Monday, August 29, 2011

Speed is not dangerous

Just the title of this week's post is probably already irritating a lot of you, but calm down and I'll explain.

To help understand why I can quite confidently make that sort of statement, you need to look through the hype, the fearmongering and the plainly false information that is handed out like cookies by the police, councils and governments. The problem is that people are afraid of speed. They think that all sorts of evil happens when you're going anything faster than walking and that simply isn't true. The problem is people's lack of ability to control their vehicle, and a subset of that is speed - when people panic at speed, things get nasty much more quickly. But proper driver training could prevent this. You can't simply slap unrealistically low speed limits everywhere in an effort to reduce accidents. All it does is reduce the speed that the accidents happen. And these accident figures are freely available if you know where to look. Here in the USA, filing a GRAMA request can be very revealing. For example, in Utah, where I live now, the breakdown of the number of crashes where excessive speed was the primary cause looks like this:
2009: 1.2%
2008: 3.3%
2007: 0.94%
2006: 9.9%
More telling still, by far the largest percentage of accidents involving speed happen below 39mph - not exactly speeding, is it?

In England last year, the single largest cause of motorbike accidents was classified as failed to look, and it's obvious what that means. Speeding was second to bottom, only coming in marginally above deposit on road (meaning loose gravel, spilled diesel etc.) Numerically speaking the difference there is 14% of accidents came down to poor observation and a lowly 1% were attributable to speed.

In pedestrian fatalities, in general, the blame can almost always been laid with the pedestrian. The last time I looked into statistics for those fatalities in the UK, they panned out as follows:

- Pedestrian entered carriageway without due care (84%)
- Vehicle unable to avoid pedestrian in carriageway (12%)
- "Other" (4%)
Speed was the determining factor in one quarter of the "other" category - in other words 1% of pedestrians are killed due to motorists speeding.

Even the UK government has admitted that the speed kills mantra is, for want of a better description, total rubbish. In one notable memo on the topic, they opened with the following:

In recent years far too little research has been carried out into the causes of road accidents. Research that has been done has often started from the questionable presumption that the only route to improvements in road safety lies in the rigorous management of vehicle speeds. Conflicting viewpoints are ignored, irrespective of the significant weight of supporting evidence.

You can find that little gem of a report either on the government's own website (here) or in a PDF I printed from it (here) because topics like this tend to "disappear" when too much attention is drawn to them.

I'm currently gathering accident statistic information from various transport authorities across the US with GRAMA and FOIA requests - as I've done with Utah. I'll do some analysis and update my site and blog accordingly. I do know from initial investigations that in Arizona, the number of accidents in 2010 that were directly attributable to speeding was 1.4%. The number of accidents directly attributable to distracted driving (texting, using the phone) was over 30%.

For more reading I have a whole page on this topic: Speeding facts vs. fiction


Vladimir said...

I like your post :) You can also take Germany as example - the highways with no speed limit. I don't have exact statistics, but I have the impression that accidents there are not much more than on normal 130 km/h limited highways. But if you are interested you may research it, since this may make a good point about driving fast.

And also I would like to cite Jeremy Clarkson:

"Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary is what gets you..."

Klaas said...

Speed limits are only necessary if road users fail to adher to any other traffic rules. They only have an impact on the number of actual resulting collisions and the severity of them.

HypoThermia said...

The raising of awareness of issues other than speed that contribute to accidents is most welcome. Things have moved on somewhat that report in 2002 and a number of UK councils have removed speed cameras (but rely on alternative means such as unmarked cars).

For accuracy, the paper itself is not actually a government report but a paper submitted by a third party and probably in consultation (the ABD is an organisation that represents car drivers). It is similar to an "amicus brief" in a court case.

petrolhead said...

It's easier to point the finger to speed than to look for the deeper issues. With so many speed cameras around, speeding is fast becoming a non-issue.

Ars.Gladius said...

I think Top Gear during "the news" segment of one of the recent seasons, mentioned something about areas that increased the number of speed cameras also saw an increase in accidents and areas with no speed cameras saw a decrease over the same time period.