Does speed really kill?

Maybe this is not so much of a conspiracy theory as a myth. It's certainly a myth that's propounded at every opportunity by the authorities and the brainwashed 'concerned' citizens who have been taken in by the propaganda surrounding speed on our roads.

What is the official opinion? Well, if you ask a police officer what his or her opinion on speed is, chances are they'll tell you that the speed limit is just that - a maximum limit and must be adhered to at all times. They'll probably also mention that they've seen countless numbers of accidents caused by speed.

I challenge that position.

I do not think that speed, per se, is nearly as big a problem as they'd like us to believe. Sure there are accidents where a car involved happened to be doing 100mph (160kph). Sure there are accidents where a child is killed by a speeding motorist. But the root causes of these accidents is not speed. It's stupidity - this stupidity is not the exclusive realm of the motorist either.

I firmly believe that we have a much bigger problem in soceity today from sheer stupidity and carelessness than we do with speed. How many times has a car pulled out in front of you, causing you to brake sharply when there is no traffic at all behind you? Why didn't the other driver just wait until you'd passed? It's all down to consideration for other road users, that's all.

I'm beginning to think that this is what is causing a lot of the problems with road rage of late. Drivers are getting stressed out by other motorists lack of consideration and basic manners, this stress leads to frayed tempers which can ultimately end up in violence.

The biggest problem with stupidity is the inappropriate use of speed which we see all too often these days. 100mph may not be a problem on a motorway, but it certainly is a problem at 8:45am outside a school. It's all common sense really, if there are kids about all drivers know that they should drive slowly and carefully, keeping a sharp lookout for children. Unfortunately we still see people tearing past schools at opening and closing times.

I believe that the Americans have an excellent solution to the problem. They have special speed restrictions which only apply if a child is present. For example, in many 30mph or 40mph zones, there are signs warning motorists that the speed limit is 20mph, but only if a child is on the footpath or road. In my experience this limit is obeyed and works well, once you're past the child you can speed up again.

Yet another problem associated with speed is tailgating. This is a suicidal tactic employed by an alarming number of drivers. I don't quite understand the logic behind it, but a great many drivers seem to enjoy hurtling down a road at 60mph, all the time only 4 feet from the car in front. If the lead car has to brake suddenly, the tailgating driver will have no chance to react - in order to get away with it you have to be driving better and cleaner than the other guy and at that distance it's just not possible.

I really think that these people just don't understand the fragility of the situation they're placing themselves in. I've seen plenty of people who have realised that fragility just a little too late. They probably just caught it as their bonnet crumpled from being slammed into the back of the car in front at 70mph. Nice one.

The big thing in this country at the moment is slow the traffic down. Everywhere you look, speed limits are being reduced, traffic 'calming' measures installed and speed cameras are being set up

I don't think this approach is going to solve anything. Already there are many urban dual-carraigeways with silly speed limits. Often there are three and four lane carraigeways, with no pedestrian access whatsoever, but with a 30mph or 40mph speed limit. This limit is often reinforced by a GATSO speed camera. Because of the unnecessary speed restriction, drivers simply ignore the limit, only slowing down for the speed camera. This is just stupid.

Traffic calming measures really get my goat, they send me completely up the walls. In fact I can get quite annoyed by them sometimes, so much for calming. There are quite a few traffic calming measures employed by local authorities these days...

The standard ones are speed humps. Lovely things these. Install a 6 or 7 inch high bump every 50 yards along a road. This causes the cars to slow as they get to each ramp - then they accelerate away from them again - it's a constant stop-start event. Loads of fun.

The someone modified the speed hump and made it longer, but still 6 or 7 inches high. The new ramps are about 6 to 8 feet long with a much sharper incline so you have to slow down even more.

But there's a problem with speed ramps. What if a fire appliance or ambulance needs access to the road with speed ramps? An ambulance with a critically ill patient needs to get to the hospital in a hurry, but they can't risk banging the patient around over the speedbumps, so they have to take them especially carefully (and slowly). So, how many deaths have speedbumps caused?

Some bright engineer thought of a solution to this - the so called Berlin hump. These are speed ramps that are only placed in the middle of each lane of traffic and the idea is that they allow the wheels of large vehicles, like ambulances, fire appliances and buses (oh, and trucks too) to pass over the speedbump unimpeded, but the poor car driver still has to negotiate the bump.

Unfortunately it's not quite that well thought out. The track on most cars will allow the wheels to pass either side of the Berlin hump too - only they're higher than a normal speed bump, often 8 or 9 inches. This means that you're running the risk of grounding your car on the things. The alternative of course is to put two wheels up on the ramp and two wheels off, but there usually isn't room to do this with the right hand wheels on the ramp, you have to go for the left side of the car, so you're driving in the middle of the road, often with oncoming traffic!

One of the worst traffic calming measures used today, is the "let's close one side of the road for a few feet" lark. Who came up with this? Have they any idea how much chaos this causes? One direction of traffic will have priority through the narrow section, meaning that at rush hour, unless you travelling in the direction with priority, you'll be sitting there for ages trying to get through.

The problem with these narrow sections is often exaggerated by local residents parking beside the things, effectively increasing the length of the narrowing. I don't blame the residents at all, they've probably parked there for years, and if they did, there was probably no need for the narrowing at all, as the parked cars provided a natural narrowing.

I think the best solution to the speed problem is better driver education and a restructuring of the nations roads.

Vendemen - 5 April 1998