By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XISpeed trapping is probably the single most used law enforcement method to combat road deaths.  One might however question whether this does in fact save lives or whether it is merely window dressing enforcement to generate general compliance with the rules of the road.  For want of a better word the imposition of fines gets a wee bit ‘pedantic’ for those who are travelling at say 65kph in a 60kph zone.   We all know how easily and indeed comfortably one can creep up 5kph without noticing, but one supposes that rules are rules.
We need to take a step back from trapping to the actual setting of speed limits.  This is where the ‘do-gooders’, the politicians and councillors step in.  Some may suggest that speed limits are set too low, thus making trapping ‘easy meat’ for traffic law enforcement officers, and that cognisance should be taken of certain other factors, such as age of drive, experience and the type of vehicle they are driving.  Many are designed for speed.
Many of us are in metric speed limit zones and, generally, town centres are set at 60kph as a general limit and 80kph on dual carriageways.  The open general limit on highways is 120kph.   In the United Kingdom built up area are 30mph, while dual carriageways and highways get the 70mph approval.  Yet we are all driving vehicles which manufacturers have designed to travel upwards from speeds of 200kph/124mph, almost twice speed limits.  That is criminal!
One often wonders what science is applied to speed limiting, or whether in fact nations have just pursued limiting as a case of ‘those have always been the limits’.  Statistics have been quoted on United Kingdom based speed limits which suggest “Accident statistics show that at 40mph nine out of ten children hit by cars either die or receive life changing serious injuries. At 20mph nine out of ten survive.” **   Should 20mph be the general limit in built up areas?

Clearly, many people reading this will be thinking that their local speed limits are a little dull, when they come to consider it.  Nobody would propose that speed limits be abolished, because there are very good reasons not to travel at high velocity through, for example, built up areas where pedestrians dominate, especially the young.   But control does not lie in law enforcement trapping.  Given the amazing feats of engineering we enjoy in motor vehicles today, and considering aspects of age, driving experience and training, one wonders if speed limiting legislations has been left behind in the 1950s mindset.  It is very much contingency limiting, for that tiny minority who may suffer an accident, which cannot be adequately controlled.

Given all this, it would seem that more fundamental issues are still ignored.  These are that most people who take to the wheel of a car generally intend to be law abiding citizens and have no intention of using their vehicles as a weapon.  No cognizance is taken of those who are seasoned drivers, nor the propensity of the very young or the very old to be more accident prone.  No one cares about expansion of vehicle brake capacity or efficiency, vehicle design and the elimination, to a reasonable degree, of drink-driving (which combined with speed is a sure killer).
The potential impact fatality figures on children are often quoted.  With measures like gun control in the United Kingdom, when it was discovered that guns can kill in large numbers in populous communities, guns were banned outright.  Yet when it is evident that the higher the speed the more likely impact deaths occur, with vehicles, which are apparently more lethal than guns, vehicle are not banned.  Even recommended speed rates for hitting children are not imposed, less enforced, around areas where children predominate.   Compare legislation controlling health and safety on the roads with that imposed on the tobacco industry.  The principle objectives are similar, to save lives, except motor vehicles kill mostly third parties rather than cigarettes kill smokers themselves, if they choose to smoke.

As ludicrous as that may seem, legislators still have not considered limiting vehicle manufacturers with the speed that their production vehicles may travel.   There are no health warnings in the cockpits of these killing machines on four wheels!   To achieve ‘do-gooder’ status, really no vehicles should be allowed to travel beyond a nation’s speed limits.  Their ability to do so actually encourages, if not causes, crime.  With geo-positioning technology vehicles could be limited easily to speeds outside driver control, right down to that magical 20mph in areas where children might be likely jump in front of motor vehicles.  Yet nothing is being done with this line of thinking.

There are just so many variables, one might guess it would make traffic law enforcement just a little too difficult, but speed trapping will unlikely contribute to the reduction in road deaths.   More scientific speed limiting will and vehicle manufacturers should have been more involved in that process.

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7 thoughts on “Speed, Guns and Tobacco Kill: Vehicle manufacturers get off lightly

  1. Andrew,
    with current technology it is possible to control vehicle speed from “cell” towers (infrastructures
    exists) providing vehicles are fitted with receivers which can be integrated into their electronics thereby controlling speed per area without the need for trapping. This would increase vehicle cost only slightly but apart from making everyone toe the line, would rob municipalities and law enforcement agencies of speedtrap income. This is obviously too easy a solution. Rev 7077.

  2. Andrew,

    Many good discussion points in this blog, so I’ll slog through them as best and as briefly as I can.

    1. Driver education.

    a). I concur 100% that inadequate driver education and initial enforcement during the post-learner phase is the #1 cause of RTAs. In almost every case, at least one driver could be charged with “undue care and attention”.

    b). Proper, detailed, instruction and testing and Graduated Driver Licencing has always been the way to go. Germany has been the leader in this for years, and their “RTAs/fatalities per road miles travelled” stats bear out the wisdom and effectiveness of this approach.

    d). It takes 8 weeks of classroom attendance, about 3 months of in-car instruction, and about $4000 to get a German licence, IIRC. You are tested in town, on country roads, and on the autobahn – both day and night! Failure to pass any component and it’s back to Square One – with the attendant cost/time penalty.

    e). In contrast, when I came to Canada 28 years ago, I had a driver’s licence in two days! This was after the most perfunctory of eyesight/colour blindness and written tests (the written was multiple choice) and a brief road-test in which I dropped ½ point. After 20+ years of driving on the “other” side of the road, this says far more about the inadequacy of the tests than it does about my driving skills.

    f). Canada has now adopted a graduated driver scheme, with “L” and “N” plates. Unfortunately, the idiot bureaucrats who wrote these supposedly life-saving laws for young drivers forgot to include a graduated horsepower scheme. This means that we have rich Chinese kids getting their licence in Daddy’s BMW M5, then driving away on their brand new “N” plate in a Ferrari Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo or Audi R8!

    2. Speeding tickets as accident prevention

    a). This is the most dangerous and widely-perpetrated myth in traffic enforcement.

    b). Numerous studies have been done world-wide to determine the optimum way to set speed limits. In North American urban and suburban areas, 50 km/h has proved to be a sensible limit. However, once one leaves built-up areas, and irrespective of what limit is posted, 80% of people will drive at the speed at which they feel most comfortable and most in control of their vehicle, given prevailing conditions. That speed is normally between 15 and 25 km/h in excess of the current posted limits. Municipalities and provinces know that, so setting limits falsely low is simply a mechanism to collect revenue through speed traps – no more, no less. And it makes lawbreakers out of competent and sensible drivers. What, one wonders, does that achieve?

    c). There is, and always will be, the 20% that drives too fast or too slow for the given conditions: traffic density, road surface, weather and visibility. These are the “speeders” we need to target, and that is being done with a graduated system of “xx over the posted limit” fine schedule. Police in BC even have the right to summarily impound a car driven “without due care” – deemed to be 40km/h over the posted limit. But the reality is that this component of the driving population will always pose a problem and, if/when they kill themselves and others, there will be replacements ready and waiting to assume the mantle.

    Studies show the vast predominance of these offenders to be aged between 17 and 23.

    d). We have mandatory, and monopoly, govt. insurance (ICBC) in BC. I sat for 2 years on their Intersection Safety Committee at the invitation of Vancouver Police Traffic Branch. Some of the most interesting stats were as follows:

    • 67% of all casualty accidents (those that cost ICBC the most) occur at intersections.
    • In only 6% (of this 67%) is speed a factor.
    • In an incredible 78% of all MVA’s, an Asian driver was involved. (Needless to say, we were NOT allowed to publish this figure – that would be racist….)

    So – given the cost of intersection collisions to the Province and City, I asked, why were there no Traffic cars permanently stationed at the 3 most dangerous intersection “Black Spots” in the City of Vancouver? I was told “a shortage of personnel”. “So,” I asked, “you can put 4 traffic members on a speed trap on a dead straight, divided dual carriageway on a sunny day with good pavement, but not at the most expensive black spots in the city?” I was NOT invited back…..

    To summarise:

    • Speed has NEVER been the problem – a driver’s lack of competence and control will be in play no matter what the speed. Better driver education is the answer.
    • Speed is NOT a significant factor in intersection collisions, the most costly in both casualties and vehicle damage of MVAs.
    • Policing is undermanned and badly-tasked – at least here.

  3. Hey there Andrew, found you through EAv !

    I was all ready to write to good long reply, but Richard’s points are inline with what I wanted to say, no reason to repeat!

    Few quick points, the ability of auto makers to limit the power of the auto in an effort to maintain speed control would never work in the USA nor anywhere else where there is a feeling that driving is right. That’s a fault in my opinion, viewing it as a right, as driving is a skill not all of us have regardless of the speed at which some try to drive. Heck just look at all the distractions we have in our cars now – cup holders, cell phones, gps, tvs, radios etc, etc.

    Driving alone is sometimes too much to do at one time and deserves all of our attention let alone trying to watch the GPS or grab a cup of coffee !

    There is equipment that can used on an engine called a governor that will regulate how fast the vehicle can go, there are a few problems with them though, like driving up a steep hill. Good luck with that! Moving van companies here in the States use them as a means of safety/cost control.

    I don’t think at all speed kills. Like Richard mentioned, the German Autobahn has on of the safest accidents per mile of anywhere on Earth, and much of it has no speed limit at all!

    Want to cut down on the drunk driving accidents? Equip all vehicles with a breathalyzer! If the driver blows too high, the vehicle won’t start!

    Want to cut down on distracted drivers on cell phones? Program the phones to shut down if they are moving faster than XX miles per hour !

    Oh wait, I am sure at least here in the States those last too infringe on the Constitution in some way or another so that won’t happen.

  4. Good post on speeding fines, the loss of revenue is why the police get so upset when motorists flash their lights to warn other motorists about speed traps. The authorities should appreciate this civic duty which slows more vehicles down than the speed trap itself.

    I cannot agree that giving the police the arbitrary power to confiscate vehicles and involve car owners in punitive cost BEFORE they have been found guilty in court as is also done in Ontario, is acceptable in a democratic society. Impose high fines for very excessive and inappropriate speeding and other forms of dangerous driving by all means but after the correct judicial process.

    The current law here allows the police to confiscate a vehicle that is not even owned by the driver. When these cases are subsequently overturned by the courts – as many have been- it is the taxpayer that foots the bill for the costs of towing, repairs and compensation.

    Again in a democratic society, I cannot accept that surrendering more individual rights like controlling our vehicles, to the authorities is a good thing. Next step after controlling speed from cell phone towers would be controlling where you can drive (not near the Presidents house for example) or even disabling vehicles for real or alleged crimes – like overdue taxes.

    Even the recent innovation of “Black boxes” for certain up-market vehicles, while it may have advantages for the innocent parties in an accident, will, I am sure be challenged in court as an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

    The following is not for publication – but I cannot find a “Contact us” form. Please delete

    I have nominated you as a “Versatile Blogger” which is well deserved. Details are in my post here:

    Hope it brings you some new visitors who can also enjoy your writing as much as I do.

  5. As a vehicle careers into your lane after avoiding a multiple car collision, with no room to brake, you stamp on your accelerator to give him that little bit of space needed to avoid the same fate ! oh wait, I forget I am a mere passenger in the vehicle I must accept my fate along with his. Speed limiters preventing cars from achieving their true potential, speed wise, are already in place, although, admittedly, industry regulated, governing a vehicle at the lower end of the spectrum brings about it’s own problems in the same way that welding a rod into the barrel of a gun makes it extremely safe, until the weapon is needed, on that rear occasion, to protect ones Beano Annuals.

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