by Ruth Cawley
Out team at Oxygen.ie are waiting with bated breath for the SMEDIAS 2024 to begin. We are thrilled to announce that one of the esteemed sponsors of the event is the Road Safety Authority (RSA). For the uninitiated, the RSA is an agency of the Department of Transport in Ireland with its own established non-executive board. Its primary mission is to ensure the safety of Irish roads for everyone by actively intervening to lower the quantity and severity of vehicle collisions. The RSA is nationally regarded as the leading expert on this subject as well as building awareness around road safety and collaborating with other governmental bodies.
Everyone is affected by road safety standards, even students who do not actively drive. Students especially experience dangers on the road when they are commuting to and from college, when they are on a night out, or even when going to work. This applies to drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Therefore, being aware of the most prominent dangers on the road is paramount.
There are road hazards that you can control and those you cannot. We at Oxygen.ie have compiled a list of things for new drivers to be aware of and prepare for. The first list consists of things directly related to drivers’ own behaviour while behind the wheel and thus, have total control over:
1) Using phones while driving: Younger drivers are too often culprits of using phones behind the wheel. Not only is this action illegal, but you are putting yourself and others at much greater risk by voluntarily splitting your attention between mobile notifications and the road ahead of you. According to statistics from the National Safety Council, mobile phone usage while driving causes approximately 1.6 million crashes per year and resulting in almost 330,000 injuries.
2) Driving under the influence: This is one of the most important rules of the road. Alcohol and drugs cloud your awareness and ability to react in the moment to traffic. Once again, younger or inexperienced drivers may feel more comfortable with taking risks because they have the mentality of ‘this wouldn’t happen to me’. Many also feel they are ‘sober enough’ to drive home after participating in recreational drug and alcohol use. Spoiler alert: you’re not. The RSA’s annual data shows that 73% of people agree driving under the influence is never acceptable among friends and peers. Unfortunately, this rate has declined by 12% in the last five years. The Irish Times recently reported that one in ten Irish drivers admit to driving under alcoholic influence in the last year.
3) Not fastening your seat belt: One of the first things we learn as children is to fasten our seat belts in the car. There is a reason for this – they save your life in the event of a collision. In the event of a collision or sudden stop, they prevent the wearer from flying forwards in the seat or through the windshield. Therefore, the proper use of a seatbelt reduces injuries and fatalities by almost 50%. It can often be the difference between life and death.
4) Overcrowding the vehicle: While it’s great to drive with your friends and have fun with them on a road trip, be mindful that you are not distracted by what’s going on in the back seats. Overcrowding the vehicle can lead to the weight capacity being pushed to the limit, or simply cause people to forget to wear seat belts by mistake.
5) Speeding: As one of the most common causes of road accidents, speeding is very risky on the road. While you might be in a hurry to get to college, work, or anywhere else, there is nothing more important than your safety. The phrase ‘better safe than sorry’ applies here. Speeding increases the likelihood of your crashing the car and sustaining road-related injuries as you have less time to react to your surroundings.
Alternatively, there are hazards that we cannot control, no matter how much we would like to. However, we do have methods to lessen the risk of such hazards, often through being aware of their existence and following advice from the RSA and other associated road safety bodies:
1) Weather conditions and slippery surfaces: Considering Ireland recently experienced storm warnings, this is important to factor into your road journeys. The RSA outlines that drivers ought to leave a gap of approximately 102 metres (equal to twenty-six car lengths) in dry conditions. This stopping distance should be doubled for wet conditions, i.e. approximately 169 metres. Excessive rain, snow, sleet, and ice causes road surfaces to become slippery and slows down vehicles’ reactions times. In this scenario, it is recommended by the RSA to significantly slow down your vehicle and allow for ten times the distance for braking. While younger or inexperienced drivers might see this as overkill, it is ultimately an effective precaution to prevent traffic collisions. Better safe than sorry!
2) Other road users: The road is not only in use by vehicles and drivers, but by a multitude of pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles. Keep a keen eye out for them on the roads whether they are in their own lanes or about to cross into traffic. You cannot really predict the behaviour of others, so be prepared for anything. The RSA advises to decrease speed when roads become very busy and if you encounter pedestrians and cyclists. You should also give them a wider breadth for movement and overtaking as well as consistently check your blind spots to ensure you are not caught off-guard. Navigating busy roads can be stressful, so take it one step at a time. Take heed of the space around you and stopping distances.
3) Physical obstacles: Bends and potholes are among those road features that can be difficult to navigate around and sometimes catch drivers unawares. Bends in the road can be sharp or unseen up until the last possible second, so it is wise to be on the lookout for them and signage that might alert you to them. Potholes are another common hazard on roads which can damage your tyres or knock your vehicle off-course. The RSA suggests that one should keep a spare tyre in the boot in case of a puncture. However, it would be ideal to simply steer around potholes to avoid damage.
As we at Oxygen.ie have outlined some of the most hazardous obstacles on the road, we hope that students will take them into consideration on their next road journey. The RSA has additional information about road safety on their website, as well as guides on how to apply for driving lessons and testing.