The main ways people are encouraged to drive sensibly and within the road rules are fear-based. Road rules have penalties and demerit points attached to modify our behaviour, and the consequences of having an accident can be socially and emotionally devastating. The Transport for NSW Centre for Road Safety runs a number of campaigns in the media to drive awareness of dangers on the road, and there are many other ways in which our driving is influenced by our friends, the government, vehicle manufacturers and other parties.
Driving laws allow for fines and demerits to be applied when a driver is caught breaking specific laws. Fines on their own wouldn’t work because they don’t affect wealthy people so severely (which is why countries like Finland give larger fines to people that earn more). Demerit points, on the other hand, stack up and if you earn enough of them you lose your licence. Double demerit points apply on holidays and long weekends. It’s this reduction in mobility and convenience that is a huge factor.
So, the government has had to come up with a balance of allowing a few minor indiscretions (e.g. four three-point offences) before a disqualification. This system is a blunt tool and works reasonably well, but it doesn’t stop speeding unless people are caught, for example.
The price of oil is a factor in fuel prices, but not a huge factor. The government places large amounts of tax on fuel and this makes fuel fairly expensive compared to other countries. For some people, the price of fuel modifies their behaviour to drive less aggressively and more smoothly. This would tend to reduce the risk of accidents.
People have an increasing awareness of the environment and how their fuel use affects carbon emissions. Some drivers choose to drive less aggressively (or just drive less) to reduce their carbon footprint.
Black box data loggers
Particularly common in the UK for monitoring new drivers so that they can afford insurance there, a black box recorder records all aspects of how a driver drives, usually called vehicle telematics. If he or she exceeds the recommended parameters (usually speed and/or acceleration and/or cornering force), the insurance company may refuse to ensure them or increase their premiums. This insurance has been available in Australia since 2013 through Insurance Box. If all insurers moved to this type of system it could have a mass effect on people’s driving (and we’re not saying that all the effects would necessarily be good).
While not that common among car drivers in Australia, truck drivers and motorbike riders are earlier adopters. For any road user a dashboard camera can be used to help prove fault or blame in an accident, but it also highlights your own indiscretions. In some countries (e.g. Russia), dashboard cameras are used extensively to reduce insurance fraud.
No claims bonus
Insurance companies offer a no claims bonus to people who remain accident-free. This is an extra reason to avoid accidents because of the financial penalty.
Road design can influence driving immensely. People automatically speed up when the road is widened because they feel safer and slow down when it is narrowed because they feel less safe. Many drivers are not aware that they do this, either.
Road design can also be made safer by enabling drivers to better judge an appropriate speed, and giving more leeway to drivers if they do make a mistake.
Many campaigns have focused on consequences to your friends and family of an accident, e.g. the ‘How sorry will you be’ interactive ad.
These types of peer pressure ads are used extensively overseas, for example in the UK young drivers were told not to ‘drive stupid’ and in New Zealand the award-winning ad ‘Mistakes’ had a powerful impact
Technical limitations and restrictions
Vehicle manufacturers include technology such as traction control and electronic stability control which, as well as having a definite safety advantage, also helps prevent anti-social behaviour.
Systems that activate a warning when a vehicle in front brakes heavily, and also provide feedback about following distances can help modify behaviour.
Some insurance companies already give you a discount if you have systems such as automated braking.
The ‘test your tired self‘ campaign brought awareness to drivers about driving tired and allowed them to check their memory, reactions and cognitive speed.
What else could be done
Some vehicle manufacturers have introduced mild forms of gamification into their cars. For example, in the Hyundai Veloster you can play a game where you try to beat your fuel economy score. Other systems could be included in cars which help drivers make better choices by grading their driving. There are apps that do this already. Systems like vehicle telematics insurance monitor all the right data, but don’t provide the rewards needed to ‘gamify’ the system.
What will happen in the future
Autonomous cars are the future, and they will drive us while staying within the road rules. This could be a decade away, though.
Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists