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Other causes of impairments to driving

When you take your medication in the morning have you ever thought that you could be over the limit for driving? In addition to the drowsiness that some medication can cause, the tinting in some sunglasses can cause vision impairments resulting from a conflict with the tints in modern car windscreens. If you require sunglasses for driving then visit your local optician to make sure you are safe before you drive.

The Road Safety Agency has requested extra powers to allow the police to stop and test drivers for alcohol and drugs.  Currently, in order for police to test a driver for drink or drugs, there must be something evidently wrong with their vehicle. Many people have been asking for the urgent approval of roadside tests for drugs.

The Home Office Scientific Development Branch is currently developing a portable drugs screening device for use at the roadside. The Home Office is also investigating the feasibility of a handheld roadside screening device that can measure a driver’s impairments, whether from drink or drugs, or even tiredness. If this is approved, it will deliver a quick ‘yes or no’ verdict on whether a person is fit to drive.

In addition, the Government and Road Safety Agencies are considering introducing a ‘FIT’ test, where highly trained police officers as drivers, to carry out a range of simple physical competency activities such as walking in a straight line and touching their noses. This may sound silly, but these basic tests are effective at identifying many drug users.

The Road Safety Agency want to see convicted drink and drug-drivers undergo a compulsory rehabilitation course before being allowed to regain their driving licenses.

Tired drivers

Tired driving must be taken as seriously as any other types impaired driving, such as drink-driving Experts estimated that tiredness causes 10% of fatal crashes on the United Kingdom’s roads. This statistic rises to 20% if must fatal crashes on motorways and other “monotonous” roads are considered. However, until recently the courts regarded tiredness as mitigating factor for drivers causing crashes, rather than the direct cause of the crash.

The most effective campaigns to stop drivers taking risks on the road use of a combination of driver education, enforcements of safe behaviour and the introduction of road safety features. Safety barriers (crash barriers designed to absorb the impact of vehicles hitting them) can help minimise the knock-on affects of a driver loosing control of their car.

The Selby crash, where tiredness caused a man to drive off the M62 onto a rail line causing the death of 10 people on the train that collided with his car in February 2001, prompted a Government enquiry into the design of road/rail interfaces. It concluded that the Department for Transport guidance on the design of crash barriers, which state that safety barriers should be a minimum of 30 meters long, had not been breached where the car left the road.

However the recommended lengths of barriers do not take into account the characteristics, such as bends and bridges of railway lines, of individual roads. As a result of the Selby crash, the Department for Transport developed an “assessment tool”, released in February 2002, for authorities to assess what protection, such as safety barriers, is required where roads cross rail lines.

According to Professor John Knapton, a leading structural engineer, many local authorities that have carried out safety audits are unable to undertake what is the required because of lack of resources. Knapton estimates there are up to 500 rural bridges over high-speed railway lines with very little protection from drivers loosing control for any reason. A tried driver colliding with a roadside barrier is likely to do so at speed, as they are unlikely to brake.

The Government intends to make at lease £10 million available to local authorities and require them to carry out the essential improvements to safety barriers on bridges. The minimum 30 meter length of crash barrier is not always appropriate, for example on a bend in the road. The Highways Agency should assess crash barriers on all trunk roads, make crash barriers longer where necessary and use the most effective system of barriers for the individual road.

The Highways’ Agency will have to provide frequent places for drivers to take rest breaks by the side of all roads in well-lit parking areas, with toilets and a coffee machine. They will have to be separated from the road by good crash barriers and pedestrian railings.  Rest areas like this are commonplace in continental Europe.

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