15 November 2020

Speed kills, so why carp about driving a little slower?

| Ian Bushnell
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Rolled car

Speed is usually behind the loss of control of a vehicle. Photo: File.

It has been interesting to read the reader comments about possible reduction of speed limits in the ACT.

For many, it is always the other drivers at fault, never them. Some, as always, just see it as another opportunity to boost fines revenue, while others feel it doesn’t matter what speeds are posted as there are not enough police around to enforce them.

Behind much of it is an anti-authoritarian streak that seems to infect people when they get behind the wheel of a car.

But the fact is, speed kills.

Forget modern safer cars, Canberra’s wide boulevards and parkways and relative lack of congestion.

It doesn’t matter how skilled a driver you may be, the laws of physics determine how soon you can stop before hitting another car, a pedestrian or a tree.

READ MORE Speed limits up for review as government moves to make roads safer

The faster you are travelling the more likely a collision will result in injury or worse, and the harder it will be to retain control of your vehicle.

The scientific modelling behind the proposed targeted adjustments to certain speed limits pointed to much fewer injuries and fatalities – that’s less road trauma in our hospitals and fewer families having to endure emotional trauma of losing a loved one.

The reductions – 100 km/h to 90 km/h and 80 km/h to 70 km/h – are not on the face of it that significant, particularly as Canberra’s roads become busier, and would not make much difference to trip times. But they will save lives and reduce trauma.

Speed van

Not very popular but they work. Photo: File.

Yet something happens when we turn the key and drive off in our little bubble of a world. The car has always meant independence, freedom and any threat to constrain it is taken as a blow against our liberty.

Of course, that freedom of movement is facilitated by an elaborate system of road rules that most of us adhere to. Running a red light is generally considered a bad idea.

I am no different to most, drifting over the speed limit occasionally but less so since the introduction of mobile speed cameras and point-to-point monitoring. They definitely pacify traffic streams and curb our worst tendencies.

The proposed measures along with physical infrastructure such as roadside barriers, noise linemarking and installing traffic lights will all save lives and prevent and limit injury, making our roads safer.

The police, ambulance and fire crews who confront the dreadful consequences of speeding know they will make a difference.

It’s time the myths about government gouging motorists and how good drivers don’t have accidents were binned, and we all faced up to the facts about staying alive on the road.

Better driver training will give a motorist survival skills. Vision, reaction times and knowing what to do in a crisis will help.

But ask any young person and they will tell you the current requirements are already onerous.

It’s the government and the community that picks up the tab for road trauma, and the human cost is incalculable.

Surely it’s not too much to drive a little slower on some of our roads where speed has been identified as a safety factor.

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It would probably help if a driver’s licence was seen as a privilege rather than an inalienable right – all one needs to says is “I need it for my job” and no one in the ACT has the backbone to say “You should have considered that before risking other people’s lives”. We need to face that fact that some people just aren’t currently fit to be operating a machine that takes the lives of 1500 Australians every year – the proliferation of speedbumps in ACT are testament to that.

I tend to drive at the speed limit. I am usually the only person doing so. I’m happy to drive slightly more slowly.

It would be interesting to know if speed was the only factor involved in the road deaths that have occurred in the ACT this year. I’d be willing to bet that drugs and/or alcohol were involved, too, in which case lowering the speed limit isn’t necessarily going to improve the situation.

The lower the speeds get on good roads, the more people will speed – period.
If speeding actually did kill, like the regulatory signs around the ACT state as fact, then you’d expect to get off every speeding fine where the police can’t identify a dead person.
The Barton HWY has just been lowered to 80km between Gundaroo and Gungahlin drives – what a joke!! There are plenty of single lane country roads around our country at 100km but for some reason, we’re expected to believe that in the ACT, you can’t drive safely on a fully fledged highway above 80km.
What a joke.

No, not if the government continues to hand out driver’s licences like raffle tickets.

If ‘speed kills’ was true, Germany would have the highest road toll to go with the highest speeds, and the Northern Territory road toll would have come down when they introduced speed limits. Neither of these things are true.
The wicked problem in road safety is that a single-digit percentage of unlicenced, unregistered or unroadworthy road users cause about half the accidents and the majority of fatalities. But how to do you target people who don’t respect the law?
The other hard problem is road design and maintenance, with separation of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, good sight lines and sensible flows.
Lowering speed limits is a cop-out that increases travel times, frustration and pollution. It’s easy to police and pushes blame onto the users. It’s an easy choice for a cash-strapped bureaucracy.

I would suggest that you do some research before you fall for the Autobahn myth. The Autobahns only represent less than 1% of the major arterial road network with the vast majority having speed limits similar or slower than what we have here in Australia. You also need to consider that with a much higher road rule compliance requirements (loss of licence in Germany is not a suspension but a proper loss that requires you to reapply), higher vehicle maintenance requirements and higher driver training there are other factors which see lower collision rates in most of Europe.

JC Jordan,
And those things you mention are exactly why the speed kills mantra and those who want to reduce speed limits are so silly.

The controls you’ve raised are exactly what should happen here.

Road deaths per 100,000 pop. all roads (not just autobahns): Germany 3.7, Australia 5.6. The argument remains, if speed alone was such a primary cause of deaths then Germany’s road toll should be multiples of what it is. You can’t just conveniently pop in other arguments like road rule compliance and then go back to a singular speed kills mantra.

I wasn’t talking about autobahns. If ‘speed kills’, average speeds and road tolls should be identical league tables. They’re not. Thanks to startmeup for recent stats. The biggest road safety opportunity is working out some way to keep unsafe drivers and vehicles, massively over-represented in crashes, off the road. Then design and maintain safe road systems to save the rest of us from mistakes.

I agree with you Ian 100%. Others may say it is the condition of the road, but when drivers do not drive to the conditions or when they drive at a speed higher than their abilities, the only control measure left is to lower the speed of all the vehicles.
This approach has statistical validity as it gives everyone else more time to avoid the speeding idiots and reduces the velocity of the impact when things inevitably go wrong.

liberalsocialist11:38 am 17 Nov 20

Speed is not a noun. So how does it kill? How do we attribute this “speed” being to road deaths?

Drivers kill. Poor roads kill. Fix those two – with better training, more regular driving, better design and more regular maintenance. Cars can kill too – but with the massive advance in driver safety over the period (20-odd years) of this ‘speed kills’ slogan dreamt up by marketing, no one acknowledges that this is likely to prime reason behind lower road tolls over the period. Not Police. Not the ‘speed kills’ mantra. Not better training, and not better roads.

Umm, actually, speed is a noun eg, what speed were you doing? But of course what they mean is ‘speeding kills’.

“But the fact is, speed kills.” You’ve got to be kidding right Ian?

If that were true, every racing car driver ever would be dead. Every person who’s ever set foot on a modern jet would be dead. But guess what? They’re NOT !! So your statement of FACT is just PLAIN WRONG !!

So lets take the diatribe back a step and analyse this. Who determines speed? Is it an arbitrary number? Is it someone’s judgement? and if so, what makes them qualified to pass judgement? Is it the lawmakers?

In terms of speeding, it is the lawmakers who set arbitrary limits. Are speed limits set correctly? I’d suggest No. Australia’s speed limits were originally set in the early 1970’s, prior to that highways were derestricted and it was a judgement call from a police officer who determined if you were speeding and that judgement too into account prevailing conditions. Back then, the HQ Kingswood was king, it had radial ply tyres, soft suspension and drum brakes – front discs if you were lucky.

Today, speed is deemed from an office and enforced by a camera. No input, no allowance for conditions, etc.

“It doesn’t matter how skilled a driver you may be, the laws of physics determine how soon you can stop before hitting another car, a pedestrian or a tree.” Well, actually, Driver Skill DOES Matter! A skilled driver may be able to avoid a situation in the first place, thus negating the “laws of physics”.

Todays cars stop, turn and accelerate in a way a HQ Holden could never understand. They are also massively safer. So maintaining speed limits based on vehicle dynamics from the 70’s is draconian.

Stop talking Speed, lets focus on the real problem – Drivers and their ability! (or lack thereof)

what utter tripe. glad you’re not in charge of road safety. if you were right the road toll would be far lower. the reality is that speed is a factor (along with driver inattention/distraction and drugs/alcohol in the vast majority of crashes. just slow down – its not that hard.

Seems like many of the posters here not only didn’t read the article, they didn’t even read the headline: “…..why carp about driving a little slower?” Indeed, one would wonder why so many people passionately defend their right to speed (which isn’t actually a right, right?), despite the overwhelming evidence of risk. I can think of reasons why ambos, police and fireys may need to go over the limit in certain circumstances but, for the rest of the whiners here, to use a quote being applied to a certain US President, ‘time to put on your big boy pants’. Speeding on city roads is pointless and silly.

No, most people read it and have given it the response it deserved.

The pure intellectual laziness of those who call for lower speed limits without any balance of risks and benefits should always be called out.

And they need to drive over the speed limit because…???

Factually wrong, logically wrong and just plain provocatively wrong, this article shows the dumbing down of media commentary in a city that expects and should demand a higher standard. This is a new low point for Riotact.

russianafroman2:09 pm 16 Nov 20

Better road design, better speed monitoring, better road quality – GREAT IDEA! Lazily lowering the speed limits arbitrarily, making little to no meaningful changes to our roads, keeping the enforcement at abysmal levels – BAD IDEA! It turns out that thinking you can just swap over the speed signs as a way of “solving the issue” actually annoys people!

What a laughable article.

By the attempted logic here, you should be advocating speed limits of zero, to prevent all road deaths.

But in reality, we need to accept that using roads comes with a degree of risk and that we need to balance road safety with the utility of the roads themselves and the transport benefit they provide.

The reason why the “speed kills” mantra gets ignored these days is because it’s been overused and exaggerated beyond any linkages with actual crash data or research.

It’s a lazy argument used by those who dont want to have to actually do anything hard or even try to balance competing interests.

russianafroman2:05 pm 16 Nov 20

This is a major step-down from your previous work, Ian. I believe you’re intentionally crafting articles that seek to offend and annoy readers. This article makes no sense and is based on assumptions and fallacies. Speed has nothing to do with fatalities, speed doesn’t kill, it’s the person driving. Why is this so hard for people to understand? Very lazy and regressive to simply lower the speed limits when those who crash will speed either way. Why should people be forced to take longer to get to their destination?

Where do you draw the line? If 70k is safer, won’t 60 be safer still? If 60 is a good idea, oughtn’t we reduce the limit to 50? Oughtn’t we prohibit road traffic altogether? Imagine that! Zero car accidents! Isn’t that a worthwhile goal?

The horrible truth is that we accept a certain level of risk in return for the lifestyle that we lead. The other horrible truth is that it has always been like this, and always will be.

The constant mantra that speed kills is a demonstrable lie. For it to be true the death toll in Germany would have to be multiples of ours given the speeds seen everyday on autobahns. Speeds in excess of 200kph. I’m not neccesarily advocating higher speed limits by the way, just some truth in the debate. The fact is that for all roads, urban and autobahns, Germany’s road toll per 100,000 people is less than Australia’s.
How does Germany accomplish this “physics” defying feat? From what I have seen it is road design and culture. Where do we routinely position light poles? At a convenient tangent to a curve in the road. We have trees on country roads in the same positions on bends. At roundabouts we have signs placed at eye height blocking people from seeing what’s coming from the right. Bad rail crossings, dual green lights for pedestrians and traffic at intersections. All of which costs money to fix. But speeding fines bring money into the government which helps the budget but does nothing to address the infrastructure deficiencies. And good journalists like you just follow the mantra without looking around the world to see what’s happening elsewhere.

You saying “it’s a fact” does not make it so. In fact, it is completely incorrect. Speed does not kill. A sudden stop kills. That sudden stop is the result of a mistake made by the driver of a vehicle.

And no, lets not forget modern, safer cars. These speed limits were designed for 1950s vintage vehicles. Modern cars are capable of safe travel at much higher speeds, and keep people alive and completely uninjured in accidents that used to be certain death.

Maybe if you believe the speed limits should be reduced, it is due to your poor driving ability, and you should hand your license in and use public transport. You know, for the safety of the rest of us. Surely it’s not too much to ask for less than competent drivers to stay off the roads.

house_husband7:39 am 16 Nov 20

The issue I have with it that our government collects all manner of data about road accidents in the ACT but we effectively see nothing in terms of comprehensive analysis of the contributing factors for these.

The last annual crash report was published in 2016 and that showed that rear end and right angle collisions accounted for the majority of accidents. While speed may have been a contributing factor for some of these, most are likely to be the results of a lack of due care and attention.

Until this type of analysis is done to identify the causal and contributing factors for all accidents and appropriate and comprehensive mitigation strategies are put in place to address these we will not have a truly evidence based road safety strategy. Instead we’ll just have a series of simplistic and almost Pavlovian knee jerk reactions that give the appearance of doing something.

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