Interview of Michael Woodford MBE
Michael Woodford MBE
Executive Chairman Safer Roads Foundation
FIM: We met first at a Stop the Crash! event in Shanghai in 2017. At that event you made a presentation on AHO – Automatic headlights On – technology. We have had this in Europe since 2004. It is not standard in most of Asia but you have had success campaigning for it in India?
Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), and I visited India on multiple occasions and over three years we met with two Permanent Secretaries. Fortuitously, the second of these had a Volvo and understood the value of Daylight Running Lights in general!
In India, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) was initially hesitant to support AHO, therefore the Safer Roads Foundation (SRF) commissioned the making of a broadcast‑quality documentary on the risks that existed in the country for drivers of PTWs who were not benefiting from the life-saving AHO safety feature. The programme details the history and compelling evidence, and graphically illustrates the extreme ongoing danger to which riders in India of motorcycles/mopeds without AHO were being continually exposed. It explicitly brings home the extent of the danger and the desperate need for the AHO feature to be incorporated during manufacture by companies producing PTWs in India.
Seeing the documentary and the clear scientific evidence from the Safer Roads Foundation and the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), SIAM acknowledged the measure. It was key getting the manufacturers on side and following this, persuading the country’s influential Supreme Court committee (with their Parliamentary remit to reduce road deaths) who recommended to the Indian government the proposal to mandate the measure being incorporated during manufacture.
We had a bizarre discussion with a senior official from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, who felt the heat omitted from the lamps would cause global warning! The heat given off from a lamp is infinitesimal, as is the additional fuel used to have a headlight on during the day . Disturbingly in India over 500 riders of motorcycles and mopeds are killed every week, and AHO improves conspicuity during daytime, but also at dusk, dawn and even at night, as many riders don’t use their headlights! This simple change, which costs nothing to introduce, will save an anticipated 6,000 lives a year. The comment from the official was clearly an excuse for inertia and had no legitimacy. Interestingly, with cold light LEDs, this peripheral and meaningless point can no longer be made.
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FIM: Is China the next target for your AHO campaign?
Most definitely! We are working closely with David Ward of Global NCAP and the China Automotive Technology and Research Centre (CATARC) to try and bring about the early introduction of the measure. In China, the annual number of lives saved by introducing AHO would be even more dramatic - the evidence is overwhelming in that AHO reduces fatality rates by approximately 15%, therefore mandating the feature in China would save over 10,000 lives a year based on the latest WHO accident data which, as a point of reference, is the same as 19 fully-loaded A380 jets.
FIM: You are engaging directly with the manufacturers?
We are working with China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), although they very much take the lead from the Government agencies and we would like to see them to be more assertive. People losing their lives in accidents is not good for selling motorcycles/mopeds and the measure costs nothing to introduce during manufacture. As we’ve seen in multiple countries across the world, including Thailand and India, there is almost no rider resistance to the feature and motorcycling becomes more popular because less people are killed.
FIM: As you know we are about to launch a global road safety campaign and one of the first themes will be visibility so AHO fits well with that. Do you foresee any ways in which we could work with you?
I have a great respect for FIM and the UK’s Department for Transport ‘Be Seen Be Safe’ campaign makes so much sense. We look forward to working together with FIM to encourage the message of AHO, but most importantly to ensure that manufacturers incorporate the measure so riders don’t even have to think or worry about switching on their headlight during the day.
FIM: You know that we support Stop the Crash! as we have a particular interest in anti-lock braking – ABS – for small motorcycles of the kind mainly used in Asia. It is interesting that this year India will follow the Euro 4 safety package and adopt the same regulations. These allow for combined braking – which is not at all the same as ABS on small bikes. In fact most manufacturers have not taken up the CBS option but have gone straight for ABS. It is interesting that India is doing this. Do you think your AHO campaign also influenced this development? Have you succeeded in making the government “think bike” as we say?
I believe there is a truth in this in that suddenly the AHO campaign and the discussions Antonio and I have had in relation to AHO, broadened out to the vulnerability of motorcyclists and moped riders and that everything sensible and practical should be done. No part of the world should be a poor relative in terms of safety and the economic consequences of people losing their lives far outweighs any additional costs.
The Safer Roads Foundation is a believer that it’s much better to go straight to ABS.
FIM: Much of your focus is on infrastructure projects around the world. Can you give an example where you have commissioned work to help make a road safer for riders?
Highway 4018, section of road, adjacent to Trisara Hotel, with a severe gradient. Installation of anti-skid surface treatment.
FIM: Although most of your work is in middle and low income countries you will also take on projects in the developed world too?
Rue Belliard in Brussels, a five-lane highway used extensively by high-sided vehicles. Both pavement-sited signals were repeatedly obscured by buses and lorries, with the result that drivers in the middle lanes, were unable to see a ‘red’ signal at the same time as pedestrians received a ‘green’ instruction indicating it was safe to cross.
SRF funded the installation of overhead signals all along Rue Belliard, ensuring drivers could always see at least one ‘red’ aspect in all conditions.
FIM: Can you give our readers an indication of the scale of your work?
Aside from my consultancy and speaking activities, I am utterly consumed by my charity, the Safer Roads Foundation (SRF), on a plethora of road safety endeavours in the UK and around the world, so many of which are literally life-and-death issues. To give you an insight into SRF, I thought readers might be interested in looking at our website which gives practical examples of some of the numerous accident remedial schemes the Foundation has supported saving lives around the globe:
It’s certainly a very different life to my former career of a ‘pampered’ corporate executive but immensely rewarding and, to give just one example, a junction in Thailand is identified as dangerous where numerous people have been killed, and SRF installs a roundabout and people no longer get killed. The problem is that there is an endless list of such locations which require remedial action and the list is always getting longer rather than shorter! The challenge for me is that if you can't change things then in a way you resign yourself to this fact and you don’t worry, but when you realise that you have an ability to actually address some of the dangers on the world's roads, then it becomes a lifelong obligation. So for me trying to ‘save the world’ has become a real burden, and to be honest with you very much a curse! Whatever, every location improved is a plus and in the process you meet lots of wonderful selfless people.
FIM: Has anyone had a particular influence on your work in road safety?
My hero in road safety has to be Antonio Avenoso at ETSC, which SRF has supported for many years. Antonio is one of the most ethical and decent individuals I know, and I always tell people that he’s my role model in life and the person I look up to most. I worked in a world of private jets, big black Mercedes and all saw the occasional excesses of corporate life at the high level.
Antonio just quietly and modestly gets on with things and doesn’t care about personal materialism, which I find a rare quality – he just cares passionately in reducing accidents, and for his beautiful family.
We are now working more and more in collaboration with AHO through David Ward, President and CEO of the Towards Zero Foundation, whom I admire for being not afraid to upset the sensitivities of manufacturers if it means that lives can be saved.