Dark Danger

The number of people killed on Great Britain ’s roads has seen a dramatic rise between October and November for the second year running.

The continuing increase in fatalities between the two months, revealed in the recently published Government bible of road safety statistics, Road Casualties Great Britain 2004*, has prompted the RAC Foundation to appeal to Government, local authorities and drivers to play their part in slashing the death toll.

German Government statistics** also indicate that the number of accidents per km driven more than doubles during the hours of darkness - showing that this is not just a phenomenon in the UK.

Following the end of British Summer Time on October 30, millions of people will travel home from work in the dark for the first time in seven months and many of them will be ill prepared.

While huge investment in research and development by lighting manufacturers means that lights on modern vehicles are more effective and efficient than ever, they are useless if drivers don’t use them, check them and maintain them. In 2004, over one million cars and 12,500 motor cycles, failed the annual MoT test because of lighting defects.***

Common complaints include:

  • Unlit vehicles - especially pedal cycles, usually in urban and sub-urban areas
  • Vehicles with side or headlamps not working, making it more difficult to see, or judge the width of the vehicle, especially on unlit rural roads
  • Vehicles with badly adjusted headlamps that dazzle oncoming drivers, or whose poor lighting means that drivers need to use main beam headlamps
  • Vehicles with rear fog lamps lit in good visibility and which dazzle following drivers
The RAC Foundation believes that a few simple steps by all who use, or are responsible, for the roads could make the UK roads much safer during the coming months. Committed to raising the profile of this topic, it is making lighting the issue of the month on its website www.racfoundation.org . Drivers can help the Foundation build a better understanding of motorists’ opinions and behaviour by taking part in an on-line poll on the subject while getting more advice.

As well as drivers, however, the Foundation is urging local authorities to ensure that all street lighting is of a good standard and that roads and pavements are well maintained with no potholes or raised paving stones to endanger pedestrians and two-wheeled traffic during the long hours of darkness.

Central Government should also consider further research into the road user safety potential of daylight running lights, and, if safety benefits are proven, initiate discussions with vehicle manufacturers about incorporating the technology onto all vehicles.

Manufacturers, UK Government and the European commission should continue to explore the development and use of “smart” vehicle lighting that can adapt brightness according to road and weather conditions, automatically dip for oncoming traffic and interact with indicators.

Cyclists can also play their part by fitting, checking and using lights and wearing clothing that will increase their conspicuity in the dark and wet - while pedestrians should be sure that they can see and be seen by traffic, especially when crossing roads.

This is also a good time for parents to ensure that their children have high visibility clothing or markers on bags and that they are well drilled about potential dangers while walking.

Edmund King, Executive Director of RAC Foundation said, “It is impossible to overestimate the importance of good lighting during the hours of darkness. The many advances in road and vehicle safety are of no value, unless drivers can see where they are going and other road users can see the vehicle properly.”

The RAC Foundation has a four-point plan to see and be seen this winter.

  • Check that lights are working properly. A check of all lights takes no more than two minutes.
  • Replace any faulty lights
  • Standard [halogen] headlamp bulbs lose their brightness over time and should be replaced at three yearly [700 hours usage] intervals with good quality branded replacements. [Auto Express publishes headlamp tests and recommendations each year]
  • If buying a new car, consider specifying xenon [bi-polar] headlamps. The increased cost will be more than offset by improvements in driver vision and durability, typically three or four times the life of standard halogen lights.
28 October 2005 Staff

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