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Much ado about nothing
UNDERTAKINGS sponsored or supported by the Government for research and other purposes have a tendency which they do not always resist to embark on extravagant or pointless projects. There is not always the same immediate urge, as with the ordinary commercial enterprise, to make sure, or at least to produce sound arguments, that there will be a reasonable dividend on the money and effort that are to be expended.
The example most fresh in the minds of hauliers is that of the Road Transport Industry Training Board. From their point of view, it took the wrong road at the outset by deciding how much money it would like to have and then fixing the levy which would bring in that amount. They only wished they could run their businesses on a similar basis. Their envy, or whatever other emotion they felt, was not assuaged when they had visible evidence of some of the things on which the Board was spending what they still regarded as their money.
THEIR opinion seemed to be confirmed when the Board showed a substantial deficit, part of which must surely be attributed to some over-ambitious projects. Fortunately, the relationship between the Board and its constituents has greatly improved, but there will always be a danger of tension at certain points where the Board embarks on ventures which many operators will think are unlikely to produce worthwhile results.
For a training board it may be a serious disadvantage that it draws its funds from the Industry which it serves. Each company knows what it pays and can balance against that slim the benefits or lack of benefits that it receives. There are many other bodies which the taxpayer supports at one or more remove. He has no great impulse to check on what such a body is doing and to protest if it seems to be wasting its resources. He may in any case feel himself not properly qualified to judge.
THE Road Research Laboratory of the Department of the Environment has to cover a wide field. In many sectors it has done valuable work and this has been acknowledged from all sides. Road operators are the more ready to accept this verdict because they do not directly contribute towards the support of the RRL. Its costs are met out of taxation and its results ultimately are shared by the public in general.
In spite of this, the operator who happens to come across some of the innumerable RRL reports may wonder whether he should not inquire more closely into the system that produces them. He may find two main causes for concern. An individual report may appear to give an unfavourable impression of the commercial vehicle and of its operator or driver. In many cases also a comprehensive investigation produces an apparently trivial result.
An example where both factors were present was a report just over a year ago of a studir of fatal injuries in vehicle collisions. A number of coroners' reports Were examined in order to compare the number of deaths of the occupants of heavy commercial vehicles on the one hand and of cars and light vans on the other. Motorcyclists were excluded from the examination.
HE conclusion was that at least half of the occupants of the lighter vehicles concerned were killed in collisions with lorries, although, as the report points out, "these only travel a tenth of the total miles covered by light vehicles, giving a very high risk relative to clar /car collisions". Front-to-rear collisions accounted for some 13 per cent of the deaths, and in each case a lorry was the other vehicle involved.
No attempt was made in the report to apportion blame. In spite of this, it became one of the more popular documents issued by the RRL. With 'a singular lack of discretion, it was published at the height of the carhpaign against the heavy lorry and was seized upon by the campaigners as confirmation of all their worst fears.
They conveniently ignored the fact that the report was concerned only with collisions and not with fatal road accidents in general. In many newspapers the careful wording of the RRL was mistranslated into the simple statement that heavy lorries are responsible for more than half the fatal accidents to car drivers. The error has been repeated many times since. Over a wide field it has come to be regarded as an attested stati§tib.
HAT may have annoyed operators most in all this was that the report's conclusions could have been guessed with the help of a very little research. It almost goes without saying that when two vehicles collide the greatest risk is when they are of very unequal size and is almost invariably to the occupants of the smaller vehicle. It is equally obvious that front-to-rear collisions which lead to fatalities would usually happen when a car runs into the back of a slower-moving or even stationary lorry.
At the time of publication of the report, discussions were already well under way on the clearer marking of the rear end of lorries. The need was accepted and the statistical support therefore largely superfluous.
AMORE recent report seems nicely calculated to bring out the worst in those people who suspect the RRL of wasting time, money and talent. It is concerned with the driving behaviour of drivers convicted of careless driving and drivers not so convicted. After questioning the two sample groups chosen, it finds—surely to the surprise ol nobody—that the convicted drivers stated they had been involved in more than twice the number of accidents of all kinds admitted to by the non-convicted group.
Through a further labyrinth of statistic! the conclusion finally comes into view thai "the convicted group used their rear-view mirrors less than the non-convicted group gave fewer signals, showed more extreme! of overtaking behaviour, drove at ar average higher speed in the de-restrictec zones, showed more lapses, carried ou more unnecessary manoeuvres and tool more risks".
Is it necessary to go to such lengths tc prove what ought to be taken for granted' Road research and road safety cover a vas tract. Over much of it there is still very littll known. Other points are so far apart (ha they are hardly recognized as aspects of till same subject. There is so much work for tit RRL to do that it seems doubly a pity u devote so much effort on establishing wha are almost self-evident truths.
FOR it would have been strang4 indeed if the figures had finall! pointed to a conclusion opposite tx that actually reached. Drivers wishing u avoid convictions for careless driving woull in that case have had to be advised to forge about rear mirrors and signals, to overtak as frequently as possible, to drive at : higher speed than other people and il general to take more risks.
K is inconceivable that the RRL woul proffer such advice, much less that it woul be allowed to publish a report which pointe to that advice as a logical conclusion. Th more likely result is that the investigators, they remained in the employment of th RRL, would be obliged to re-check the figures and if necessary repeat th experiment until they came up with conclusion more in line with commonsense
THE recent report is one of sever concerned with driver behavio and should not perhaps be judg entirely in isolation. The lesson for the RE ought to be to 'make sure that ea+ individual report is self-contained to tl extent that it gives some explanation of purpose which the ordinary reader cg understand and find satisfactory.