Speed Kills, or Does It? (Opinion)

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and why granny won’t be coming to Christmas anymore, kids…

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I’d like to imagine there are hordes of people my parents’ age roaming around with eye-patches and only one eye.  It was crammed down my throat from a young age that the consequence of anything and everything was to lose an eye.  Run with scissors?  You’ll poke your eye out!  Play with swords made from sticks?  Jimmy next door is going to lose an eye!  Throwing pieces of your eraser at your mates in class?  You will absolutely, unquestionably, incontrovertibly lose an eye.  If you dare have fun, it’s pretty damn certain someone around you will lose an eyeball.

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Cyanide and Happiness 4348 – full credit and copyright to Explosm.net

So one day, when I’m old enough to bring forth spawn of my own to moan at, I’m almost certain the world’s population will have more than halved.  Because by the same logic as ‘you’ll lose an eyeball’, we’re told by anyone who’ll have us listen that speed kills.

 

So I’m beyond convinced that I’ll someday invite the family around for Christmas and have to explain to Jane, or Eggshell, or whatever other new-age non-offensive gender-neutral name I have to give my child, that their granny couldn’t be here to celebrate because on the way she accidentally drove 62 in a 60 zone and spontaneously combusted.

 

Speed kills, kids.

 

Not excessive speed; not crashing at speed; just speed itself.  But speeding isn’t limited to a certain number – it’s merely exceeding a thumbsucked threshold on any given road, made up by government types who don’t drive their own car, and whose blue light brigade escorts are seemingly exempt from death altogether.  If you, as a mere mortal, just think about exceeding the arbitrary figure they’ve come up with, studies have proven you’ll break into a profuse sweat as your body heats up and prepares for imminent death.

 

You see the error in that logic?  Speed doesn’t kill you, and no one besides Marty McFly ever simply disappeared as they hit precisely 88mph or any other speed for that matter; and he had Doc Emmett Brown helping him.

 

Speed Doesn’t Kill

 

Speed doesn’t actually kill you.  Sure, excess speed can lead to situations that result in death, but anything in excess can potentially kill you.  How the slogan should read is, “The difference in speed between two colliding objects increases the forces exerted upon the occupants of a vehicle, thus increasing the risk of serious injury and/or death”.  But that’s easy to get confused over, and it doesn’t fit nicely in big, bold lettering on posters and billboards.

 

‘Speed Kills’ is a great catchphrase – easy to remember, rolls off the tongue nicely, and has enough shock value to make it stick in the minds of the overly cautious, or in most cases, drivers who feel justified that by driving excessively slowly they absolutely cannot be at fault for any accidents.  It’s also a great excuse for governmental types to use to explain their inability to reduce the number of road deaths through policing of unroadworthy vehicles, or inappropriate road behaviour that actually cause accidents.

 

What does kill?  Well, inconsiderate drivers kill – you know the ones that change lanes without checking mirrors and blind spots, just because they indicated and therefore feel they have right of way.  Drunk drivers – they kill; by virtue of impaired vision, responses, and general coordination.  Keeping your following distance too short kills – how can you react and stop quicker than the laws of physics allow?  But perhaps the only real cause of death that is in any way related to speed isn’t speed itself.  No, difference in speed is what kills.

 

That doesn’t necessarily mean the guy doing 140km/h on the highway crashing into someone obeying the 120km/h national limit; it also applies to the guy doing 30km/h on a highway when the rest of the traffic is flowing at the national limit.  That difference of 90km/h is far more dangerous than the 20km/h difference in the first scenario.  In a crash between two vehicles in both scenarios, the second one is far more likely to generate a fatality.

 

Driving either faster or slower than a particular scenario dictates by a substantial margin is what will actually cause the problem.  That’s why in Germany – where sections of the Autobahn are famously unrestricted – the German traffic authorities don’t classify accidents as being caused by ‘speeding’ or ‘excessive speed’ they classify the cause of accidents as ‘inappropriate speed’, and in 2016 only 12.7% of all accidents were caused by this..  That’s what kills, not speed itself.

 

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Driver related causes of traffic accidents in Germany, 2016. Image credit: Destatis

 

In fact, when Germany implemented a speed limit of 130km/h on motorways in 1974, the number of persons killed in road accidents over the next few years increased – proving a speed limit doesn’t necessarily reduce road fatalities.

 

Speed Kills, Speed doesn't kill, does speed kill, Torquing Cars, Speed
Persons killed in traffic accidents in Germany, 2016. Image credit: Destatis

 

That doesn’t mean it’s OK to speed…

 

Now, I am by no means justifying speeding.  Exceeding the speed limit is still a criminal offence, and if you’re going to speed then you must be fully willing to accept the consequences of those actions, be they fines, license suspension, imprisonment, or any other consequences for your actions.

 

There are dangers associated with speed – you’re covering ground at a far quicker rate, which means you need to look further ahead for potential hazards.  More so, the forces involved increase exponentially, not linearly, as speed increases; and with them, so do the efforts required to brake.  Caution must always be exercised, and speed is something to be taken very seriously.

 

 

But speed is also relative; so whilst the speed itself might not be very high – say 70km/h for example – for a particular scenario it may be incredibly dangerous.  That speed on an clearly visible, dry, open dual carriageway may be acceptable, but that same speed on a wet suburban road – where children may run into the road, your visibility is obscured by trees, and where grip is limited – is irresponsible, dangerous, and in the event of anything unforeseen happening, is likely to result in serious injury or death.

 

Driving Slowly Kills Too

 

That doesn’t mean that speed itself is dangerous, or conversely that driving slowly is safe.  Every situation is unique and is subject to its own set of particular circumstances.  That’s why the safest possible thing to do is drive at the right speed for a situation; and yes, sometimes that means that driving faster is far, far safer than driving slowly.  And, because it needs to be said, driving slowly kills too.

 

That right there is why the ‘speed kills’ argument is wrong – it misinforms the public, developing the perception that if speed kills, driving slowly saves lives; a principle that works only in a world where we all creep around at 20km/h, in which case we may as well ride a bicycle to work.  ‘Speed kills’ is an argument used as a patsy to lay blame on for the failings of road users and those authorities that are supposed to keep them safe.

 

It causes unjust animosity and provides a bubble mindset that has the potential to do more harm than good.  Proper education on the matter is needed if we ever wish to reduce the number of deaths on our roads, if we ever wish to have personal travel that even vaguely resembles the harmony and relative efficiency of German roads.  We need to understand that speed is potentially dangerous, but so is a lack of it, and that there are numerous factors that can cause accidents and death – not just one.

 

Where is Excess Speed Acceptable?

 

In an ideal world we would have a perfectly prepared surface to drive on, one devoid of dirt and potholes.  We’d have infinite visibility and immediate response times so we could foresee a child in the road and slow well before then, we’d have a telepathic bond with other drivers so they’d know you were approaching rapidly and wouldn’t change lanes without checking mirrors and blind spots.  But we don’t live in an ideal world, and so speed must be exercised with extreme caution.

 

Responsibility is the key; and it goes hand in hand with driving an appropriate speed for the scenario at hand.

 

That’s why racetracks exist – predefined roads where the variables are as strictly controlled as humanly possible, where children and animals aren’t going to suddenly appear in the road, where potholes aren’t going to derail you at speed, or where square curbs aren’t going to roll your car into a lamp post.  That’s where you should get your fix of speed, responsibly so.

 

It sounds cliché, and many will claim it’s not wholly accessible to the masses, but the risks outside of controlled confines are far too high to ignore.  There is however also the flipside, where the more people attend track days etc, the more their driving will improve in all aspects.  The more people who attend these days, the cheaper they’ll become, in turn making them more accessible for those who can’t afford them.

 

It’s your civic duty then to attend track days; to take others along with you to get their fix of that drug we petrolheads get high on.  Be a hero, go find a racetrack and have some fun!

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