Trevor Laffan: Driving is a hazardous activity as sheer incompetence is rife

The reason we have so many accidents is because there are far too many drivers who don’t understand the basics of driving, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Driving is a hazardous activity as sheer incompetence is rife

BUMPER TO BUMPER: The slightest collision at rush hour in Cork can cause huge tailbacks and frustrate thousands of motorists.

I HAVE written previously about road traffic accidents in this country, and it’s easy to understand why we have so many.

It’s down to poor driving practices and you can see examples of it every day. The only surprise to me is that we don’t have more.

The standard of driving is terrible, and it’s getting worse.

Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport, has put a lot of emphasis on tackling drink-driving and he seems to be under the illusion that removing alcohol from the roads will solve all our problems. Well, it won’t, because it’s far more complicated than that.

Driving under the influence of drugs is becoming more prevalent, according to recent reports, and may eventually be on a par with drunk driving. Both are serious issues and need to be tackled but they’re not the only problem and putting all the eggs into that particular basket won’t make the roads safe.

If we introduced prohibition tomorrow and signed up every driver to the pioneer total abstinence association for life, there would still be accidents because there is no shortage of drivers who are not competent to sit behind the wheel of a car, even when they are stone cold sober.

The reason we have so many accidents is because there are far too many drivers who don’t understand the basics of driving and they struggle with the normal rules of the road, and this is the issue that needs to be addressed.

Many drivers have poor observation skills. They lack concentration and are easily distracted by everything else that is going on in their lives, particularly their mobile phones. Lane discipline is an alien concept to many, while tailgaiting is on the increase, and one of the most common problems is the inability to negotiate a roundabout correctly.

These are the fundamental issues that are contributing to the hundreds of minor traffic accidents that happen every day, especially at peak traffic hours. The kind of accidents that usually only cause minor damage to cars but result in huge delays and inconvenience to everyone else.

Just listen to the daily traffic reports on the radio every morning and you will discover how much of a feature these accidents have become during rush-hour. Many of them are minor incidents that cause serious disruption for commuters.

Conor Faughnan of the Automobile Association has said in the past that there are nearly 500 traffic accidents on the M50 in Dublin every year. Having driven on it many times, I’m surprised that number isn’t higher, given what I have witnessed.

I’ve been driving for more than 40 years, and I’ve driven everything from cars to trucks. I had to qualify in defensive driving techniques to drive patrol cars during my time in An Garda Siochana and I have driven all over Europe and Australia in both left-hand and right-hand drive vehicles, on and off road, so I consider myself to be an experienced driver.

But every time I drive on the M50, I feel uncomfortable because of what’s going on around me. Cars driving too quickly for the conditions and jumping across lanes at inappropriate speeds — acting like they’re the only ones using the road and behaving as if every other driver is supposed to know what they’re going to do next.

That kind of aggressive driving leaves little room for error. Many of the drivers displayed a complete lack of courtesy or manners because they were in too much of a hurry to get to where they needed to be.

The slightest tip on the M50 can cause a tailback for eight to ten kilometres and minor accidents that occur at roundabouts, junctions or in merging traffic usually only cause slight damage, but the inconvenience caused to other drivers can be substantial.

The knock-on effect can be considerable and that applies to all the main arteries around the country, not only the M50.

No matter how often we talk about it, the situation isn’t getting any better. If anything, it’s getting worse but maybe if we identified the regular mistakes that are being made and began highlighting them, people might learn something and avoid repeating the same errors.

Instead of just telling us where the accidents are every morning, it might be more informative if the traffic reports also identified the possible causes and maybe then we could learn something.

There is a reason for every accident. A car travelling at the correct speed in normal conditions shouldn’t find itself on its roof.

If a driver is concentrating on his or her driving and travelling within the speed limit while staying a safe distance from the car ahead, he or she shouldn’t smash into the back of it.

The Road Safety Authority records statistics on traffic accidents that result in death and serious injury, but I haven’t been able to find any information on what is causing the fender benders — the kind that only put a dent in a bonnet or a bumper but bring the country to a halt.

When I was a serving member of An Garda Siochana, those statistics were collected. Forms were completed after every accident and while they were cumbersome things that most of us hated filling out, they did serve a purpose.

These statistics contained lots of information, including weather conditions, road conditions, car details, driver details and factors that might have contributed to the crash. They were sent to the Central Statistics Office, who collated them all and identified common causes.

I don’t know if those statistics are still being collected, but if not, then maybe they should be.

That information could be useful to the RSA, the local authorities, driving instructors, driving testers and traffic reporters, etc, to help put an end to the cycle of mayhem.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more