Friday, 24 May 2013

Blaming speed.

Blaming speed for car accidents is a bit like blaming altitude for aircraft crashes. A stationary car, like an aeroplane that never leaves the ground, is perfectly safe. Speed of some sort is inseparable from both, cars can do a lot of damage at 10mph, and lowering speed limits (like lowering altitude) does not always remove danger. It would be nice to think that 30mph is safe, and the slower you go the safer you are, but road behaviour is subtler than that.

Enforcing current limits is difficult enough, experience shows drivers generally go along with those they believe fair and necessary, but trying to decrease them may be counter-productive. I once talked to a traffic policeman, who patrolled a notorious A-class highway on which nine fatal accidents occurred in seven years. Progressively lessening speed limits made no difference. Limits were enforced vigorously yet a tenth death only served to emphasise authorities’ bafflement. All the available expertise seemed to offer no solution.

He agreed that the trouble probably lay in the piecemeal nature of the road, which had open, well-engineered stretches alternating with narrow twisting, heavily trafficked ones. The change of pace and interruptions to drivers’ and riders’ concentration were closer to the root of the problem than further speed limits. They already encompassed 60mph, 50mph. and 40mph. Of course drivers ought not to lose concentration, but in such matters of life and death we have to deal with the real world, not the world as we would like it to be.

Anti-speed lobbyists have become so shrill that their perfectly worthy aim of improved safety is lost in a speeding driver scapegoat-search, with the unfortunate (and wholly acceptable to a parsimonious government) side-effect, of diverting attention from road improvements to re-engineer that policeman’s beat, giving him fewer grisly and unhappy messes to clear up.

Full marks to Honda for its support, with a CR-V, for the Scottish helicopter ambulance service.

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