Monday, November 06, 2006

Driver Education Ineffective?

Dr. Clapton believes that improved technology (safer roadways and cars) is largely responsible for the reduction in death rates from motor vehicle crashes, not driver education. If I recall right, Great Britain cut traffic deaths in half, mostly through installation of traffic monitoring cameras throughout the country. So while Dr. Clapton's assertion would seem to be substantiated by that reduction in deaths, wide spread opposition to such a effort would be expected here in the US. Still, we lost over 42,000 people in traffic crashes last year.

Bicycling advocates point out that we rely on three things that make our roads safer: education, engineering, and enforcement. Some add encouragement as a means of getting more people out from behind the wheel of a car and onto their bikes. Regardless, it’s an article of faith that bicycling education makes the learning process shorter and makes both beginning and experienced cyclists safer and more confident.

In John Forester’s Effective Cycling (6th edition, page 271, table 28.7) there’s a table that says self-taught cyclists take 50,000 miles and 10 years of road experience to become safe, confident cyclists in nearly all road conditions. Club cyclists reach the same level in 5,000 miles and about 2 years of riding. Those who learn from books take 2,500 miles and a year of riding. But cyclists who take Effective Cycling instruction take only 800 miles and 3 months of riding. (Effective Cycling was offered by the League of American Bicyclists, and has been superceded by Road1.)

Forester also charted the crash rates among children, college associated adults and club cyclists. Not surprisingly, children have the highest crash rate at 1,500 miles per accident. College associated adults average 2,000 miles per crash. And club cyclists average 10,00 miles per crash. (Effective Cycling, page 261.) Education, whether it’s classroom and formalized, or the more informal school of hard knocks, would seem to indicate that education and experience really do serve to reduce risk.

“There are other bicycle accident statistics that astonish most people…Cyclists who often ride under difficult conditions (in heavy traffic, in mountainous terrain, at night, and in the rain) have a lower accident rate than flatland, fair-weather recreational cyclists…Riding to work, done largely on main arterial streets at rush hour, is the safest of all known cycling activities….(C)ycling skill is the most important ingredient in reducing cycling accidents…The most important problem in the American cycling system is the incompetence of cyclists.” Effective Cycling, John Forester, page 262.

Here’s my admittedly snarky take on safety enhancement. Look at it from the standpoint of physics. Kinetic energy = mass x velocity squared. In order to reduce the energy that has to be dissipated in a crash, we can reduce mass, velocity, or both. So in my fantasy land, no passenger vehicle can weigh more than 2500 pounds nor have an engine more powerful than, say, 35 horsepower - approximately the power available in my 1971 Super Beetle when it had a fresh tune-up. And since Dr. Clapton seems to think that we take greater risks when we feel safer behind airbags, remove them. Remove the seatbelts and 4-wheel disk brakes too. Let's go back to drum brakes and bias ply tires. Let's scare the hell out of drivers by putting them in machines that they know will result in their deaths in the event of a crash. That'll teach 'em.

Found via the Treadly and Me blog:

Excerpts follow:

Dr Rick Clapton reckons that driver training efforts are wasted.

UBC Home Page
Teaching people to be better drivers is not improving traffic safety, but better technology may do the trick, say researcher Rick Clapton

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 11 | Nov. 2, 2006

Driver Education Not Enough
For safer roads we must turn to technology, says researcher

By Bud Mortenson

Rick Clapton once believed driver training helped improve safety for motorists, but those views have taken a sharp U-turn.

Now teaching history at UBC Okanagan, the former long-haul truck driver and licensed driving instructor recently examined the changing traffic death reduction policies of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States over the past two centuries. His conclusion: traffic death reductions in these countries are a result of safer roadways and cars — not improved driving practices.

“I now think all the resources put into driver education have failed,” he says. “It’s not working. Actually, a number of studies show that drivers with driver education have higher crash records than those drivers who don’t have driver training.”

…Although traffic death rates have fallen since the late 1960s, crash and injury rates have remained constant in the countries he studied. Clapton says it’s an indication that, despite greater emphasis on training, driving behaviour hasn’t changed much in recent decades.

“The reduction in traffic deaths has been a direct result of improved roads, vehicles, safety restraints and medical practices, rather than encouraging safer driving practices,” he says.

…Something as simple as disabling cell phones in cars could do wonders for driving safety, he suggests.

…He cautions that even technical advancements aren’t always solutions. Take, for example, back-up alarms that sound when a vehicle is in danger of striking an object behind it. Clapton says drivers can become reliant on this kind of device, over time losing their ability to function safely without them.

“We can’t always predict how technology will affect driver behaviour,” he says. “A significant majority of people derive a sense of power from driving, and people with air bags and other safety devices almost always drive more aggressively because they feel safer.”

Call it human nature. People don’t want to believe how dangerous driving can be, Clapton says.

…A phenomenon called “optimism bias” places blinders on drivers, too. “It’s the ‘this won’t happen to me’ phenomenon,” he says. “Trained drivers have confidence that they’re safe, when they are actually just as vulnerable as any other motorist.”


Blogger Fritz said...

Interesting. My belief is that while safety engineering in a vehicle (seat belts, airbags, better suspension and tires, ABS, AWD, anti-roll technology, etc) make the vehicle safer for the lone occupant of that vehicle, it makes it more dangerous for those outside of the vehicle because it all makes knucklehead driving that much easier.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Santa gonna be twistin' arms at the State Sausage Factory to get bike ed for 4th and 5th graders, pre-cursor to high skool driver ed. Biking makes safer auto drivers, cause one mistake on a bike can really mess up your otherwise nice day.

12:10 PM  

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