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More One Third Emails

Correspondence between SafeSpeed visitor Alastair G Brown and the Department for Transport

Safe Speed
 

 
Introduction

Much modern road safety policy in the UK is based on the oft repeated claim that "One third of accidents are caused by excessive speed". Sometimes this is backed up by the related claim that "Speed is the largest single cause of accidents". But a visitor to this web site decided he wanted to better understand the basis of these claims.

That visitor was Simon Tonks, and you can read the emails here.

Now Alastair G Brown (another Safe Speed visitor read Simon's emails and decided to ask questions of his own. Read for yourself what happened. 

This is a very serious matter indeed, and we recommend writing to your MP and bringing this page to their attention.

email Safe Speed.          visit Safe Speed First Page.             visit Safe Speed Main Page.


 
 
 
Actual emails, word for word from Alastair G Browne Actual Replies, word for word:
Starting off: Alastair has questions about a DfT email:

Subject: Speed
Date: Fri, 08 Nov 2002 11:51:13 +0000
From: "Alastair G. Browne" <email@withheld>
To: Manda.Sanger@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Manda,

I am prompted to write to you following my reading of an e-mail written by you and published on the Web at <www.safespeed.org.uk/onethirdemail.html> I refer specifically to your quote as follows:-

"speed is clearly a factor when the causes are shown as any of the following, sudden breaking, careless/reckless driving, following too close, in a hurry, loss of control of a vehicle and poor overtaking, etc."
Let's take each of these points you make in turn.

...speed is a factor in...

1. ...sudden braking.
Please explain this comment. Unless my entire basis of knowledge of physics has been wrong all these years, I thought that braking was the act of slowing down! How can speed be a factor in a crash (NOT accident) caused by sudden braking? It is possible to "brake suddenly" from any speed. Most incidents of "sudden braking" happen around town where speeds are fairly low in any case. Either that or they happen on otherwise clear, safe roads that have an artificially lowered speed limit (below the 75th percentile) coupled with a partially hidden speed camera. When the drivers see the camera their first reaction is to slam the brakes on in order to avoid paying speeding tax.

If someone runs into the back of them under these circumstances then I suppose you may be able to use the word "speed" in the cause of the crash---however, this word should also be coupled with the words "camera", "tax" and "persecution" to be absolutely correct.

2. ...careless/reckless driving.
Why must speed always be a factor in this? True enough, there are cases where highly inappropriate speeds are used by certain individuals and I will not take issue in these cases. However, it is quite possible and common for people to drive carelessly and recklessly at speeds below the limit. An example would be the driver who is literally looking no further ahead than the end of his bonnet whilst driving at 25mph past a row of parked cars. Of course, he doesn't notice the football get kicked across the road and is therefore totally un-prepared for the child that follows it---straight under his wheels.

There are people who would argue that this sort of incident is tragic yet an unfortunate accident. Wrong! This incident was caused by careless driving on the part of the driver! Speed (25mph) was not an issue but the driver's lack of observation was undoubtedly the cause. There are far more incidents of this nature than there are of "boy-racer" type incidents where the speeds concerned are very high indeed.

3. ...following too close.
I agree that speed may be a contributary factor in crashes related to this practice but it will often be because the speed of the vehicle in front was too LOW. Drivers who dither and dawdle about on the road with no regard to making good progress often annoy the drivers of vehicles behind them and provoke the type of scenario where they get tail-gated. Often the driver doing the tail-gating is not of sufficient skill to do so with a degree of safety and misses the subtle signs which tell him that the vehicle in front is about to alter speed/course. Then a crash happens.

It can be safe to follow another car closely---racing drivers do it every time they go out on the track---provided that the driver concerned has the ability to read the road and is fully aware of the increased risks. There are two main reasons why crashes happen due to tail-gating and neither of them is due to excess speed. Firstly, the driver behind misjudges the situation and hits the car in front. Secondly, the driver of the car in front decides to do something stupid like hitting the brakes suddenly in order to scare the tail-gater into backing down. This usually makes the situation worse and you can get a "red mist" syndrome.

4. ...in a hurry.
When people are in a hurry, they frequently omit to do things that they should and they cut corners. Driving at high speed need not be a factor in a crash caused by someone in a hurry. In far more circumstances, the root cause of these types of crashes is the fact that the driver is pre-occupied and therefore not concentrating properly on his driving. This gives rise to actions such as pulling out of junctions at the wrong time, changing direction without indicating, being in the wrong lane and suddenly switching and various other similar things. Speed is not a factor in any of these. Another interesting point is that if the driver who is in a hurry gets needlessly delayed, by for instance a driver dawdling along as explained above, then yet another factor will be introduced to the equation---that of frustration.

5. ...loss of control.
This is mainly due to either driver error or vehicle defect---NOT speed of travel. Even the most modest modern car, if properly maintained will have an upper limit of handling that is way beyond the skill level of the average driver. It is generally not possible to loose control of a vehicle simply by virtue of going too fast. The loss of control comes about when the driver lacks the skill to deal with visible and perceptable hazards such as bends, bumps and other road features. Speed is not a factor here, the cause of the resultant crash is lack of driver skill.

Whenever something happens on the road, the instant (and usually the only) reaction of most drivers is to hit the brakes. In most cases this is the absolute worst thing that you can do. If you are driving a rear-wheel drive car round a bend and the rear end starts to come round (oversteer) it can be dealt with very easily and safely if the driver knows what to do. If on the other hand, the driver simply applies the brakes, the car will carry straight on at a tangent to the corner and either head on into the oncoming traffic or off the road to the left. This could happen at quite low speeds on slippery surfaces.

Having talked about well-maintained cars so far, let's look at the average 5--7 year old car being run on a budget. The shock absorbers will be worn and possibly one or more road springs may be broken. The brake discs will be corroded, causing judder and uneven braking. The driver is driving down a 40mph limit urban dual carriageway at around 40mph. The car in front, some distance away, stops in the outside lane, giving ample warning signals in order to let an artic back out of a turning. Inner lane is clear, traffic conditions very light.

The driver of the car in question does not notice the stationary car in front with it's warning lights flashing. The driver of the truck and his backsman do however realise that the oncoming driver is in cloud-cuckoo land and the truck does not move across the road. The approaching driver suddenly wakes up and then slams on the brakes. All hell breaks loose. Instead of pulling up smartly and in a straight line, one front wheel locks up, the car starts to spin, the driver over-compensates and spins it the other way. Meanwhile the driver of the stationary car is watching this in his mirror and gets prepared to move forward if necessary. The truck operators are aware and so, just before a collision, the stationary car moves to allow more room. The inner lane is still 
completely clear by the way.

This is a classic case of loss of control of a car due to bad maintenance and driver error. If it had not been for the driver of the stationary car moving forward when he did there would have been a crash---nothing to do with speed. This actually happened to me---I was the driver of the stationary car.

6. ...poor overtaking.
Please define the phrase "poor" in this context. As far as I am aware,  and according to Roadcraft, the act of overtaking should be conducted as swiftly as reasonably possible so as to minimize the danger from oncoming traffic. Does this not mean that it is safer to accellerate hard and get past quickly rather than dawdle past at 1-2mph faster than the speed of the vehicle being passed? In this case, I would say that within reason, the higher the speed the better!

My interpretation of poor overtaking would be when the overtaking driver fails to correctly judge the speed of oncoming traffic or the actions of the surrounding vehicles. Once again, this is not due to speed.

7. ...etc.
Sorry, I'm confused. Please elaborate. "etc" roughly translates as "and all the rest". All what rest?

Alastair

PS. I do not condone the inappropriate use of very high speeds or the 
act of driving dangerously.

I have copied this e-mail to Paul Smith of the safespeed website 
<www.safespeed.org.uk> in case he wishes to publish it on his site. I 
will also copy your reply to him.

DfT replies after 5 weeks:

Subject: Mr Browne
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2002 08:57:27 +0000
From: "Ian Edwards" <Ian.Edwards@dft.gsi.gov.uk>
To: "Alastair G. Browne" <email@withheld>

Mr Browne

Thank you for your email of 8 November addressed to the DfT statistics branch concerning recent correspondence published on the www.safespeed.org.uk web site. I apologise for the delay in replying to you. As I am sure you can appreciate, the issue of speed generates substantial levels of correspondence which means that, on occasions, we are unable to respond to queries within usual timescales.

Around 3,400 people are killed and a further 37,000 seriously injured every year on our roads. This is clearly unacceptable and the Government is fully committed to reducing this toll.

Research continues to show excessive and inappropriate speed to be the biggest contributory factor in road accidents. Clearly increased compliance with speed limits, and lower speed limits where necessary will play a significant role in the reduction of the number of accidents that occur on our roads.

The Department occasionally hears from members of the public who refuse to accept the clear evidence about the dangers of speeding, and with the TRL Report 323 they think they have found a gem of evidence which supports their argument rather than Government policy.

I can only reiterate those comments made by my colleague, Manda Sanger,
which has been placed on this website. TRL report 323 is about identifying contributory factors in accidents in the context of a new accident data recording system being brought into STATS 19. Speed as a stand alone contributory factor is shown in the context of the report to occur in 7.3% of accidents. However it is the Government's belief that when all other speed related contributory factors are combined, the contribution is much greater.

Contributory factors can, by their very nature be subjective. However it is the Department's firm belief that the speed a driver chooses will play a part in many of the contributory factors mentioned in TRL 323.

Indeed, other TRL studies have directly examined the link between speed and accidents and confirm the findings of TRL Report 323. These are summarised in TRL Reports 421 and TRL Report 511. It is interesting to
note that these Reports do not appear to be misquoted in the same way.

The Department tries to ensure all evidence is freely available but is unable to prevent certain publications from misquoting speed related studies. Invariably, these misquotes are followed by a retraction, but, sadly, as is often the case the headline damage has been done.

Ultimately, the Department has absolutely nothing to gain from exaggerating the effect of speed on road accidents and will continue to develop policies  which will improve road safety and save lives.

I hope this is helpful.

Ian Edwards

This E-mail and any files transmitted with it are private and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed.  If you are not the intended recipient, the E-mail and any files have been transmitted to you in error and any copying, distribution or other use of the information contained in them is strictly prohibited.

Nothing in this E-mail message amounts to a contractual or other legal commitment on the part of the Government unless confirmed by a communication signed on behalf of the Secretary of State.

The Department's computer systems may be monitored and communications carried on them recorded, to secure the effective operation of the system and for other lawful purposes.

SafeSpeed comments:

Ian Edwards is apparently quoting from a standard set of texts, and appears to be unable to answer any of Alastair's questions directly.

The questions remaining after Ian Edward's email appear to outnumber the questions from before... for example:

"Research continues to show excessive and inappropriate speed to be the biggest contributory factor in road accidents."
Well, what research is that then exactly?

 

Alastair finds the DfT reply inadequate:

Subject: Re: Mr Browne
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 16:13:59 +0000
[it appears that the date was wrong on Alastair's computer, and this email was sent on the 19th December]
From: "Alastair G. Browne" <email@withheld>
To: Ian Edwards <Ian.Edwards@dft.gsi.gov.uk>
References: <se018a02.040@odpm.gsi.gov.uk>
 

Ian Edwards wrote:

Mr Browne

Around 3,400 people are killed and a further 37,000 seriously injured every year on our roads. This is clearly unacceptable and the Government is fully committed to reducing this toll.

I support the committment of the Government in this respect, however,
they way that they are going about addessing the problem is by no means
the most effective.
Research continues to show excessive and inappropriate speed to be the biggest contributory factor in road accidents. Clearly increased compliance with speed limits, and lower speed limits where necessary will play a significant role in the reduction of the number of accidents that occur on our roads.
Excessive and inappropiate speed, yes. I have already made it clear that
I do not condone dangerous use of speed. However, I am not convinced that a small minority of people who drive at dangerous speeds are responsible for being the biggest contributary cause of road crashes. I use the term crashes for a good reason---these are NOT accidents).

Before you trot out the old, well-worn sound byte about lower speed etc etc, could you please consider the following. At present, all speeding fines go to the Exchequer in one way or another. If all speeding fines were to go direct to charity, or to aid Third World countrys' development, without the Government taking a cut, would the Government still have the same views about speed enforcement? I rather think not. If you think I am wrong then I lay down a challange to be proved wrong. I put it before the powers that be to either divert all speeding fines to the channels outlined above for a period of 6 months or to appear on television and publicly give the reasons why they will not.

The Department occasionally hears from members of the public who refuse to accept the clear evidence about the dangers of speeding, and with the TRL Report 323 they think they have found a gem of evidence which supports their argument rather than Government policy.
It is not a question of "...having found a gem of evidence." If the truth be known, Government Policy is to make as much money as possible by means other than direct taxation. In the motorist, they have found a potentially lucrative source of income from taxes, duty and fines. The propaganda machine will go all out to portray the act of exceeding the speed limit as "dangerous", "irresponsible" and "foolish". This does not have---and never will have anything to do with road safety. If this is not the case then someone should accept the challange above. Surely, if money does not come into the equation, it will not matter if no money is made from enforecment of speed limits---will it?
I can only reiterate those comments made by my colleague, Manda Sanger, which has been placed on this website.
What? even though I have systematically destroyed each one of them? Please at least reply to my comments and do not give a simplistic reply.
TRL report 323 is about identifying contributory factors in accidents in the context of a new accident data recording system being brought into STATS 19. Speed as a stand alone contributory factor is shown in the context of the report to occur in 7.3% of accidents.
In the light of other reports from various sources, I still think that this figure of 7.3% is too high. Besides, is a "stand alone contributary factor" not a bit of an oxymoron? Once again, this whole thing smacks of propaganda.
However it is the Government's belief that when all other speed related contributory factors are combined, the contribution is much greater.
Now that IS propaganda. What would certain members of the Government know about it in any case? Some of them don't even hold licences! Meaningless statements such as the above only go further to prove that the whole speed limit thing is a sham.
Contributory factors can, by their very nature be subjective. However it is the Department's firm belief that the speed a driver chooses will play a part in many of the contributory factors mentioned in TRL 323.
Go on... describe a few actual incidents and detail exactly how speed (or lack of it) played a greater part than lack of driver awareness and lack of driver skill. Examples involving the use of very high speeds are not acceptable here.
Ultimately, the Department has absolutely nothing to gain from exaggerating the effect of speed on road accidents and will continue to develop policies  which will improve road safety and save lives.
Come off it! They have a great deal to gain. By exaggerating the supposed effect of speed on crash statistics, they are creating a culture which makes it easy for them to justify Draconian measures for speed enforcement and therefore the generation of cash. When the cash supply dries up a little then all they have to do is reduce speed limits further to bring about an increase in revenue.

Improving road safety and saving lives is all very laudable but simply by fleecing the motorist and employing illegal tactics in respect of speed cameras, the goal never will be achieved.

I hope this is helpful.
Thank you for your time in replying. I hope that either you or one of your colleagues will find time to respond properly to each of the points made above rather than giving a blanket answer, merely quoting propaganda over and over again. Also, please seriously consider the challenge proffered in this e-mail.

Alastair

P.S. I will of course forward your reply and any other subsequent correspondance to the administrator of the safe speed website mentioned
in earlier.

Space for further DfT reply

 

SafeSpeed Last word:

Thank you Alastair, for giving us permission to publish the emails on the SafeSpeed web site.

I wish the DfT would start replying to these enquiries properly. Every reply we've seen has made their position seem ever more untenable. Is this because they are limited to quoting from an inadequate memo?

Paul Smith. (email)
Safe Speed Webmaster.
22nd December 2002.

Note to the DfT:

If you are reading this please provide a substantial reply to these important questions. We will be more than delighted to publish a statement alongside these emails where you can present your case. If you desire complete control over the information presented we will provide a web link to a site of your choice. If you want t discuss the matter off the record, we'll provide a telephone number by return of email.

You can't measure safe driving in miles per hour



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