Human error, is human nature – most of the time

16th November 2016

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner.

It doesn’t matter how seriously you take extra driver training; you’ll still end up facing two major hurdles. The first is that of concentration. It doesn’t matter how well you observe and interpret the road ahead, how good you are at car control in bends, how skillful your steering, gear-changing, overtaking and so on. All it takes is one tiny lapse of concentration – perhaps when someone speaks to you in the car, or your eye is drawn momentarily by a spectacle on the other side of the road during a long journey – and your exemplary record is tarnished for good when you make an error.

The other problem is one of contrasts. If you get into a car with a so-so driver who doesn’t really care, after 10 minutes you’ll stop noticing the botched gear-changes, choppy steering, eccentric indication or scary reversing. But woe betide the highly trained driver if he or she makes the tiniest mistake. If you’ve passed all the best advanced training courses there are and drive like a saint with the smoothest of smooth gear changes, the very time you do fluff a gear change when you pull away from a junction, mis-time a traffic light change or, worse, stall the car altogether, it sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s the penalty you pay. And the latest set of statistics underline the fact that the vast majority of incidents on the road are – of course – caused by human error.

Analysis by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has found that human factors ‘significantly’ outweigh other reasons for crashes on British roads. It’s studied Department of Transport figures and says that in 2014 driver/rider error or reaction were cited as contributory factors in 74 per cent of incidents, involving more than 117,000 casualties. Some 20,830 of these were in London alone.

In their reports, police can cite up to six factors for the cause of each incident. The second highest factor was ‘behaviour or inexperience’ which was cited as a contributory factor in 26 per cent of incidents, accounting for more than 40,000 casualties. In London the number was 9,508. Other main contributory factors were ‘injudicious action’ (39,354/25 per cent), ‘impairment or distraction’ (21,916/14 per cent), ‘road environment contributed’ (20,253/13 per cent) and ‘vehicle defects’ (3,230/two per cent).

“People often blame their car, the road, or the other driver for the incidents and near misses that they have,” says Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research. “These figures show that in the vast majority of cases, it’s the driver or rider themselves who is to blame.”

The IAM points out that changing attitudes is the key factor when it comes to reducing the numbers of road casualties, and that motorists should accept responsibility for enhancing their own skills and recognising their limitations.

He added: “It is not enough to leave people to their own devices once they have passed their test. Like so many other areas of life, extra coaching pays dividends – and for a driver or rider, that means keeping their skills fresh by continuous assessment,” he adds. I agree. My first step towards trying to improve my driving was taking the IAM course and passing their advanced driving test. I went on to acquire a motorcycle licence and an HGV class 1 licence, and took just about every high performance course – both on and off-road – that I could think of, including training with the West Midlands Police close protection squad, undertaking a course run by two, tough, SAS chaps and taking a two-day off-road motorcycle course with Paris Dakar legend Simon Pavey. The toughest was a three-day intensive High Performance Club course in a Caterham. Hard work.

But none of it’s any good if, for just a split second, you lose concentration – and end up being one of those DfT figures. Which is one reason I like to keep my dash cam plugged in. If I know I’m being ‘watched’, it helps keep me on my toes”.

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