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Are these figures for real?

Safe Speed
Very provisional draft.

Comments and additions sought.

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Are we being lied to about the results of road safety research?

The Government has its own agenda and employs professional "spin doctors" to ensure that we receive the message that they would like us to receive. Does this extend to road accident information? Oh yes, it certainly does. They can often be found using selective and out of context figures from reports because they know that the figures they release will be quoted as headlines and sound bites. They have policies to justify and they must justify them publicly. The DTLR behave as a government spokesperson in this respect. We cannot know all the government's thinking, but it is quite clear that they have objectives which are nothing to do with road safety, yet are presented as such when they wish to impose once again on the motorist.

Civil servants and council officials appear most strongly motivated to preserve their own jobs and territories. They will make large efforts to prove that the decisions that they took last year were good ones and have been effective. They frequently use out of context figures to justify their own existence. If for example, an individual has approved or recommended a speed camera scheme, it may then become part of his job to ensure that the scheme is seen as a success. What do you suppose he might discover?

Road safety researchers are generally sincere, and many reports that they produce contain valuable information. This does not prevent out of context reporting of course. Sometimes road safety researchers have their objectives and methods set by council or government officials with their own objectives. Where "closed objectives are set for research projects, the results may often mirror original expectations. Road safety researchers usually fail to refer to skilled drivers for help with setting objectives. This frequently seriously compromises the usefulness of their reports. Like most drivers they seem to think they know enough about driving to decide on their own. They are wrong and they clearly need help. Some reports contain simple errors, and open the door for the government to spin another erroneous story to the public.

Weak or controversial claims in reports become government sound bites and are groomed to appear to form the basis of policy. Take for example the claim that 1/3rd of accidents are caused by excessive speed. This is a blatant misrepresentation of the government's own research, and should serve as a warning about both the policies that are based on the erroneous figure and also any future figures that may be subject to the same "spin machine".

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Questions for Researchers to consider:

If vehicle speeds are changed by enforcement, how does driver behaviour change? Do drivers compensate for the reduced speed by (for example) concentrating less or driving closer to other vehicles? Are any reductions in accidents recorded sustainable, or will drivers compensate the benefit away?
Are the drivers who actually cause accidents average drivers? What shape is a curve of accident risk against population percentile? I think 20% of the drivers cause 80% of the accidents. Can someone PLEASE sample 1,000 individual drivers and plot their risks?
Do you have a high degree of expertise in driving? If not have you involved driving experts at an early stage in your research so that objectives can be set in line with the best in driving practice? As far as I can tell, very few research objectives are set after consultation with actual road driving experts. Researchers assume that their understanding of driving is sufficient. It isn't. You always need the assistance of advanced drivers. Please feel free to contact us.
How does the threat or the practice of speed enforcement affect a driver's concentration on the task of driving?  Drivers may spend long periods looking at their speedometer or looking for enforcement cameras. We need to know how their driving is affected by this.
If roads get safer when we reduce the speed of traffic, is this because we are bringing the average speed closer to the slowest speed? Perhaps it's the slowest drivers causing at least some of the problems?
Which drivers and what percentage of drivers exceed the maximum safe speed when negotiating a blind bend? This is a real way of recognising drivers who use speed dangerously and foolishly. In most circumstances measuring traffic speed has little relationship to the instantaneous risk which each driver faces. This is because the circumstances and hence the "safe speed" varies from yard to yard and second to second. One place where safe speeds are predictable is on blind bends. Measure speeds on those and past the safe speed threshold you are actually measuring driver induced risk.

Safe Speed. Clear thinking about safe driving for the 21st century.

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