Research: Half of drivers risk deadly head-on crashes by overtaking at speed image

Almost half of drivers are overtaking at lethal speeds on single carriageway rural roads with disregard for the consequences, research by Brake and Direct Line has revealed.

Of 942 drivers surveyed, 47% admit speeding at more than 60mph to overtake on country roads at least once in the past year, with 23% confessing doing this at least once a month.

Incredibly, one in eight drivers also admit overtaking when they can’t see what is coming in the opposite direction.

The results suggest that drivers continue to feel a false sense of security on rural roads, misguidedly believing that it is safe and enjoyable to drive at high speeds. In reality, drivers are much more likely to die on a rural road than any other type, with speed and overtaking major factors in causing deaths.

Ellen Booth, Brake’s campaigns officer, said: “It’s high time we tackle this irresponsible and downright dangerous love of speed on our roads. Speeding down a country road isn’t the epitome of freedom; it’s the epitome of stupidity. Drivers who overtake at speed on country roads aren’t just risking their own lives – they are selfishly endangering their passengers and anyone coming the other way.”

Andy Goldby, Director of Motor Underwriting at Direct Line, said: “Two people die on single carriageway roads every day, and these deaths could be prevented. Our own data suggests that young drivers and their passengers are even more likely to die on this type of road. Drivers should remember that patience is a virtue, when it comes to deciding to overtake another vehicle at speed, as it could be a life saver.”

In Britain in 2009, 749 deaths occurred on single carriageway roads with a speed limit of 60mph – that’s a third of all road deaths. Almost a third of people killed on single carriageways with a 60mph limit die in crashes where ‘exceeding the speed limit’ and/or ‘travelling too fast for the conditions’ are recorded as a factor by police at the scene. Last year an annual review of UK road risk found that the ten roads with the greatest concentration of fatal and serious crashes per kilometre are single carriageways.

Overtaking at speed is incredibly dangerous and the faster you are travelling the more likely you are to die if you crash head on. Research shows that the risk of the driver dying in a head on collision involving two cars travelling at 60mph is around 90%. Even at 50mph, the risk of death is still a very high 65%, [6] showing that overtaking isn’t worth the risk.

More often than not, carrying out this potentially deadly manoeuvre makes little difference to journey times. If you overtake a car travelling at 40mph, so that you can drive at 50mph on a five mile journey, you gain a maximum of 90 seconds, but you risk losing the rest of your life or someone else’s.

Brake is calling on the Government to act to tackle the problem of drivers who overtake irresponsibly and speed on rural roads. They should do this by reducing the default speed limit on single carriageway roads to 50mph or lower, with lower limits on roads where there are particular risks. They should also continue to improve enforcement of speed limits, such as by using average speed cameras, and conduct widespread awareness campaigns to tackle the problematic culture of speeding and overtaking on rural roads.

The coalition government has yet to respond to a 2010 consultation on setting speed limits, which proposed that highways authorities should carry out speed limit reviews on ‘A’ and ‘B’ class national speed limit single carriageways and lower limits on rural roads where the risks are relatively high and there is evidence that a lower limit would reduce casualties.

Advice for drivers

Country roads often have speed limits that are far too high, dangerous sharp bends, and unexpected hazards. You never know when a cyclist, horse rider or jogger will be round the corner or over the next brow.

Never risk overtaking on rural roads unless you are overtaking a very slow moving vehicle such as a tractor, the road is clear and straight, and you won’t have to drive at excessive speeds or above the limit to do it. Otherwise, just hang back from the vehicle in front and enjoy the journey. You won’t get there much quicker by overtaking, and you might not get there at all.

The consequences

Dr Margaret Davidson, 26, was a recently qualified medic who had studied at Oxford University. She grew up in the Lanarkshire town of Hamilton, Scotland, and had been a fiercely intelligent child. After qualifying, she took up a job at the Horton Hospital in Banbury. She was driving home to her fiancée in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, when she was killed by a young driver who was trying to overtake at speed. Eyewitnesses estimated that 19 year old Nolan Haworth had been driving at between 70-89 mph on the 50mph A4260. He tried to overtake a lorry as he came to the brow of a hill but he couldn’t pull back in before he met Margaret coming the other way. He crashed straight into her and she died.

Margaret’s mother, Elizabeth Davidson, said: “I loved Margaret from her first breath and will love, mourn and miss her until my last. Margaret’s death and others like hers are entirely preventable; it was because of the driver’s selfishness that she was killed. I plead with all drivers to think of Margaret and slow down on country roads. Attempting to overtake when you’re not 100% sure it’s safe is utterly disgraceful – my message to drivers is simply don’t overtake unless it’s absolutely essential. Don’t put lives in danger for the sake of getting there a few minutes faster.”

Report source: Brake