Vincent Yearley: The selfish menace on our motorways

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Do you remember those old bumper stickers that said: "If you can read this, you're too close"?

Do you remember those old bumper stickers that said: "If you can read this, you're too close"?

Tailgating is not a new problem - but it's back in the headlines following an Institute of Advanced Motorists' survey on drivers' fears. The other problem highlighted was that of motorists who insist on using a hand-held phone while at the wheel.

More than half of all drivers regarded each of these two activities as "highly dangerous", according to our poll of almost 700 motorists.

Drivers who overtake on single-carriage A-roads when there is oncoming traffic, and those who cut others up, forcing them to brake, were regarded as the next biggest threats.

In some ways, the survey gives us encouragement. It means that the Government's message about the dangers of using mobiles while driving is getting through.

The survey showed that more women (60 per cent) than men (47 per cent) regard tailgating as highly dangerous. Likewise, more women than men see phoning and driving as highly dangerous (61 per cent versus 44 per cent).

In contrast, drivers aged 17 to 29 are significantly less likely to regard other motorists' activities as dangerous. Only 30 per cent of young drivers regard using a phone while driving as highly dangerous, compared with more than 50 per cent for all other age groups. Similarly, 40 per cent of young drivers consider tailgating highly dangerous, compared with 55 per cent of other age groups.

When the IAM survey was published, Steve Norris (the former road safety minister) commented that too many road users slip into bad habits, either through "ignorance, impatience or aggression".

Tailgating and phoning while driving are activities that are clearly a threat to others. Motorists should leave at least a two-second gap behind the vehicle in front, and more than this in bad weather.

Using hand-held mobile phones at the wheel has the potential to kill. Even with proper hands-free kit, talking on the phone while driving is a risk.

Last year, we at the IAM joined up with other road safety groups such as the RAC Foundation to form the National Motorway Month group. We called on the Highways Agency and other local highway authorities to paint more chevrons on motorways to remind drivers of the "two-second rule". Yet there are still only six roads where they are used.

The IAM also wants the Government to impose stronger enforcement of the ban on using a handheld phone at the wheel, which was introduced 18 months ago. The long-promised three penalty points are there in the new Road Safety Bill, together with a stiffer fine for this offence. But there is no substitute for a blue light and a sharp word.

Figures from a Department for Transport survey reveal that 26,400 fixed-penalty notices were issued by 27 of the 51 police forces in Britain during the first ten months of the regulation. The Government estimated that the new offence would generate 50,000 to 100,000 fixed-penalty notices a year and 2,000 to 5,000 prosecutions.

More effective police action would help the Government achieve the aim of making phone-driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. But it takes real police officers in real cars to make a difference.

Meanwhile, of course, the solution - in part at least - lies in our hands. Our roads would be a lot less intimidating, and a good deal safer, if we all gave each other a bit of space. And let's get into the habit of pulling over (finding somewhere legal and convenient) before we start those "urgent" phone calls.

The writer is a spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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