Although I hold a motorcycle driving licence, I was not with the 35,000 other motorcyclists protesting in Bern two weeks ago against the proposed 80kph limit for motorcycles. I realised many years ago that the safest option with a two-wheeled vehicle is not to ride one at all. It is usually not the fault of the motorcyclist when an accident occurs and the motorcyclist comes off worst. The proposal to reduce the speed of motorcycles on Swiss autobahns to a maximum of 80kph while the rest of the traffic travels at 110kph as proposed in the government’s “Vision Zero” will actually increase accidents with motorcycles, granted these may be slower collisions.

“Vision Zero” comes from Sweden and years ago when Sweden changed from driving on the left to the right-hand side of the road, there was a joke going round that trucks would change over first, then if successful the rest of the traffic would change a year later. The chaos would not be dissimilar when motorcycles travel at 30kph slower than the rest of autobahn traffic.

Any attempt to reduce death and injury on the roads is to be commended. The 513 who died in 2002 were 513 too many. But having heard the government’s proposals for motorcycles, one is inclined to wonder how effective their other proposals are.

Wearing of seat belts reduces injury and saves lives. But Swiss figures for wearing belts are alarmingly low, only 73% of drivers wear them in towns. This figure is lower still in the French and Italian-speaking regions. Next time you wait for a bus or tram, count how many drivers and passengers travel without – particularly so-called professionals, including remarkably the police! “Vision Zero” envisages device that will immobilize vehicles until seat belts are put on. But why not ask why normally level-headed Swiss drive without?

Over 90% of British drivers wear seat belts. Why? Because for the last 30 years they have been treated to a series of TV commercials showing them what happens when you do not wear a seat belt. Hard-hitting ‘before and after’ pictures of young and once-beautiful faces that went through windscreens brought home to the British the advantages of staying firmly belted while driving. The Swiss clearly are blissfully unaware of the effects of physics on their bodies in an accident. You can take a look at the latest British advertising for rear seat belts on the Internet (Real Player required)

Reducing the level of alcohol permitted for driving is a good idea. But a better idea is to make it socially unacceptable to drink and drive. Anyone who attempts to drive while in any way incapacitated endangers the lives of others and is nothing short of a criminal. It is not clever. It is not brave. It is stupid in the extreme. The Swiss government should devote serious money to campaigns to get this message across. In Britain you are not admired for driving after drinking, you are scorned. At parties and pubs it is normal for the driver to have only soft drinks. Why? It is a result of Education by extensive publicity campaigns. The occasional roadside poster with a picture of a glass of wine and a slogan “Nie am Steuer” or “No Drinks, No Dugs, No Problems” are simply not enough. The driving public needs to be shown the horrors that can happen when you drink and drive or have an accident not wearing a seat belt.

Oddly, education does not necessarily include driver training. Switzerland has one of the toughest testing systems in the world for those wishing to obtain a driving licence. In the UK the driving test first introduced in the 1936 was used unchanged until replaced only in 1996. Until then, all drivers on Britain’s roads had at best driven with an examiner for a maximum of 20 minutes, answered a couple of questions and never taken a theory test. My father, who still drives every day in England, has never taken a test. Yet Britain’s accident figures per driver kilometre are lower than Switzerland’s!

“Speed kills” was the call long before US general Franks ordered his troops at full speed to Baghdad. Many American speak of distances in their country in time, not in miles because it takes the same time to reach their destination regardless of traffic conditions. Last time I drove there most people speeding were in rental cars, presumably Europeans used to pushing their speed to make up for lost time. It is little surprise that drivers who have spent an hour of frustration traversing the town of Zurich will tend to speed once they are eventually on the autobahn. Swiss roads are a contributing factor to accidents through frustration.

They also contribute through poor design. Autobahns that have an exit with a 180° turn that cannot be driven faster than 60kph are always going to catch the unwary driver. Junctions with no marked priority, depending only on the rule of priority from the right, will always lead to accidents and could be so easily cured with technology as simple as a pot of white paint and brush.

The government has already missed a golden opportunity to improve road safety by the use of headlights during daylight driving, a simple but effective way of saving lives. Instead of making their use compulsory, they took the soft option and only recommended their use. One can only applaud Bundesrat Moritz Leuenberger’s declaration to reduce the slaughter on Switzerland’s roads. However, some of his methods are questionable: passing laws to forbid road deaths is simply not possible. The already over-burdened motorist needs a different approach that does not mean yet more restrictions.