Road Safety News

'Licence to Kill' highlights tragedy of road collisions - but will it make a real difference?

Thursday 25th April 2013

The BBC documentary 'Licence to Kill' did an excellent job of reminding people of the tragedy caused by road collisions but offered little in terms of solutions to the problem of high casualty rates caused by young drivers.

Licence to Kill was broadcast on BBC3 yesterday evening (24/4/13). The one-hour documentary was presented by Sophie Morgan who was left a paraplegic after being involved in a road traffic collision when she was aged 18.

The programme makers said it would focus on the reasons for, and consequences of, poor driving among 17 – 24 year olds, and look at possible measures to address the high casualty rate among young drivers including examples of road safety educational provision from across the UK.

Nick Rawlings, editor of Road Safety News, said: "The programme did an excellent job in terms of highlighting the pain and heartbreak suffered by victims of road traffic collisions and their friends and families - but this is something that road safety professionals, charities and other stakeholders have been doing for many, many years.

"However, it did not offer any new thinking about how to address the issue of high casualty rates among young drivers and their passengers - and the dangers that young drivers can pose to other road users.

"The programme did feature Surrey's 'Safe Drive Stay Alive' initiative which has been around since 2005 and has been replicated in part by others.

"Rather than relying on the opinions and conclusions of the presenter, it would have been much more interesting if the programme had included contributions from experts who have studied young drivers in a professional capacity.

"It would have been interesting to hear from the likes of the psychologist Professor Steve Stradling who has spent much of his working life focusing on how young drivers' minds operate, or Professor Sarah Jones who, after several years of research, has concluded that graduated driver licencing has a part to play in reducing casualties.

"It would also have been interesting if the programme had looked at the potential for 'black box' and other technology, or at training interventions such as Durham's EXCELerate programme.

"We must remember, however, that the programme was for general consumption and not specifically for road safety professionals. On balance, I think Licence to Kill has done more good than harm, but I don't think the programme will make a lasting or significant contribution to reducing casualties caused by young drivers."


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I wouldn’t disagree with Eric’s interpretation of what the speed related phrases have come to mean to different people in his last but one comment, but it’s the use of the word ‘inappropriate’ that has crept in to the road safety vocabulary that I’m questioning – are we afraid to say “too fast” when it needs to be said? In other spheres, the word ‘inappropriate’ has come to be used when someone wants to tone down or excuse something that would otherwise invite disapproval.

Again, I agree with Eric that locals do report speeding traffic when a lot of it is actually under the posted limit - invariably a ‘30’ - but nevertheless they may still feel threatened and intimidated by these actual - but not illegal - speeds and therefore all the more reason why for certain roads, a ‘20’ limit would be better.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

You highlight the public's inability to distinguish issues. "Speeding" is overused in reporting by the public and the media, eg. "Killed by a speeding car" when the driver was high on drink or drugs (the root cause of the tragedy). The overuse of "speeding" has devalued it as a useful term, as is evidenced when locals report "speeding traffic" but monitoring reveals most drivers are within the limit.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (6) | Disagree (8)

I think the terms are interchangeable - to the man in the street or the community complaining of 'speeding', they usually mean 'too fast'! In all the years of working in this field, I don't recall any member of the public oomplaining of 'inappropriate speed' along their road, it was 'speeding'. A witness to a RTC would probably use the words "..he/she was going too fast..." not ".. at an inappropriate speed..", before making inappropriate (colliding) contact withn a tree.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (3)

Surely "speeding" normally means "exceeding the speed limit". "Driving too fast" suggests "too fast for the conditions". Inappropriate speed usually means too fast [for the conditions], but could validly mean too slow.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (5) | Disagree (6)

Wording can be important. I was involved in some young driver research a few years back in which there was a difference in the perceived level of danger between 'speeding' and 'driving too fast' - with the latter being deemed more dangerous.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)

I think most people would regard the meanings of 'speeding' and 'inappropriate speed' to be the same i.e. 'driving too fast'! It's like suggesting there's a difference between 'tailgating' and 'driving at an inappropriate distance behind the vehicle in front'.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

I thought it was a good insight to show non road safety people what some of the key issues are. However I do agree that it failed to show the difference between speeding and inappropriate speed which is a huge issue for us and is addressed through the wasted lives young driver education programme.
Rhiannon, Lancashire

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)

The BBC stated their programme would investigate “...why traffic collisions are the single biggest killer of young people...” yet all they reported was “speeding”. They failed to point out that the vast majority of deaths occur when drivers are not speeding.

Not a single mention of alcohol, nothing on seatbelts, virtually nothing on the single biggest killer “loss of control” within the speed limit, no investigation of the second biggest killer “failed to look properly”. And this is sadly typical of BBC road safety programmes.

People are dying and we need policies based on evidence, not emotion, opinion or good intentions. Furthermore, we have limited resources. Support the wrong policies, and more people will die.

Young people are intelligent and responsible. Tell them the truth and they can protect themselves, deceive them and they will carry on dying for the reasons we know, but failed to explain.
Dave, Slough

Agree (8) | Disagree (9)

Having watched this twice now I really fail to see what is ment by appalling research.

They used real people who had suffered, and real incidents. These were not actors, these are real people who have gone through a tragic experience. It just seems to me that all gets forgotten on here some times.

Some are focused to much on data, statistics, evaluation, authority bashing and defending jobs. What is fact is it happens far to much and too often! Sticking your head in the sand and saying do nothing is not an option, saying it happens and it is an accident is not an option. denying that there is no evidence that aspects of RTCs are the cause is crazy.

If the Man City player was not driving at speed the accident would not have been so serious, end of. There are bad road safety professionals and good road safety professionals as there is good and bad in all things including so called independents.

It's time to focus that not everything in life is certain and can be measured to 0% probability. Some things work some don't, but its about the lives that are destroyed - is why we do what we do.
Anthony, Nottingham

Agree (12) | Disagree (4)

“Licence to Kill” was yet another in a long line of BBC road safety programmes with such appalling research that it looks like the BBC may be pursuing a political agenda in road safety.

“Licence to Kill” did expose the pain, trauma and devastation following serious collisions but the programme completely failed to full fill its own remit “...why traffic collisions are the single biggest killer of young people...”.

Instead, the entire programme was devoted to “speeding”, even though over 86% of fatal collisions occur within the speed limit.

If we believe that road safety media works (changes behaviour), then telling the public why collisions occur will allow such crashes to be avoided, and lives will be saved. But the opposite will also be true, if the public are given false information, people will be killed.

In that respect “Licence to Kill” was a very dangerous programme.
Dave, Slough

Agree (6) | Disagree (20)

Just finished watching this programme and thought it a good antidote to the 'Barely Legal Drivers' series. Good also to see the role that speed plays was emphasised and not glossed over or diminished either.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (4)

It's interesting that the comparison to rail & air safety is being drawn with road safety by a number of individuals on this site. In air and rail travel more and more systems are being introduced which remove the opportunity for human error (the largest cause of collisions in road travel) and yet when such systems are suggested for cars they are met with resistance. The phrase 'you can't have your cake and eat it' springs to mind.
Dave, Leeds

Agree (19) | Disagree (7)

You have argued many times on this newsfeed for the use of what you refer to as 'scientific trials' to measure the effectiveness of road safety interventions. While I have no doubt that in some circumstances there is merit in this, for reasons Honor has outlined below it is often not easy to assess road safety education, training and publicity initiatives in a black and white manner. It is important to evaluate the effect of every intervention, but the results may not produce a simple conclusion such as 'yes it reduced casualties', or 'no it didn't'.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed

Agree (28) | Disagree (3)

I would agree Honor if the authorities had performed minimum basic safety analysis, but they haven't. Having just installed interventions anyway, the authorities have no method to measure “selection effects” (or RTM, regression to the mean). If they can't measure the largest effect, what chance of the smaller effect of the intervention?

But, to get back on topic, the BBC has never really questioned the quality of evidence so far as I'm aware and has continually broadcast road safety programmes with, at best, very poor research and, at worst, have taken a political position to support current policies, irrespective of the evidence.

Road safety analysis needs to be taken seriously, like aircraft safety, railway safety, electrical safety, etc.
Dave, Slough

Agree (6) | Disagree (20)

You could apply the same argument to many endeavours. For example: how do you measure the effectiveness of education? By the number of people who can read and write by a certain age? What age? Or employed or not? Full time or part time? This is influenced by factors beyond just education including upbringing, ability and potential, opportunity, the economy and so on.

Or perhaps measure the percentage of university students who attain degrees - but then how many of them are working in the field in which they obtained their degree after 5 or 10 years? Or working at all 12 or 18 months after graduation? Does that mean that their entire education was a waste of time and money? I don’t think so.

It is time to move on from the narrow, simplistic “prove it saves lives or stop doing it" approach to take a broader and more sensible view: no one thing is the key to prevention and things evolve just as education, technology and culture also evolve.

That education and advertising are effective in principle is well proven and accepted. What is needed in road safety and road user education is a well-founded approach that is soundly based, flexible, regularly reviewed and developed. Some ideas will not work in practice and they should be changed to make them work or discontinued, others will make a valuable contribution and warrant expansion. It is an ever evolving field that is interrelated with the whole of life and living, it doesn't stand in isolation.
Honor Byford, Vice Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (33) | Disagree (0)

You ask a very important question, Honor, “... how would you discount all other factors or influences ...”? Road safety authorities have had real problems with that analysis, even being unable to measure the largest influences, and not just for education interventions. Having failed to produce acceptable standards of testing and analysis, there then follows endless debate about what effects interventions might have had, all at huge cost to society.

The BBC needs to research their subject, rather than present as fact whatever they are told by those with vested interest. It's not difficult, although I suspect it's a bit like when Galileo said the earth was not at the centre of the universe. The evidence was all there, but there was too much invested in the status quo!
Dave, Slough

Agree (5) | Disagree (13)

I would not expect a Road Safety education intervention to be measured against casualty data to assess effectiveness. This would be almost impossible to do - how would you discount all other factors or influences and over what period of time?

However, in common with education principles, the programme should be based on established educational theory and teaching practice and have set aims and outcomes e.g. "following this intervention, students will be able to..... or will demonstrate understanding of....." These can then be measured and reported on to see if it achieves its set aims.

A proper evaluation study will ask the appropriate questions before the event to establish baseline knowledge, then reassess shortly after and some weeks or even months after to demonstrate immediate and longer lasting effectiveness.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (24) | Disagree (3)

The BBC has a track record of very poor research into their road safety programmes. I used to ring them and point out not just where they had made errors, but where to find the evidence on official government websites. The BBC seemed uninterested and continued to make the same mistakes in each new programme, so I stopped ringing them.

I will watch this latest road safety programme with an open mind and will hope to be pleasantly surprised by the depth of research and unbiased reporting. You never know, the BBC might turn over a new leaf!
Dave, Slough

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

Good to see any serious road safety programmes and especially ones on young drivers getting onto mainstream TV. Perhaps BBC3 will run Cow as well? After all it made a huge impact when launched in 2009 and is still used as part of Pass Plus Cymru (Pass Plus in Wales). See previous RSGB article and comments
Pat, Wales

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)

As many a commentator has stated on these pages, we should be evidenced based/driven. Therefore I would rather expect this news item to contain some data about whether the Safe Drive, Stay Alive work has resulted in quantified casualty benefits in comparison to peer authorities. Of course the newsfeed can only paste what is provided by others, but something to bear in mind on a checklist before issuing a news item?

I like the sound of the new BBC3 programme (the serious one). Education of this form is likely to be useful if young drivers and their parents watch. An hour of national TV is good exposure.
pete, liverpool

Agree (16) | Disagree (2)