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Safe Speed

Claims Section

In this area of the Safe Speed web site we set out the key arguments in numbered paragraphs and numbered questions.

It's a sort of "argument database".

Table Title
Table 1 Do speed limits ensure safety?
Table 2  Does speed limit enforcement save lives?
Table 3  Why allow the speed limit to be exceeded when it is safe to do so?
Table 4  Is speed enforcement morally justified?
Table 5  Proposals for improving road safety
Table 6 Criteria for better road safety law
Table 7  Dangers of increased speed enforcement and lowered vehicle speeds
Table 8 Key questions that the authorities have failed to answer
Table 9 Key rhetorical questions that tend to reveal the truth

Claims tables are laid out as follows:

Column 1: Column 2: Column 3: Column 4:
Paragraph Number. Click to see comments, details, links and further reading relating to the particular claim. Claim Source, Justification, and links. (short) Click to send us email regarding the specific claim. Suitable emails from real addresses will be posted to the comments page for the particular claim. 

Do speed limits ensure safety?

1.01 Speed limits do provide valuable information and guidance. Obvious fact (for example: speed limit signs might warn you that you are approaching a village) mail
1.02 Some speed limits provide vital safety advice in areas of special danger. Obvious fact. Motorway roadworks, near schools, and any other areas of special danger need special treatment. (overlaps with 1.10) mail
1.03 It is well known and understood that suitably trained drivers can use very high speeds without special risk. Reference a previous version of Roadcraft the police drivers' manual. "Speed in itself is not dangerous" . Also the fundamental speed setting rule: "You must be able to stop safely within the distance you can guarantee to be clear." more Also see the comments page for details on "suitably trained".  mail
1.04 Speeding drivers are irresponsible, right? If you believe that more than 75% of drivers are irresponsible then you have little faith in your fellow man. Almost all (so-called) speeders in the UK today are normal people going about their lawful business with proper care and consideration for others. Social comment. The proof comes from the facts that a) The fastest roads (motorways) are the safest, and b) Only a tiny proportion of these "speeders" have accidents. mail
1.05 I've always thought of 60-70mph (on motorways) as a "sleepy" speed. True but risky comment based on experience mail
1.06 It's the business of a driver to chose a safe speed for the conditions. It's no good coming to a 40mph curve on a 60mph speed limit road, crashing and then blaming the speed limit. So naturally we all compute safe speeds. Logical evidence that a driver must decide on his own speed on occasion. mail
1.07 It is frequently argued that speed limits serve to limit the damage in inevitable accidents. It is a higher ideal to attempt to prevent accidents instead. If it is possible to prevent accidents, then that should be the primary emphasis Logical comment. Everyone's goal is fewer accidents. Seeking to reduce the damage is something one might do after accidents have been reduced as far as possible. mail
1.08 Suppose one day after tons of speed limit publicity an individual drives at 30mph because he has been told that to do so is safe. Turns out 30mph was far too fast for the circumstances and a death ensues. In such a way it is possible for speed limits to make roads more dangerous under some circumstances. And yes. We honestly believe this is already happening every single day. Logical analysis, based on our observations. mail
1.09 Keeping to a speed limit is an extremely poor way to ensure that you can stop in time. In fact, it will fail the first time you encounter stationary traffic. Logical analysis. Good driving practise already ensures that the vast majority of people can stop in time to avoid accidents.  mail
1.10 Excessive use of low speed limits where it is obvious to drivers that they are not required brings speed limits into disrepute. This leads to speed limits being ignored, and unfortunately important speed limits are ignored as a consequence. See 1.02 above. We believe that special risks need special treatment.  mail
1.11 Speed limits won't prevent a driver who doesn't care from causing danger. So speed limits cannot protect us from the least responsible drivers mail
1.12 No speed limits can prevent drivers from going too fast for the conditions when conditions dictate that the safe speed is below the limit. It is suggested in various studies that excessive speed accidents frequently happen below the speed limit. Perhaps around half of such accidents are within the speed limit. mail
1.13 new No speed limit can improve safety if the driver at the time does not know what the limit is. In a recent case near Paris, a driver entered a speed reduction zone at roadworks (limit: 56mph) at 90mph and collided with a stationary fire engine without braking, killing five firemen. We think he was dozing. He didn't see the fire engine, so how could he have been expected to see the speed limit signs? The 56mph limit made no difference to the outcome. mail
1.14 new Sometimes the national speed limit prevents us from using a speed limit to properly warn drivers of an area of increased hazard density. Imagine a fast A road, where in light traffic a general  absence of hazards leads to a safe speed in the region of 90mph. The road feeds directly into a small town bypass and the hazard density increases dramatically. The by pass section should have a 60mph limit, but we cannot mark one and distinguish the increased hazard density because we already have 60mph as a national speed limit. mail


Does speed limit enforcement save lives?

2.01 Prosecutions are hypocritical, and the law suffers. Speeding is widespread. In the courtroom, the Police, the bench and the lawyers are all guilty of the same offence as the accused. Even the legislators are guilty of speeding. How can the law be taken seriously in such a climate? A very serious point. Respect for the law is under threat. mail
2.02 Recent accident figures suggest that just 2.4% of accidents are caused by excessive speed. [source: West Midlands accident report 1998] Many modern accident figures put excess speed as a contributory factor in less than 10% of accidents. Other reports suggest differently, sometimes excess speed is put at about 30%. Excess speed might be above or below the posted speed limit, so some of those 30% "don't count" when we are talking about speed limits. You must make up your own mind which reports you believe. mail
2.03 Insurance companies ignore one or two speeding convictions.  If there was a correlation between speeding convictions and accident rate we could be sure that the insurance companies would have found it and loaded the premiums of convicted speeders. This is strong evidence that safe drivers are being prosecuted. An important point well worth noting. Where it says "ignore" we mean "do not load the premium against people with". See the comments page. We're considering re-wording the claim for clarification. Thanks to Andy for pointing this out. mail
2.04 Speed enforcement has already bottomed out as a method for saving lives. Recent figures for a period where speed enforcement has "gone through the roof" show an increase in injury accidents and a more or less constant rate of fatal accidents. This is the first time that fatal accidents have not fallen since the 1930s.  Source: latest accident and conviction figures from detr. mail
2.05 Blanket enforcement reduces respect for important speed limits. See 1.02 and 1.10 above. mail
2.06 Speed enforcement is an easy option for the authorities and allows them to get away with not doing anything about real road safety. We have a culture in local government of making decisions to protect the jobs of the decision makers. This leads to weak but easily defended decisions. This management style is not in the public interest. mail
2.07 The evidence from Montana. A recent period of no speed limit apparently resulted in many fewer deaths.  Read it and be amazed. click here mail
2.08 We simply don't believe that a significant proportion of accidents are caused by exceeding the speed limit. Pure opinion, based on considerable driving experience. mail
2.09 Modern speed enforcement is just an ugly tax. It raises revenue and has nothing to do with road safety. An increasing number of people believe this statement. The comments page has pictures of a revenue raising camera. Also see claim 2.14. mail
2.10 Modern speed enforcement is the tool of political aims, intended to reduce the comfort of car drivers and force them to consider alternatives. It has nothing to do with road safety. An increasing number of people believe this statement. mail
2.11 Modern speed enforcement distracts drivers from the important tasks of driving and so can actually increase danger. It seems obvious that there will be times when some drivers are distracted. mail
2.12 Speed cameras are tending to replace police patrols, so offences other than speeding are tending to be detected less frequently. We have DETR figures which appear to confirm this. Click here. mail
2.13 The claim that a 1 mph reduction in speeds leads to a 5% reduction in accidents is fatally flawed. If it were true then a 20mph reduction in speeds would eliminate all accidents forever.  We never believed it anyway. Of course they will claim for a while that we should have calculated each mph reduction individually. There's some more detailed info here. mail
2.14 Some people argue that inconspicuous speed cameras can reduce speeds everywhere. This is untrue because much traffic is regular on the route and slows only in the vicinity of the cameras. Only non-regular traffic on a given route is slowed by inconspicuous cameras. Non-regular traffic might frequently be less than 10%. The alternative case is for highly conspicuous speed cameras placed at accident black spots. We grudgingly admit that reduced speeds at black spots might well save lives.  mail
2.15 Speed is a driver's most valuable risk management tool. Excessive emphasis on speed limits discourages or prevents drivers from properly using speed to control risk.  This ties in with developing drivers' abilities to set safe speeds. We are in danger of creating a population of drivers who depend on speed limit signs for risk limitation. Setting speed properly in accordance with the conditions is a vital and presently underemphasized skill. mail
2.16 Schemes of education or enforcement intended to reduce accidents by reducing speeds by a few mph may frequently not work. This is because road users invest just enough care and attention to achieve their personal reasonable level of safety. A little less speed might just mean a little less less care and attention and the accident figures remain unchanged. The known psychological effects behind this claim are "risk homeostasis" and "risk compensation". I know of no literature where this idea has been applied to speed reduction experiments.

It makes sound logical sense that the effect is present. We just need to determine the degree.

Also see "Risky Business" on our first page.

2.17 International accident data shows no relationship between speed and accident rate. Other factors are clearly far more important than speed or speed enforcement. Examine the data and our supporting argument here. mail
2.18 new Modern speed enforcement promotes other forms of lawless driving, such as false number plates, uninsured driving, unregistered vehicles etc. It's quite obvious that some drivers will adopt illegal positions simply to avoid speed camera offences. The consequences of the illegal position may become quite serious when an accident occurs and might lead to "failing to stop". This must be part of the reason for the recent terrible figures from Manchester where 46% of drivers failed to stop after an accident. Read the story here. mail
2.19 new Speed cameras sometimes produce panic reactions in drivers and cause accidents directly. A tragic case has recently been reported where two motorcycles collided killing one rider and injuring another as a result of panic braking at a speed camera site. Read the story here. or here mail
2.20 new Speed risk publicity is creating new and unjustified fears in the non-driving population. In recent discussions with cyclists, it is clear that perceived risk from cars in particular is on the increase. The only available explanation for this change is that recent "speed kills" publicity scares the hell out of non-drivers. It's obvious when you think about it. Since roads have never been safer, these new fears are clearly unjustified. mail


Why allow the speed limit to be exceeded when it is safe to do so?

3.01 Time is saved. The savings are significant. A conservative calculation using 3 minutes additional delay per journey adds up to around 1,500 80 year lifetimes each year in the UK. In order to *possibly* save a handful of whole lives we risk wasting 1500 in dribs and drabs? to follow  mail
3.02 Enables "perfect" driving. Since perfect driving can be characterized as "maximum safe progress", and since I seek to perfect my driving, it pains me to obey speed limits when I know that the optimum safe speed is far in excess of the limit. I want the right to use the skills I am proud of to the full. to follow mail
3.03 Encourages pride in driving through trust. If you want people to be responsible you have to give them some responsibility first. mail
3.04 Avoids the frustration caused by being slowed pointlessly to follow mail
3.05 The right to exceed the speed limit could be used to incentivize advanced driver training. It is obvious that people wish to travel quickly, and in some cases it is possible to do so safely. We could use that desire to encourage further (optional) training and at the same time ensure that drivers using higher speeds had appropriate training. mail
3.06 Avoids the dangerous soporific effects of unnecessarily slow speeds. Higher speeds raise driver alertness. to follow mail
3.07 "If I can do so without endangering others it is my right to determine my own speed." to follow mail
3.08 If a given journey is accomplished in a shorter time, then the time exposed to risk on the road is reduced. This is a fascinating idea. We think it must be true that some of the risk involved in driving a car is "time based" and this specific portion of the risk must be reduced by higher speeds. We would be very interested to hear any further information on the idea. mail
3.09 There is no reason not to allow the speed limit to be exceeded when it is safe to do so. I suppose some might argue about "who decides it's safe", but that's a different problem. mail
3.10 Drivers allowed to use higher speeds learn to look further ahead and become safer at all speeds. The need to observe further ahead increases with speed. Advanced drivers always scan the road to the limit of visibility. Restricted divers may not acquire this skill at all, and if they do will acquire it more slowly. mail


Is speed enforcement morally justified?

4.01 Speed enforcement would be morally justified if it could be shown that it was in the public interest. Given the present style of camera enforcement there is very limited evidence that this is the case. We should be seeing a real benefit in accident rates due to the growth of camera enforcement. We are seeing no such benefit. mail
4.02 Exceeding the speed limit is frequently perfectly safe. Many people need their driving licences to earn their living. Having a driving licence is an important modern "freedom". It is ABSURD to suggest that we should affect someone's livelihood or freedom without having evidence to confirm that they have done something dangerous or anti-social. The law is being used without intelligence and without regard for the conditions. A good safe drivers are getting banned for good safe driving.  mail
4.03 Less than 0.5% of drivers cause a fatal accident in a whole lifetime. 70% of drivers speed. Obviously something is wrong here. We're nicking three quarters of the population for a behaviour exhibited by one in two hundred.

With 235,048 injury accidents in 1999 and about 23,000,000 drivers, 1% of drivers caused an injury accident in that year.

Since much research now puts speed as a major contributory factor in accident causation at (well) under 10% we can infer that less than 0.1% of all drivers will cause an injury accident through excessive speed in a year.

But if guesses of speeding convictions exceeding 2,000,000 this year are correct, around 10% of drivers will receive a speeding conviction.

So for every 100 convicted only 1 will cause an injury accident through excessive speed. 99 people out of a 100 are being immorally convicted.

editor's note: tidy up this mess! mail
4.04 Should we put up with rules based on the abilities of the lowest common denominator? Rules based on the capabilities of the weakest cause a horrible waste of mankind's varied talents. to follow mail
4.05 The vast majority of drivers do exceed the speed limit. This alone proves that the majority of drivers find it acceptable. We trust the judgement of the majority. Since the majority do not have accidents (let alone speed related accidents) we have basic justification for trusting them. mail
4.06 The high number of people currently receiving speeding convictions makes speeding in general more socially acceptable. This reduces the effectiveness of safe speed messages, and in turn reduces safety in those places where speed limits are set properly because of local dangers. Previous claim 4.06 replaced due to duplication with claim 4.02. This new claim added 9th July 2001. 

This claim was triggered by a similar statement made recently by an RAC spokesperson speaking on national radio.

4.07 The 85th percentile rule is the traffic engineer's strongest tool when recommending speed limits. Speed limits need to be set using this method for most road classes. Where other methods are used they are usually not justified.  Read about the 85th percentile rulehere mail
4.08 new Driving licence points may be justified for safety violations, but not for "social" violations, nor for "technical" violations. A "technical" violation occurs when a speed limit is exceeded, but no danger is caused.

A "social" violation occurs when the speed limit exceeded has been set for social, as opposed to safety reasons.

new Proposals have moved to their own page

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