23/06/2006

SUV drivers 'more likely' to flout road safety laws

Drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles are more likely to flout laws regarding mobile phones and seat belts than drivers of other cars, a study has claimed.

The study, which was carried out by a team from Imperial College London and published by the British Medical Journal, took place at three different sites in Hammersmith, west London and involved more than 40,000 vehicles.

The study found that almost one in six drivers was not wearing a seat belt , while 2.5% were spotted using a hand-held mobile phone.

Drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles were found to be almost four times more likely than the drivers of other cars to be seen using hand-held mobiles and were also more likely to flout safety belt laws.

The authors of the report suggested that drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles felt safer and therefore took more risks when driving.

The publication of the study coincided with another study, from the University of Oxford and South East Regional Public Health Group, which suggested that the number of serious injuries on England's roads was much higher than government figures suggested.

Researchers found "large discrepancies" between police and hospital statistics between 1996 and 2004. Police figures showed that the numbers of people suffering serious, but non-fatal, injuries in car crashes had dropped by 32%, but hospital figures for non-fatal road injuries showed that rates had hardly changed between 1996 and 2004.

The authors suggested that that the discrepancies were probably due to an increase in under-reporting of injuries to the police. However, they said that more investigation was needed, since the findings cast doubt on whether there had been much progress on the government's target to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths on England's roads by 2010.

However, Road Safety Minister Stephen Ladyman accused the study of being "misleading".

Another study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that people were continuing to drive even if they felt sleepy.

Researchers from the Victor Segalen University in France surveyed 13,299 middle-aged drivers and found that 36% admitted to driving while tired 'a few times' in the past year.

The researchers found that those participants were 1.5 times more likely to have been involved in a serious road traffic accident compared with those who reported not driving while sleepy over the same period.

Those who reported driving while tired 'once a month' or more often were found to be nearly three times more likely to have been involved in a serious road traffic accident.

The authors said that the results showed that driving while sleepy was "a powerful predictor of serious road traffic accidents".

(KMcA/SP)

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