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Shed those delusions of immortality!

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Both pedestrians and drivers need to overcome delusions of immortality to become pragmatic and safe road-users. A little common sense may also need to be injected into road-safety education for school children, which addresses not just driving lessons but also pedestrian safety, says ROB HANDFIELD-JONES

With summer on its way, ice-cream carts have started to re-appear on our roads, and apart from the hand-pushed barrows and three-wheeler pedal cycle versions, one of the ice-cream companies has conjured up a motorcycle and sidecar configuration.

So the other day I was out walking the dog and came across an unusual convoy – a motorcycle plus sidecar version of an ice-cream cart towing a colleague on a three-wheeler pedal version, to provide him some relief at the end of what must have been a hot and tiring day. The problem is those little pedal versions were never designed to do 60 km/h, nor do they have suspension to cope with bumpy roads. As the combination whizzed past me, it hit a bump and the towed three-wheeler did a terrifying dance from left to right. I fully expected it to high-side itself and fling the rider into the oncoming traffic, but the damage was miraculously limited to the lid of the ice-cream container flying off into the gutter, from where it was sheepishly retrieved by the rider after they came to a stop.

This somewhat humorous episode conceals the darker reality of road safety: nobody thinks they will die in a traffic crash, and they use the roads accordingly.

The other evening, for example, I was driving past a shopping centre with pedestrians milling around on the pavement. In the throng I caught a glance of a toddler, literally not more than two or three years old. There was no parent restraining the child, who wandered off the pavement into my lane. Had it not been myself or another defensive driver at the wheel, that child would now be dead. And in the wake of that death, the driver would have been roundly condemned, the usual clichés about speed would have been trotted out and discussions would have been held about the need to better separate pedestrians and traffic. Yet nobody would have addressed the parents thus: “You know what happens to a toddler when a 1,5-ton vehicle hits it and then runs over it. So why leave your child to roam free next to a busy road?”

This invites the further question of whether parents actually do know these things, and what quality of road safety education is being provided at school level. I don’t mean in comparatively advanced concepts like how to drive a car, but in basics such as that when a person is hit by a car doing 60 km/h, it’s like taking a sledgehammer to their head.

Almost all road users suffer deep-seated delusions of immortality which manifest as dangerous driving, or the belief that their toddlers will never be run over, or that it’s perfectly safe for a motorcycle and sidecar to tow a three-wheeler ice-cream cart at 60 km/h. We cannot hope to strive towards improved road safety until people shed these delusions and realise – with pragmatism rather than paranoia – that road use is potentially fatal.


Rob Handfield-Jones has spent 20 years indulging his three passions: vehicles, road safety and writing. He heads up, a company which offers training in economical and safe driving.


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