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Poverty driving road deaths

Poverty driving road deaths

Many road accidents are the result of simple poverty, says the car review website dogandlemon.com.

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, whose road safety research was awarded by the Australian Police Journal, says most road safety messages don’t get through to the highest risk groups.

“Poverty isn’t just a lack of money; it’s a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding. Middle-class car drivers believe in cause and effect, so they buy safe cars and wear seatbelts. Many poor people see life as something that just happens to them, and that they can’t control. Therefore, to poor people, road accidents are simply bad luck, rather than bad management.”

“Worse, in many country areas, there’s no public transport, so the poor often drive illegal cars that won’t protect the occupants in a collision.”

“Among the poor, substance abuse is often considered normal, and if drink-driving causes an accident, it’s considered bad luck, not irresponsible, behaviour.”

“As far as the poorest of the poor are concerned, life is crap, but junk food, cigarettes and alcohol make it bearable. So when you tell these people not to smoke, drink and over-eat, what they hear is: ‘I want you stop enjoying life’. This is a crazy view, but that’s the way many poor people think.”

Matthew-Wilson says road safety messages are largely wasted on the poorest groups, who are often semi-illiterate, don’t watch the news or read newspapers and don’t see any other way of living.

“Remember, at the lowest end of the social scale you’re talking about families living in houses with dirt floors and no electricity. You can’t reach these people through any of the normal channels.”

Matthew-Wilson says the situation can be turned around, but not through road safety messages or issuing tickets.

“Obviously, the police have a job to do and enforcement has a role in improving road safety. However, enforcement isn’t going to change the basic poverty that drives the road toll. For example, fining poor people rarely works, because the fine simply becomes one more debt that they can’t pay.”

Matthew-Wilson says there are a number of key steps that would dramatically lower the road toll.

“It is now universally acknowledged that the main reasons for the lower road toll in recent years are safer roads, safer cars and better medical care. That’s the main way we can protect all people using our roads.”

1) Install median barriers between the opposing lanes of traffic on all major roadways.

This strategy has been proven to prevent head-on collisions.

2) Improve roadside fencing.

Many accidents occur where the vehicle leaves the road. Although it’s not possible to fence all roads, roadside protective fencing is a proven way of preventing deaths and injuries and should therefore be a high priority.

3) Install rumble strips at the edges of road lanes.

Rumble strips, which warn drivers when they are drifting out of their lane, are a proven road safety measure that costs comparatively little.

4) Make interest-free loans available for poor people to do safety-related repairs on their cars.

“Many poor people postpone vital maintenance such as replacing worn tyres, because they have a choice between paying the rent and fixing the car. If poor people can get safety-related work done immediately, they are less likely to have accidents. These interest-free loans are not a handout; the money would have to be repaid in small amounts each week.”

5) Make driver’s license training part of schooling.

“ Many poor people have very poor driver training and some have no license at all. It’s in everybody’s interest that all drivers are both legal and skilled. Teenagers are generally very keen on getting their licences, so it makes sense to train them while they’re still at school.”

6) Start public transport cooperatives in rural areas.

“Public transport cooperatives would work in a similar way to volunteer fire brigades. The government would provide the vehicle, the locals would man it, under government and police supervision. So, the same bus could take the kids to school at 8am, take the mums shopping at 10am, take the pensioners on an outing at midday, pick the kids up at 3 and take them home or to sports practice, return the kids home after sports practice, take the farmers to the pub at 7pm, then home again at closing time.”

“Many rural trips are made in unsafe conditions because there’s no alternative to driving. When you provide practical alternatives to driving, you can dramatically reduce the risk to all motorists.”

“Public transport cooperatives would not work in some areas, particularly those areas with a small population spread over a wide area. However, there are other areas where it could make a dramatic difference.”

7) Make reversing cameras compulsory.

According to credible studies, reversing cameras are the most effective way of eliminating the blindspots that often lead to driveway tragedies.

Matthew-Wilson says the government should make reversing cameras compulsory on all cars, with subsidies for the poor.

“The government should use its bulk-buying power to purchase reversing cameras at an affordable price, then make them available to all motorists, but especially the poor.”

8) Reduce the number of heavy trucks to a minimum.

Trucks make up about 2.5% of the vehicle fleet but cause around 18% of all road deaths.

“Trucks often don’t need to be there. A study by the New Zealand government showed that transporting goods by rail is over five times more efficient than transporting goods by truck. ” 1

“Surely it makes sense to move heavy freight off the highways and onto trains.”

“I’m not attacking truck drivers, who are generally very skilled and very courteous to other motorists. I’m attacking the system that effectively pits cars and trucks against each other. Often the truck driver is not at fault, but when a car and a truck collide, size wins. ”

9) Allow the police to seize cellphones used illegally while driving.

Matthew-Wilson believes the police should have the power to permanently seize cellphones being used by drivers while a vehicle is in motion.

“What cars and cellphones have in common is that they give their owner freedom. Take away that freedom and you give drivers a powerful incentive to modify their behavior.”


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