was the only place that road conditions came out as the major concern.

This week (November 19-25) is BRAKE National Road Safety Week and once again my team and I will be hitting the road and getting the message out that a few simple changes to our driving habits would make a significant change to the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. The Westcountry’s politicians, police officers and campaigners of all colours are united in their agreement that something has to be done.

There were 63 deaths in the Devon and Cornwall Police force area in 2017 – of which 15 were motorcyclists. This was 12 more than in 2016 when 51 people were killed. In 2015 there were 36 road deaths. These are not just statistics but someone’s brother, sister. mother or father. The toll is simply horrific and we should not just accept it as part of the risk of driving.

Fortunately, there has been a renewed focus since I became the national lead for road safety and more work is being done to improve the situation. My office has produced a new Road Safety Strategy which advises a ‘safe system’ approach. This means partnership with local authorities, driving educators and of course the driving public.

With 12,500 miles of roads in our force area there’s no way that we can simply enforce our way out of this situation, but the police will always have a role to play. This year my office has supported the chief constable to set up a ‘No Excuse’ roads policing team to enforce the law and educate the driving public.

I was delighted to see that in their first full month of operation they issued 274 tickets, made six arrests, breath tested 136 drivers, seized 52 vehicles and gave words of advice to 91 people. You will be caught now more than ever so please pay attention.

The No Excuse team is doing its bit to make Devon and Cornwall a safer place to be. All I’d ask now is that we all do ours.

Alison Hernandez