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Howard and Byrne Solicitors, York - Criminal Defence Specialists

Drivers regularly risking lives by tailgating on motorways

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12:01am 1st March 2012
(Updated 6:51am 1st March 2012)

More than half of drivers (53%) are risking deadly pile-ups on motorways by driving too close to the vehicle in front, according to research by Brake and Direct Line.

More drivers are taking this deadly risk compared to seven years ago (49%), and men are far more likely to do it than women, with a horrifying three in ten male drivers (30%) doing so at least weekly.

Brake warns that most drivers' failure to always keep a safe distance adds to the case against raising the motorway speed limit, currently being considered by government. At 80mph, stopping distances are 27% greater than at 70mph (122m on average compared to 96m at 70mph), meaning drivers are less able to stop in time in an emergency and avoid devastating crashes.

Brake is now calling on the government to scrap plans for 80mph limits, predicted to lead to 25 more deaths and 100 serious injuries every year, increase carbon emissions and costs to drivers.

Brake and Direct Line's survey of 942 drivers found that:

  • More than half (53%) admit breaking the two-second rule on motorways, compared to 49% in a similar Brake survey in 2004.
  • Men are far more likely to risk lives by driving too close than women: 61% of male drivers admit breaking the two-second rule on motorways, compared to 46% of women drivers. Twice as many men (30%) admit doing this weekly or more compared to women (15%).
  • Young drivers are slightly more likely to break the two second rule (56% compared to 53%), and are more likely to do this frequently. 30% of young drivers admitted to tailgating on motorways weekly or more, compared to 21% of older drivers.
  • In Great Britain in 2010, 263 people were killed and 1,445 seriously injured in road crashes on motorways and 70mph roads.

Julie Townsend, Brake deputy chief executive, said:

"Drivers who don't keep their distance increase the risk of pile-ups, which can and do result in multiple and violent deaths and injuries, and devastation for the families involved. We urge all drivers to realise the vital importance of the two second rule, and make a personal commitment to always stick to it. We are also appealing to the government to ditch proposals to raise the motorway limit - the fact most drivers aren't keeping their distance only adds to the case against this inhumane policy. Various researchers have predicted an 80mph limit will mean more lives cut short and more horrific injuries, while arguments in favour simply don't stand up to scrutiny."

Andy Goldby, Director of Motor Underwriting and Pricing for Direct Line Car Insurance, said:

"Driving too close to the car in front of you is asking for trouble. Doing it at speed and you're risking not only your own life but other road users' lives too. Whilst the UK's motorways have proportionately less crashes than other roads, crashes on these roads are more likely to be deadly because of the high speeds involved. We believe it is better to save lives than to save a few minutes of journey time."

Advice for drivers

Driving too close to the vehicle in front is incredibly dangerous, particularly at high speeds. The two-second gap drivers should leave on motorways gives them time to brake in an emergency.

Brake is urging all drivers to pledge to always keep a two-second gap behind the vehicle in front, and double it to four seconds in wet weather, and never break speed limits, to help prevent horrific tragedies on motorways and major trunk roads. Road users can sign the Brake's Pledge on safe driving on Facebook.

The facts

In Great Britain 263 people were killed and 1,445 seriously injured in crashes on motorways and 70mph roads in 2010.

While there are fewer crashes per mile travelled on motorways, if you crash on these roads, your chance of death or serious injury is massively increased because of the speeds involved. Crashes on 70mph roads are more than twice as likely to result in death than crashes on roads with lower speed limits. The faster you drive, the less chance you have of avoiding a crash, and greater the impact if you do collide.

Almost one in five fatal crashes on motorways involve four or more vehicles. These kinds of crashes often cause multiple deaths and injuries, and the resulting congestion and tailbacks can cause further crashes.

The consequences

Liz Voysey is campaigning against the government's plans to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. Her only daughter, Amy Upcraft, 19, was killed by a speeding driver on a dual carriageway in 2004.

Amy, from Dereham, Norfolk, had been driving to work on 3 March 2004, in the outside lane of the 70mph A47 in Norfolk. Just five minutes from her home, a lorry pulled out to overtake a moped and hit her, sending Amy spinning across the carriageway and into the central reservation.

Because it was such a busy road she was frightened to get out of the car, and the driver's door was jammed. She put her hazard lights on, called for rescue and then called her mum to let her know she was unharmed. Amy's step-dad George, 53, rushed to her rescue and when Liz rang Amy again and got no reply, she followed him. When Liz arrived, she was met by carnage and the sight of her only daughter lying dead, still trapped in her car. A van had smashed into Amy's car, killing her as she waited for help.

At the inquest Liz heard that van driver Glenn Paraman, then 30, was speeding when he hit Amy. She was told that if he had been under the 70mph limit he would have seen her.

Liz said:

"Amy was my only daughter. She was, and still is, utterly precious to me. I was so angry at the driver who killed her. Other car drivers saw Amy, slowed down and went around her. Because he was speeding, he lost valuable seconds he should have used to observe the situation ahead and take the action as all the other motorists had and avoided killing a young and innocent young woman. He said he didn't see her and crashed into her.

"I am utterly outraged the government is proposing to raise motorway limits, and maybe other dual carriageways. The government knows it will lead to more deaths, like my Amy's. But it seems they don't care about the families who will have to suffer the indescribable pain of losing their loved one in such a violent, sudden and horrifying way. I'm calling on the government to think about the 25 more families each year that would suffer in the way I have, and scrap their plans to increase speed limits."

Anyone who has been bereaved or seriously injured in a crash can call the Brake helpline for support on 0845 603 8570.

Recommendations to government

Brake is calling on the government to prevent needless casualties on motorways by:

  • Scrapping plans to increase the speed limit to 80mph on motorways and some dual carriageways
  • Improving enforcement of the current 70mph limit by creating a comprehensive network of average speed cameras and making traffic policing a national policing priority
  • Conducting nationwide campaigns encouraging the public to keep two seconds behind the vehicle in front, or more in bad weather, and stay within motorway speed limits.
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