Following a campaign funded by Highways England to catch dangerous drivers, the severity of the issue has been highlighted. The most common causes of dangerous driving, among the 4,176 drivers who were caught, were driving without a seatbelt, speeding and using a mobile phone.

With driving whilst using a hand-held phone highlighted as the most common driving offence, the campaign caught 2,508 drivers – this was the most common dangerous driving offence despite new driving laws increasing the penalty to six points on your driving license and a minimum £200 fine.

Dangerous driving and human error are the main contributors to road traffic accidents across the globe, and now it has also been reported that some of the first autonomous vehicles driven on roads have been involved in incidents whereby other vehicles, driven by humans, have been at fault. Used van retailer, Van Monster, analyses the statistics of how dangerous our roads are today and discuss if the evolution of autonomous vehicles could be the answer to improving road safety.

How unsafe are our roads?

Worryingly, while dangerous driving continues to rise, the RAC reported that there are actually fewer traffic police on the roads. In 2014, there were 27% fewer traffic police on the roads in England and Wales compared to figures from 2010 – which the RAC believe directly links with the increase in road death figures in 2014. With fewer police to catch dangerous drivers, the prevention rate is significantly affected. According to Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC, “cuts to police enforcement are doubly damaging… 26,000 are still dying each year on our roads, and the numbers will not start to decrease again without concerted action.”

The Highways England campaign however, encouraged police forces to get involved. 28 police forces took part in the campaign with over 5,039 offences reported involving a total of 4,176 drivers. Of those offences, there were a total of 133 prosecutions for serious dangerous driving offences, whilst police officers noted that they had to give verbal advice or warnings to 388 drivers, issued 838 penalty notices and filed 3,318 traffic offence reports.

Despite stricter penalties, driving whilst using a hand-held mobile phone remains the most common driving offence – and unfortunately, it is also potentially one of the most dangerous offences. Statistics have shown that this is directly linked to on average two deaths on the roads every month. At least 124 people have lost their lives in road traffic accidents involving mobile phone usage in the past five years – and 521 people have suffered serious injuries.

Whilst these figures are shocking – the UK appears to have some of the safest roads in Europe. Comparing the number of road deaths across countries in Europe, only Sweden had a lower rate than the UK. And could they be about to get even safer?

An autonomous solution

Autonomous technology has already arrived – modern day vehicles already have some types of self-driving features and some countries and companies are already in the process of trialling vehicles that do not require a human driver.

By eliminating the human driver from behind the wheel and taking away their control, could our roads become the safest they have ever been? Vehicles which never exceed the speed limit, stop at every traffic light and give way to road markings and follow all road rules perfectly – sounds perfect, right? It has the potential to revolutionise the automotive industry and make it safer than ever before.

Recent reports have revealed that some of the first autonomous vehicles driving on the roads have been involved in road traffic accidents with other vehicles on the roads. A self-driving shuttle in Las Vegas had only been on the road for around an hour when it collided with a large delivery truck driven by a human driver. The accident was confirmed by the AAA as being the truck driver’s fault. With this example not the only incident, this success of the technology is reliant on the technology rolling out across all roads to fully eliminate the human driver.

California has experienced 43 incidents with autonomous vehicles. According to Mike Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner who specializes in advanced automotive technologies, this is because “they don’t drive like people. They drive like robots. They’re odd and that’s why they get hit.”

Autonomous technology is programmed to follow the road laws perfectly, and take into consideration all road signs and markings. Human drivers however are not used to the style of driving. You could say, they drive too well. For autonomous vehicles to truly contribute to making our roads safer, they must be able to integrate themselves better with human drivers on the road. Companies designing autonomous vehicles must find the right balance between emulating human driving behaviour whilst eliminating human mistakes.

We can expect to see further developments for autonomous technology is to replace the human driving counterpart. Whilst the cars themselves are trained to follow road rules perfectly, human drivers are not as well-trained. The technology needs to be capable of adapting to drivers around them to prevent future incidents caused by human error or reckless driving.