Back to articles

A guide to driving safely

Michael McDonnell, Director of Road Safety Scotland, shares his top tips for driving safely in this guest article.

Keeping your car in tip-top condition is one of Michael McDonnell's key tips for safer driving.

As drivers, most of us think we are better than others and are confident that no matter how many risky situations or near misses happen on our daily journeys, we will be alert enough, quick enough, or experienced enough to stay out of trouble. Of course, if we thought the risk of being involved in an accident was very high, we might not undertake the journey at all! 

We often say to ourselves – perhaps unreasonably – that ‘it won’t happen to me’.  Furthermore, no matter what risks we find ourselves facing – whether of our own or others’ making, this belief is reinforced by the absence of any negative consequences: in other words, we don’t think it will happen to us, and it usually doesn’t!

Thankfully, that’s statistically correct but, every day in Scotland, over 300 casualties are recorded and that doesn’t include those that are never reported. Of the 300, around five will be seriously injured, and someone will die every two days. It’s unpleasant reading – but it won’t happen to us – right? 

What is encouraging is that these figures are on a continuing downward trend and Scotland is on course to meet the targets set out in Scotland’s Road Safety Framework for 2020, which seek to reduce deaths by 40% and serious injuries by 55%. However, encouraging statistics are no consolation to those families who have been affected by this daily toll, and we must continue to eradicate this road casualty epidemic. 

We have adopted a ‘Vision Zero’ aspiration in Scotland, where no-one is killed on our roads, and the number of people injured is greatly reduced. But while the statutory bodies (central and local government, emergency services, etc.) have a role to play, making sure every journey is completed safely is down to us as individual road users. 

Traditionally, road safety has been tackled using a ‘Three Es’ approach: ensuring there is a good programme of education resources; engineering safer roads; and enforcing road safety legislation. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the way individuals use the road, and those who put themselves and others at risk will continue to be responsible for the 300+ casualties every day.

Of the 11,000 casualties in Scotland in 2015 over 6,700 were vehicle occupants, so, in spite of all the protection that modern vehicles offer, the human body can still only withstand a very limited amount of trauma and the aftermath is often catastrophic for those involved.

There is a lot of information collected by Police Scotland at the scene of a crash, and contributory factors data is very useful for those of us working in road safety – it doesn’t tell the whole story, but is useful nonetheless. 

In 2015, loss of control was the most commonly recorded factor in fatal accidents (39%), followed by failure to look properly (25%), and careless/reckless/hurried driving (18%).  Slippery roads due to weather featured in 7% of fatal accidents, so it doesn’t take a statistician to understand the problems we face have a lot to do with poor choices about speed. In an era where the functionality of mobile phones is increasing, the continuing need to ‘be in touch’ and the explosion in social media use, driver inattention is also likely to become a regularly recorded factor in crash data.  

Getting there safely really comes down to three things: the journey, the vehicle and the driver. 

The Journey

It’s all about planning: if you’ve decided to go somewhere, it’s worth remembering that accidents peak in the morning and late afternoon, so where possible (and often it isn’t) why not avoid these times?  

The Vehicle

We wouldn’t get on a plane that we knew wasn’t in good condition, regularly serviced and well-maintained, so should we accept a lesser standard for a statistically more dangerous undertaking?  Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained, undertaking regular POWER checks on the essentials between services – Petrol (Fuel), Oil, Water (all levels), Electrics, Rubber (tyres and wipers).  

The Driver

We may know our vehicle is in good shape, but are we?  Fatigue, drugs/medicines, and alcohol can all seriously affect our ability to drive but the big contributors in crashes relate to driver errors such as making the wrong decisions about speed, being inattentive/failing to look properly or being distracted by something inside or outside the car.

  So, to avoid being a statistic, here are some simple steps:

  • Plan your journey, allowing some extra time for hold-ups.

  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and ready for the road.

  • Make sure you are in a fit state, both mentally and physically, to drive.

  • Drive with consideration for other road users.

  • Drive within the limit, and at an appropriate speed for the location and conditions.

  • Do not use electronic devices while driving.

  • Concentrate on the driving task and nothing else.

  • Stay aware of all that is going on round about you.

  • Treat every other road user as a potential hazard and be ready to react should a situation develop.

  • Wear a seatbelt, and make sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained.

  Drive safe, home safe.