South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership
05 Aug 2021

What an amazing summer of sport it has been! After the Euros football, the tennis and the cycling, came the Olympic Games in Tokyo, all showcasing sport on the global stage. I’ve enjoyed watching some of my favourite sports at the Olympics such as the swimming, gymnastics and athletics but also viewed coverage of some of the new events, such as the BMX Freestyle and skate boarding.

What impressed me about the competitors in every sport I watched, whether they won a medal or not, was their commitment to do the best they could and represent their country with pride. To get to the Olympics would have taken immense dedication and undoubted sacrifice, through hours of training to reach their peak.

And we can all learn something from their attitude and character. It could be the blueprint for how we as road users conduct ourselves out on the streets.  To get to where they are, each athlete has had to train in their chosen discipline, often starting in childhood and continuing to hone their skills and strive to be the best. The athletes stick strictly to the rules, knowing that breaches of the code will be picked up and could result in their disqualification; places are hard earned but can be easily lost in a moment’s lapse of concentration. They prize the kit they use and make sure it is well looked after and in good working order to offer the maximum gains in their pursuit of excellence. Finally, the control of the athletes is on display for all to see; theyare prepared, focused and ensure they are in the right frame of mind before they compete.

Think about that dedication and aim to emulate that the next time you step outside the front door to start your journey. You don’t need to be dressed in full lycra to get you off the starting blocks. But consider how you might refine your driving or riding skills further by taking extra tuition or assessments. Are you up to date and familiar with the Highway Code and are you sticking by those rules when you are on the road? Don’t lose your driving licence to a momentary lapse of attention or error of judgement. Is your car, motorbike or cycle well maintained and running smoothly? Don’t spoil your journey due to a breakdown. And are you both physically and mentally fit for the road; not tired, hungover, stressed or anxious?

We all have a responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe on the roads. Set a good example to your friends and family by following the rules and looking out for each other. Give other road users the recognition and respect you yourself would like to receive when walking, riding or driving. Above all, aim to be the best version of you every time you are out on the roads.
We’ve recently returned from our summer holidays where we took a trip to Cornwall. We did all the touristy things; visited the Eden Project, enjoyed time on the beach and in the sea and ate our fair share of cream scones and ice cream. But to enable all that to happen we had to endure the tiring car journey there and back. We’ve driven much less during the pandemic so the long drive down the country seemed a particular chore; lots of motorway driving and the frustration of sitting in what seemed like endless congestion on the M5 in 28 degree heat. I’d forgotten how tiring it can be having to concentrate on the unfamiliar roads.

It felt almost like being a new driver again, on high alert, in strange surroundings, trying to digest all the information on offer; speed limits, direction signs, warning signs, brown signs for tourist attractions, road works. The sat nav would tell us to take a particular route but we had additional instructions about which roads to avoid because they were just single-track lanes with nowhere to pull over if something was coming the other way.

All this on top of making sure we were in the correct lanes at junctions, being aware of other traffic as well as looking out for cyclists, pedestrians and tractors on the narrow rural roads where the high hedges mean you can’t see what is around the next bend. Sometimes it felt like we were crawling along, but that was as fast as we could go to enable us to stop in the distance that we could see to be clear in front of us. To the locals, the tourists must be easily spotted by their wary approach to the roads. There seemed to be so much multi-tasking to do. Luckily, with two of us in the car, the passenger could act as co-pilot, helping to process all the information and be an extra pair of eyes looking out for the next turn or junction.

The contrast in driving, showed me how easy it is, travelling on the familiar roads back at home on the same few routes, to fall into auto pilot mode. Have you ever got to your destination and thought, how did I get here? Or have you ever driven to work when you wanted to go to the shops because you were on the road that leads to the office? Research suggests that drivers are less attentive and aware when they’re driving on familiar roads. And when we’re not actively paying attention we may miss things that are right before our eyes as a result of something known as “inattention blindness.” This can lead to drivers missing important information, putting them at greater risk of having a crash.

It felt like we were paying more attention and focusing more on the road when we were travelling on those unfamiliar routes. Our senses were heightened, and we were putting in a lot more effort. Now that I’m back home, the holiday may seem a distant memory, but I want to try and maintain that additional focus and effort when I’m driving. I don’t want to fall into auto pilot mode back on home turf. It’s been a good exercise in reminding me of the need to stay alert and treat every journey as if I’m being assessed.

At the end of your next drive, ask yourself “if that had been my driving test, would I have passed” and if your answer is “no” it’s time to start putting in a bit more effort.

Until next time, stay safe.