Monday, December 16, 2013

Speeding myths again

Come the winter months, come the tired old mantra about speeding being the cause of so many accidents. Every time you see a police officer interviewed on TV, they always say the same thing: "slow down".
Ok folks - look - speeding is not the prime cause of accidents. Not in any weather, not by a considerable margin, not by any way of looking at the numbers that you choose. Generally speaking, in Europe, America and Australia, speeding is only the contributing factor in 7% of road accidents. Dangerous maneuvers, inattention, failure to maintain control, "pedestrian entered roadway without looking", "looked but didn't see", drunk driving, drug driving, distracted (cellphone) driving, and mechanical failure all cause more accidents than speeding. This is backed up by dozens of studies done across the globe, all of which get buried really quickly every time they're published. Why? Because it's easier to catch and prosecute someone for speeding than it is to prosecute for dangerous or distracted driving.
Automated speed cameras are designed to raise revenue with very little financial outlay. They are impartial, unbiased, have zero subjectivity, and if the local cops are a bit bent, are easy to hack to issue tickets to people driving at the speed limit (happens a lot - google it).
What do I mean by subjectivity? It's OK to cut in and out of lanes, dodging trucks and pissing off everybody else in pouring rain, with bald tyres and one headlight out, because the police generally can't catch you, and won't catch you when you're doing that. And no automated system can. But zip past a speed camera on a completely empty three-lane road at 90mph at 2:30am and cha-ching! Cash for the police, points on your licence. Which is the most dangerous? Obviously not the empty road at zero-dark-thirty.
Study upon study has found that speed cameras do not deter drivers, and in some cases actually make the roads more dangerous. Even at the most optimistic level, they don't make any road any safer, and nothing illustrates this more than getting a speeding fine in the mail. I got one last year from Switzerland. I was there in December on business in a rented car, and in February I received a fine here at home in the US, to be paid to the Swiss police. Issuing a fine through the mail does not make a road safer. All it does is raise money. The worst part in this particular case was that I wasn't even driving - I wasn't even in the country. It was a corporate rental with two names on the rental receipt - mine being at the top - but my colleague (the second-named driver) was driving it as he stayed on an extra week.
The take-away from all this is simple : better driver training, more attention behind the wheel, less distractions and steeper fines and prosecution for dangerous driving. That will cut accident rates. But those are all expensive and complicated to implement, and don't raise cold hard cash. So we have to deal with the idiotic mantra that "speed kills" (it doesn't), so for the time being, buy a radar detector and/or GPS speedtrap locator (or use Waze on your smartphone), drive as quickly and safely as the traffic allows, and be vigilant.
You can find my entire page on this topic here : Speeding facts vs fiction, including links to various reports on how dangerous speed cameras are.