The basic goal of any transportation system is to provide safe mobility. Though higher mobility minimises travel time, it may decrease safety. Inappropriate driving behaviour is one of the major causes of road accidents in India. Defective geometric design of pavements or mechanical defects in vehicles comes later. Ignoring lane discipline, disregarding traffic laws, frequent traffic violations and self-centered driving are some factors that stem from inappropriate driving behaviour which de-motivates educated drivers too from following good driving practices. Hence, improved driver behaviour can be an effective counter measure to reduce the vulnerability of road users and inhibit crash risks. What is needed is better driver education, driver training, and licensing procedures along with good on-road enforcement.
Road safety is considered to be a function of four elements – factors influencing exposure to risk, influencing crash involvement, crash severity and severity of post-crash injuries. These four elements include factors that can be described as acute impairments like driver’s age, gender related differences, alcohol, drugs, engineering factors related to vehicles, environmental factors, impact of drivers’ behavioural and psychological changes, faulty road design, the road layout, maintenance of roads and so on.
The countermeasures against the road safety epidemic include three Es namely Education, Engineering and Enforcement. Besides these, various psychophysical factors of drivers also have substantial effect on road safety. Indian government, in recent years, has been emphasising on engineering measures by making Road Safety Audit (RSA) compulsory for all new and existing highways.
Psychophysical Factors affecting Road Safety
The human factors governing road user behaviour predominantly involve visual feedback, visual performance, speed judgment, speed adaptation, judgment of relative speed, judgment of spacing, overtaking and reaction time, etc. Some personality factors of the driver may contribute in a significant manner towards involvement in the hazard of road traffic. Personality denotes stable character traits that do not change over short periods. Emotional stress may produce short or medium term departures from an individual’s long term average driving behaviour.
A driver requires certain basic skills to perform his driving task efficiently like:
- Visual skill (seeing): Watching the road in front and around the vehicle, using mirrors, shoulder checks; checking gauges, speedometer, etc.
- Auditory skill (listening): Squealing of brakes, the sirens of an emergency vehicle, vehicle sounds, etc.
- Bio-mechanical skill (performing-hand-eye co-ordination): Turning the steering wheel, activating signals, headlights and horn, pressing the accelerator, brakes, clutch, etc.
- Cognitive skill (Thinking): Anticipating any future movements, dynamic route planning, assessing situations such as movements of other vehicles, weather conditions, preparing to avoid hazards, etc.
Driver Education: An Overview
Driver education helps the drivers to adhere to rules and regulations as consciously as possible. Driver training and driver education is not the same thing — the former is included in the latter as a sub-set. It can provide primary prevention in reducing crash risks and it obligates new drivers to use safety equipment provided in vehicles and to do so in a correct manner.
Three cornerstones of driver education are the goal, content and method, and the testing procedure. All of these should form one harmonised entity for effectiveness. Essence of each part should be reflected in other parts. This requires involvement of qualified instructors and examiners who possess necessary knowledge, competence and teaching skills so as to fulfill all aspects of driver training. Aspects of training that cannot be tested should be obligatory elements within the training.
Goals of Driver Education: The goal of the licensing process, including driver training, should be to create drivers who drive safe and are environmentally conscious and not just technically competent. Driver training should also enhance the skills of the drivers making them aware of their limitations. In an international review of literature on effectiveness of driver training as a road safety measure by Christie (2001), following important observations were made emphasising the need for carrying out driver training and education:
- The training of a conventional nature seldom contributes to reductions in road crash involvement or risk among drivers of all ages and experience groups.
- Improvements in training can be achieved in the longer term by concentrating on cognitive and perceptual skills, together with a greater emphasis on how factors such as attitude and motivation shape driver behaviour.
- Drivers, particularly young drivers, do take risks that have less to do with how much skill and/or knowledge they possess, but more to do with motivation and higher-order factors.
The above table shows the GDE matrix based on Hatakka et al. (2002), OECD/ECMT Transport Research Centre (2006) and Nyberg (2007). The matrix comprises a four level hierarchy and three main training dimensions which should be included in the driver training system. The GDE matrix has been designed based on the understanding that it is the attitudinal and motivational factors that influence controlling the driver behaviour and consequently the crash risks more than driving in various traffic situations and vehicle control abilities.
Following is a brief description of each level:
Level 4, the highest level, refers to personal motives, objectives and tendencies in a broader perspective. This level is based on the presumption that lifestyles, group norms, gender, social background, age and other social and individual preconditions will influence road user behaviour and consequently, crash involvement.
Level 3 refers to the goals behind driving and the context in which driving is performed as well as decisions related to why, where, when and with whom driving occurs, all in relation to the purpose of the trip.
Level 2 concerns about mastering driving in specific traffic situations. The ability to adapt her/his driving behavior with the changes occurring during driving and to identify potential hazards in traffic and to act correctly to avoid them also exists at this level.
The lowest level focuses on the basic maneuvering skills of the driver. The ability to manage the vehicle (i.e. steer, brake, shift gears, etc.) belongs at this level. The proper use of injury preventive systems, such as seat belts, child restraints and airbags, also belongs here, as these are subsystems of the vehicle.
Presently, driver education in countries like, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, is based on GDE matrix.
Driver Education System in USA and Europe
The driver education system can be classified into three categories based on the possibility of fulfillment of the objectives of education. First one contains little or no compulsory education as followed in Sweden and Great Britain. Second one consists of compulsory education as well as private education as followed in Finland, Iceland and Norway. Third one consists of formal driver education but forbidding of private education as in Germany and Denmark (entire driver education here must be conducted at a driving school itself). Both Sweden and Great Britain have minimal control over driver education. Thus, the theoretical and practical tests are the only way to make sure that the objectives of the curriculum are fulfilled. Finland, Iceland and Norway are all countries where major parts of the driver education are mandatory. Here driver education system has different stages, as education can emphatically describe different levels of knowledge and abilities at different stages.
Traditional “single-phase licensing system” includes only one phase of theoretical and practical training that ends with a written and a driving test. This system is quite common in Belgium, Denmark, France and Netherlands. In other systems, probationary license systems are very similar to single phase systems but the candidate must complete a provisional phase of driving before becoming a fully licensed driver.
In North America, a long historical link exists between driver education and the licensing process. In most jurisdictions, a driver education programme is mandatory for new applicants as a part of the licensing process. This can take several forms e.g., all beginners regardless of age must take driver education, or beginners aged 16 and 17 can only get license if they take the driver education programme; those aged 18 and over need not do so, etc. In some jurisdictions where driver education is available on a voluntary basis, beginners often take the course to prepare for the practical road test. These types of courses typically focus on the skills and knowledge that are needed to pass the road test and obtain a driver’s license.