Is it possible to discover who is most at risk on the roads at any particular moment of time?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly to some readers and road users, is an emphatic YES.

Almost without fail an experienced Road Safety Researcher or Professional Driving Assessor would be able to sit with any driver and identify what risks they subconsciously take in their normal day-to-day driving. They can even recognise and identify which errors are subconscious and which are unconscious ones.

What they are looking for are examples of unsafe behaviour - almost always the result of poor or distracted observation - which at another time or place could easily result in a crash. The only reason most people avoid having a number of car crashes every day of their driving lives, is nothing to do with their own skills, luck, or inbuilt safety behaviour; but is almost certainly due to late avoiding action preventing them from arriving at a crash impact point at the same time as another road user whose skill is as poor as theirs. If they are lucky it may be due to the fact that an oncoming driver took that suitable avoiding action early enough, this time. Fortunately, however, most potential crashes are avoided "by accident".

Those drivers who are least at risk are those who regard each driving journey they take as the most important action they are taking at that time. Each time you arrive safely at the end of a journey and you weren't aware of every decision you made you should proffer some form of thanks, or prayer or gift to which god you believe helped you through that journey. Next time perhaps you might like to take responsibility for your own safety and not rely on any unknown or even unbelievable fate or, worse still, put your safety in the hands of another road user who performs on the road as badly as you do?


"Parked Safely at last!"


Those who are safe - on this particular journey - will be those who plan, who look, who observe and perceive, and then take correct driving actions all of the time.

Do you plan positively?

Do you always travel and arrive safely?

How do you knowthat your driving habits are safe?

Why don't you put your driving skills to a professional assessment?

Can you remember how many times you changed gear in the last five miles you travelled?



Dr Peter Russell

Professor of Road Safety Education Research

D. E. R. F.


This is a copy of part of a presentation made recently to an International Conference on child safety on the roads.


Child Safety on the Roads

Much has been written about children at risk on the road, initially at risk from other road users but mostly about being at risk when they first take to the roads as fully qualified, but totally inexperienced, motorists. However, please do not assume that children learn to drive cars only from their professional or amateur driving instructors. All they want to learn from these people is how to perform those sacred exercises and manoeuvres which will enable them to get that all important driving licence. In some countries driving instructors are often referred to as ‘Test-tipsters’. What youngsters often fail to understand is that this licence to drive is really a licence to practise and learn more on their own. However it is often taken as a licence to experiment with risk of death.

Learning how to behave on the road begins with children’s first journeys out in pushchairs, and later as they sit in the passenger seats of their family vehicles. Isn’t it strange that new mothers take every possible safety care for the new born infants, except when they regularly push them between parked cars straight into the path of oncoming traffic at child’s eye and bumper level?

Stage One: 1-5
The Reluctant Passenger:
Locked in their car seats children watch their mothers ignore, or fail to see, dangers from approaching traffic situations; or are amazed to see father overtaking unsafely and getting away with it again and again: even up to 99 times out of a hundred.

Stage Two: 6-14
The Attentive Co-driver

These children sit in the passenger seat absorbing everything that drivers say and do. They learn how to make maximum progress at the highest possible speed in most cases, and with total disregard of other road users and their needs in others. Their range of vocabulary increases dramatically too at times.

These children sit in the passenger seat absorbing everything that drivers say and do. They learn how to make maximum progress at the highest possible speed in most cases, and with total disregard of other road users and their needs in others.Their range of vocabulary increases dramatically too at times.

Stage Three: 14-17
The Absorbent Observer

They now recognise the need to gain their own personal driving licence; they also identify what the other people do. Brighter children recognise that there are two different aims in life: pass a test to get a licence; use that licence to drive as other drivers apparently do.
So who do they learn from? Some recent research shows:-
5% from mother - or their occasional chauffeur;
20% from father – or from whomever they sit with most; 40% from their peers at school and college
20% from films and from other road users who bend the rules whenever the need arises.
15% reluctantly – from their driving instructor

Stage Four: 17-22
The Inefficient Risk-Taker …
(A Crash Waiting to Happen)
Their confidence changes dramatically from nil to over-kill within six months of passing their tests. Many of them are readily identified in Insurance Car-Crash Claim forms. “I was crossing the crossroads under control when this other idiot suddenly decided to cross at the same time”.

(If anyone detects any apparent denigration of female drivers in the previous few paragraphs,, … perhaps I may be allowed to address this in detail with all the accompanying research and evidence in a future article.)

Women drive differently from men. in some ways they have more crashes per road mile; but the crashes they have are usually at much lower speeds, therefore are not so expensive.



Professor Peter Russell

November 2006





Meanwhile you may wish to take the following two assessments of your own attitudes and behavioural style

A Personal Assessment
(Some personal questions)

What sort of driver are you? Name....................... Date …………….

Please select the answer closest to your normal attitude towards driving
Circle a, b or c below

a I hate large vehicles around me whilst I am driving
b I don’t mind other large vehicles around me at any time
c I enjoy jockeying for position with LGVs and others.


a I worry about my route when I’m on strange roads.
b If I get lost it doesn’t matter very much at all
c If I get lost, I will stop anywhere to look at the map.


a I often imagine an accident happening whilst I’m driving
b I actively plan my driving to avoid accident and risks
c I know my driving is good; I control my road situation.


a If others wish to overtake I slow down immediately
b I am quite happy to allow others vehicles to overtake - always
c I hate being overtaken by other cars similar to my own.


a I worry in case my brakes or any part of my car might fail
b I always have an escape route in mind when driving
c I know my car has been well serviced and I trust it.


a I usually end a long drive feeling exhausted
b At the end of a long drive I like to relax
c Driving long distances keeps the adrenalin flowing


a If I hear a horn sound I get self conscious
b I would wonder who was being hooted
c I sound my horn at them even louder.


a I get nervous when I am following lots of other vehicles
b I am quite happy to stay behind and follow a good driver
c I try to make maximum headway at all times.


a I hate driving at night or in very bad weather
b I have to concentrate much harder at night or in bad weather
c I can drive much faster at night in the dark or in the rain.


a I approach green traffic lights slowing down
b I try to adjust my speed to arrive as the lights change to green
c I know that the amber light always gives you a safety margin.

This is not a competition of course, but giving honest answers enables us to be more aware of ourselves as drivers - and people!
Score ______ As ______ Bs ______ Cs



Am I an Anxious driver? Average ? or Aggressive ?

How many B’s did you get? A reasonable proportion is 1 A; 8 Bs and 1 C.
Are You an Anxious or an Aggressive Driver? Or is there an alternative?

One of the problems with driving is the Isolation factor. You never see any other driver properly. You look at them and note the kind of car they drive and sometimes the way it is being driven. You may even make a judgement of their age, social grouping, or even what sort of job you think they may hold down. But you rarely see them as a person. You normally only see a blue Escort or Golf Gti and assume that the driver is sporty, rich, fast, docile, sluggish, or just a pratt, based on what you observe about the vehicle, and the way it is driven.

Personal characteristics matter. You have just answered some questions on anxiety and aggression. Not only are your answers likely to be different from everyone else in the room, even if your marks are exactly the same as the person next to you, the degrees of variation are still considerable.

You will have realised that there were no correct answers to the questions posed, only that they should be correct from your own point of view, if you are to understand yourself a little bit better. It is only by understanding yourself and how your moods may change when you are driving, that you are likely to begin to understand how other drivers’ minds work, and how other people’s behaviour can change as the result of internal or external pressures. All drivers are susceptible to changes in conditions of weather, traffic, work, relationships, or even their hormones. The more we study ourselves as drivers the more we see the need to make allowance for other road users’ feelings and errors.

Road traffic incidents are caused by human behaviour. Or to be more precise, by their misbehaviour. Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who obey the rules, and who only meet others obeying the same rules will rarely come into conflict. But even if you never break the rules (of the Highway Code) yourself, it would be ridiculous to assume you are safe from others who will and do. The principles of ‘Defensive Driving’ are that we must assume all other drivers around us will be breaking the rules all the time. But our own attitude towards them is to keep a safe distance from them and their potential accidents all the time. Looking for our own potential vulnerability or involvement, and actively deciding how we can avoid becoming ensnared in other people’s incidents, are the main aims of our driving.

Each error that we make is really a silly or a stupid action. Two road users each committing a silly error together can lead to a confrontation and become a minor incident. If one of those road users commits a stupid error at the same time as the other is silly, then the results can be more harmful. Two stupid errors combine to result in death and serious injury. If we replace those words silly and stupid with minor and serious, we can put them into DSA perspective. Risk assessment, risk identification and risk avoidance is what our driving job is really all about.

Defensive driver training, in layman’s terms, simply means never making any silly error when there is any danger of anyone else making a silly or stupid error at the same time. And, more to the point, never risk making a stupid error.

A Second Personal Assessment
(Where you might get some impertinent answers)

Ask your regular passenger -
What sort of driver am I really? Name....................... Date …………

Please select the answer closest to my normal attitude towards driving
Circle a, b or c below

a I try to ignore what other drivers do whilst I am driving
b Other drivers’ bad habits give me safety warnings
c Other drivers and their bad habits annoy me at times.


a I ignore other drivers who want to cut in on me
b If other drivers cut in I drop back to give myself room
c If other drivers want to cut in I close the gap on them


a I would never use the horn on my car
b If I ever use the horn I usually brake as well
c I sound my horn at least once a day in normal driving.


a I sometimes frighten myself when I am driving
b I consciously try not to frighten anyone when I am driving
c I am not aware of anyone ever being frightened by me.


a If I am annoyed by anyone I save my anger until later
b If someone annoys me I let them get well away from me
c If someone annoys me I might give chase for a while.


a I never flash my lights as it is potentially dangerous
b I only flash my lights to warn others of my presence
c I often flash my lights to tell other drivers off!.


a I choose my speed to suit the mood I am in
b I only drive at the safest speed for that time and place
c I drive faster when I don’t have a passenger to distract me.


a Certain types of drivers and their cars annoy me
b Every driver has his own reasons for what he does
c I get cross with reps and obvious drivers of company cars.


a Other drivers sometimes make rude gestures at me
b I never gesture rudely or otherwise to anyone
c I make occasional rude gestures at bad or unsafe drivers.


a I have lost control of my car on occasions
b I always try to be in total control of my car
c My car is always perfectly under control.


This is not a competition of course, but someone else’s honest answers enables us to be much more aware of ourselves as drivers!
Score ______ As ______ Bs ______ Cs

(Your Name)…… . is an Anxious driver; or Average; or Aggressive ?



Did your regular passenger give you a majority of B answers? If not, why not?
A Personal Behaviour Assessment
Are you really Anxious or Aggressive? Or are you just Average? How can you become well a “Well Above Average” driver instead?

How can you find out? How can you change your attitudes towards other road users to make you safer, and become an ‘Advanced - or better still - Defensive’ Driver?

There are two parallel paths of training to be followed. Initially we need to think in terms of Vehicle Control, which itself has three stages; and also
of Situation Control, which is achieved through the application of Forward Planning to ensure full Hazard Perception.

The Three Stages of Vehicle Control are:-

• Smoothness of the transmission chain, which is effected through:

the accelerator to the engine,

clutch and gears, and then to the

transmission and the driving wheels;

• Maintenance of equal grip by all four tyres throughout bends and any change of direction; and

• Correct positioning and adjustment of speed of the vehicle through opening and closing bends.

Situation Control appears to be a little more difficult to pin down in stages. It is really dependent upon your abilities to look as far ahead as possible and take note of all that is happening, is likely to happen and that which might conceivably happen; and at the same time make contingency plans for each option. This can only be done by applying a consistent driving plan. If the plan is used consistently the driver can rely on quick reactions and excellent observational skills to maintain total control over any potential situation change. Skilful drivers often believe their reactions will always get them out of problems created by their lack of observation. Others hope they can rely on excellent observation to make up for weak reactions. Foolish drivers are those who rely on the safe actions of all other road users to keep them from danger. This is what Situation Control is all about - making sure that your own vehicle and its occupants remain perfectly safe regardless of what any other rod user may do.

This is why the DSA system of driving test marking is so successful. Dangerous and serious errors are automatic causes of failure at any stage of testing. Minor errors are only acceptable, (to the DSA), for those drivers who are taking their initial ? driving test. Advanced driving assessments cannot allow even minor errors to be ignored. Uncorrected and repeated, minor errors are the real cause of most road traffic accidents. Advanced and defensive driver training courses are aimed at identifying and removing or reducing all minor errors. Repeated minor errors eventually kill.

Aggressive and anxious drivers consistently make more errors. Minor errors make drivers vulnerable. Repeated minor errors inevitably lead into a confrontation. Unresolved confrontations rapidly turn into a crisis. At this stage vehicle control skills might help; provided everyone involved uses them. Unless the crisis is averted it becomes another road traffic incident.

To everyone else it may be a statistic; to those involved it is often a matter of life or death.