MOST of us look on road safety campaigns with some suspicion. We want the roads to be safe – it’s probably more in our interests than anyone else’s – but the true dangers, such as careless driving, are often ignored by the campaigners.
They sweep them aside in the belief that the only way to reduce road accidents is to plaster the country with speed traps and ban people from riding or driving for breaking the limit by just a few miles an hour.
So last week’s launch of a high-profile campaign did little to excite most of us.
It is from road safety group Brake and goes by the name " The Pledge " . Its launch marked the beginning of Road Safety Week and asked people to make a number of promises to help reduce accidents.
Many dismissed it as simply adding momentum to the bandwagon of opinion that speeding is the root of all evil. But this campaign has one supporter who isn’t normally associated with slow riding or nanny-state measures.
He is Carl Fogarty. And when Foggy talks, most of us tend to listen.
If you’re wondering how Brake managed such a coup, you may find the answer by looking at exactly what The Pledge asks people to do.
True, it wants us to abide by the speed limits and slow down where there are pedestrians and schools, but it also favours education over unworkable new penalties.
And, more importantly, it wants drivers to take special care to look out for riders – to try and tackle the number of bike accidents at junctions.
It’s a problem which other campaigns don’t address.
Foggy said: " I’ve signed The Pledge because I know a horrifying proportion of bikers are killed or seriously injured by car drivers.
" Drivers need to be aware that bikers can be difficult to see, and keep an extra-sharp eye out for them. "
Brake’s campaign literature says: " Most deaths are caused by drivers’ mistakes and many biker deaths are at junctions in towns. "
Emotive messages abound. One paragraph reads: " Think about Keith Hardman, aged 27, killed when a driver pulled out into the path of his bike on May 29, 1999. "
Another reads: " Think about Nicholas Parish, aged 37, killed when he was hit by a van in London. "
If Brake seems more in touch with riders than other road safety organisations, there’s a good reason. The organisation, which is funded by a number of companies including Dunlop, insurance brokers Direct Line and breakdown firm Green Flag, has a Yamaha R1-riding non-executive director.
Alistair Hill has been riding for 26 years and regularly takes his bike on track days at Cadwell Park. The 39-year-old said: " We wouldn’t be killing 10 people on our roads every week if drivers had the required legal standard of skill and were prepared to act responsibly and with courtesy to other road users, without using mobile phones or driving when tired.
" They have a tendency to be coccooned in their vehicles. Unfortunately, a motorcyclist is the one who’ll come off worse from any meeting between the two.
" We have to be spatially aware. We’ve got to know everything that’s going on around us. But it is eroded more and more in car drivers.
" Cars are quiet, they’ve got good brakes, traction control, ABS and all these different things to help when the drivers don’t get it right.
" But it takes drivers farther and farther away from the road and the environment they’re in. Car drivers feel horribly safe. "
Hill doesn’t believe we can tackle road accidents simply by slowing everybody down.
" Speed restriction alone is a blunt instrument for reducing accidents, " he said.
" I don’t think the national speed limit should be reduced. I think we should have appropriate speed limits in appropriate places.
" The problem areas are the ones where we know there should be a low speed limit. An appropriate speed in those sort of circumstances
would be 20mph. "
It seems a lot of effort has been focused on the failures of car drivers, but bikers are targeted, too.
Hill said: " A lot of bike accidents happen because drivers aren’t seeing them. I hate to say this, but riders also have to take responsibility in these circumstances. You’ve just got to be better at anticipating. I think the key to it is advanced training. "
Brake’s executive director Mary Williams said: " We’re not out to treat motorcyclists as anti-social. We’re about saving their lives. "
As well as asking drivers to abide by speed limits and " look up " for motorcyclists, The Pledge asks them to " shut up " and switch off their mobile phones, " back up " and leave an appropriate gap between them and the vehicle in front, " wake up " and take breaks if necessary, and " check up " on the condition of their vehicles.
It also asks them to " wise up " and be more careful at night, " sharpen up " and wear glasses if necessary, " buck up " and calm themselves when stressed and " sober up " .
The organisation seems to have raised points most of us will welcome. The only question is over how much success it will have in changing drivers’ behaviour.
Brake stresses the concept is more about education than enforcement.
Hill said: " I’m not in favour of new legislation, which is probably unenforcable. It should be common sense. "
That means relying on a change in public opinion. And relying on high-profile public figures to help it bring about that change.
Foggy isn’t the only one it has recruited to help drive the message home.
It has also won the support of Olympic gold medal-winning rowers James Cracknell, who rides an R1, and Fred Scarlett, who plans to buy a Triumph Speed Triple this year.
Brake has also managed to get more than 90 members of Parliament to sign The Pledge, including Transport Minister Keith Hill.
But the organisation admits that, even with that kind of backing, there are drivers it can’t reach with its campaign.
" There are some people who, no matter what you do, will never change their attitudes, " said Hill. " They are the habitual drink-drivers and dangerous drivers. "
But Hill is confident Brake’s approach is the best way to get results.
He said: " If some drivers’ attitudes are changed through education rather than enforcement, the result will be more sustainable. "
Let’s hope he’s right.
n More than 50,000 people have signed The Pledge since it was launched. To add your name, log on to Brake’s website at www.brake.org.uk. Or you can collect a form from any Sainsbury’s filling station.