SPEED LIMITS and CRIMINALITY
(updates appended - latest November 5th 2011)
We are told authoritively by a
government minister that there are 10 deaths a day on the roads due to
traffic accidents and that this is a horrifying and unacceptable
The minister used the emotional distress of the relatives of those who
suffered from road accidents as a factor to justify this opinion. The
well meaning lady spouting this stuff has absolutely no idea of what
is talking about, but that ignorance is just part of the reason she has
thought fit to push herself into a position of telling the rest of us
how to behave and why we, through laziness, have given way to her
enthusiasm and given her the job. This short piece on the web site is
just here to relieve those who value their sanity to know that they are
Any form of transport has risks. The greater the speed, the more the
probability of hurt and damage if there is a collision between the
traveller and the environment or other travellers using similar or
different means of locomotion. This can be mitigated to a limited
by the construction of vehicles, at a cost related to construction and
design. A world in which this was not so would be not only meaningless,
it would ensure that the destiny of evolution was an insane nightmare.
The word hell would not describe it adequately. Allowing much of our
transport needs to be delegated to the individuals concerned, driving
their own cars, has been an extraordinary success. If we had attempted
to move that number of people around by any other means we would either
have failed or caused such mass slaughter that world wars would hardly
have been noticed in the mortality statistics. As it is, more people
killed in flying training than action, and more in road accidents than
by gunfire. In terms of person/miles we are doing well in the civilian
The improvement in accident statistics in the past few decades has been
spectacular, in spite of a very mixed performance in the management of
our road structure and infrastructure. This has been due to an
improvement in vehicle design and performance, growing skills amongst
part of the driving population, and improvements to much of the road
system. Aberrations of this in respect of some road structures and
signs, and certain elements of the motoring community, have prevented
results from being even more spectacular. However, it can be described
on the whole as extremely satisfactory, requiring only that we
concentrate now on the aberrant elements. Instead, the government seems
bent on leaning more heavily on those who are part of the solution, not
part of the problem. It was ever thus. One recalls the famous Trog
cartoon of Harold Wilson as Robin Hood, missing the target and shooting
the peasant bystanders with every arrow. Gordon Brown has tried to
avoid this, but often been caught in a web of complexity as a result.
We may now see the simplicicists making the reverse error. There is in
fact no alternative to allowing people in positions of authority and
responsibility to develop and exercise good judgment on a case by case
basis. The general legislation can only serve as the background. It can
never achieve detailed perfection or an overall statistical result
which can bid for complete acceptability. Any attempt at perfection
will be seriously counterproductive.
We must also make a clear distinction between actions made in error,
through inadvertent negligence, through deliberate negligence and
through deliberate positive decisions. A burglary or theft is never
anything but intentional. It is therefore obviously criminal, designed
to benefit the committer and harm the victim and break the law and the
social contract. To use the world criminal to describe a motorist who
has exceeded a 30mph limit because they are looking where the are going
instead of staring at the speedometer is not just Kafkaesque. We
passed the era when Kafka's experience could have occurred. To allow
this sort of thinking today in the UK is totally unacceptable. It is
criminal in its own right, though we do not have a law
against criminal idiocy of this kind.
If we are going to make exceeding 30mph in limited areas a criminal
offense, then we should make the limit 25 miles per hour, as the only
way to avoid a serious risk of criminality would be to stare at the
speedometer. Furthermore, the way to drive safely in a built-up,
populous area is not only to keep scanning through the windscreen and
mirrors but to keep up a speed whereby whenever there is a possibility
of a sudden obstruction, the driver's right foot is suspended over
the brake pedal. To ensure this, the driver should NOT be pottering
at 25 mph in third gear unless already in a situation that has made
this appropriate. Any experienced London taxi driver will confirm this.
A speed of at least 30 is safer in most situations. It is not speed
that kills unless excessive, it is poor observation and reaction time.
The current policy of speed cameras and limits which, frankly,
terrorise motorists, are now starting to contribute to accidents more
than reduce them. If these cameras are to be used, the filmed results
should be used by processing them with human intelligence, where
judgments are made whether to proceed with a warning or a fine, and
the fine should be proportional to the speed by which the limit is
exceeded and other factors relating to the site and the activity at the
time. These assessments can be made without knowing the identity of the
driver. The final penalty should be decided on after considering the
previous record of the driver.
Mr Davies of the Tory party does not make an articulate case, however.
He is just another bumbling, confused thinker who knows what he objects
to but does not know how nature really works, or how to use the law.
government has said that their latest suggestions, whereby speeding
fines remain a criminal matter, and may now carry a supplement to
compensate victims, is just a consultation paper to elicit public
response. What a terrifying idea. The ignorant asking the uneducated to
tell them what to do for the nation. Not only would someone of limited
finances risk a £60 fine and a criminal record for driving
looking out of the windscreen instead of staring at their instrument
panel but exceeding a speed limit, the start of which they may easily
missed as the sign was behind a bush, a lorry, or other obstruction.
They would be asked to pay a supplement to compensate victims. A
£60 fine is, in the first place, absolutely excessive for the
automatic minimum punishment of an unintentional breach of an arbitrary
limit. The punishment should fit the crime. If it does not, the law
fall into disrepute.
If it is deemed necessary to reduce the accident statistics even
further, then it should be done by concentrating on the individuals who
are a serious risk to others, not by driving good and experienced
motorists up the wall. If money is sought for compensating victims, the
current take from cameras should be used for this as suggested by Eddie
Mair in his interview with the spokeswoman on Radio 4 today. That would
Would those in positions of authority read, mark, learn and inwardly
digest the above. I have been studying these issues since before you
were born and also have more practical experience.
JB - Jan 12th 2004
UPDATE MARCH 30th
The question has been raised this week as to whether, after the removal
of inappropriate speed-bumps, an accident takes place, an injured party
could sue the local or national authority responsible for their
removal. Contemplation of this scenario might, one hopes, clarify the
minds of those who think road accidents can be avoided other than by
means of motorists and pedestrians learning as best they can how to
behave when using the road; that is to say by keeping a good lookout
and moving at the speed appropriate to the circumstances at the time.
This will minimise accidents. It will not eliminate them, nor should
it; nor should any attempt to eliminate accidents be part of any
government policy as it would be either immediately, or eventually,
UPDATE MAY 17th I am very pleased indeed to see that
somebody in the government (maybe many) has seen sense and realised
that a marginal breaking of the speed limit, in places where there are
few if any possible hazards at the time, is not deserving of a massive
fine and a large number of points towards disqualification - a
disqualification which can be tantamount to depriving some drivers of
their employment. There will now be a graduated penalty rate. I suppose
it is too much to ask to make it retrospective for those whose lives
have been seriously disturbed.
UPDATE OCTOBER 11th
"Speed Cameras Dangerous for Pedestrians" (Click
here if you missed the link in the text for January 2004).
OCTOBER 3rd 2005 - At last some intelligent
Speeding Brits may get lessons instead of fines
Monday October 3, 01:15 PM
LONDON (Reuters) - Some heavy-footed motorists caught speeding may
be offered driving classes as an alternative to fines or prosecution,
according to plans outlined by police chiefs on Monday.
A National Speed Awareness Course will aim to allow police officers
opportunity to take account a driver's motoring history and the risk to
"There may be circumstances where driver education is a better
deterrent to future speeding than fines or
penalty points," said Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of North Wales
Results from pilot courses show drivers who have undertaken a
re-education course are less likely to re-offend in the future.
"I believe that the national course will give real value to drivers
improving their understanding of the consequences of speeding and their
overall driving ability," Brunstrom said in a statement.
The precise timetable for courses being rolled-out will be up to
individual police forces.
The RAC motoring organisation said it welcomed the offer of speed
"We have argued for three years that these courses would take the
out of camera enforcement which surveys suggest is seen as a revenue
raiser," said Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation
said in a statement.
"The Foundation believes that much greater emphasis should be put on
driver re-education as an alternative to prosecution. We also stress
that automatic enforcement by camera is no substitute for traffic
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) also announced plans
launch an operation to tackle uninsured drivers using data from the
Motor Insurers Information Centre.
"The data we will get provides demographic information relating to
profile of uninsured motorists and the predominate "hotspots" for
incidents of uninsured motoring," said Meredydd Hughes, chief constable
of South Yorkshire.
Uninsured drivers not only are more likely to have un-roadworthy
vehicles but there are up to nine times more likely to be involved in
accidents than insured motorists.
JANUARY 22nd 2007
Many of you will have noticed the installation in more and more places
of flashing speed limit signs warning motorists as they enter
restricted areas if they are over the limit. What an absolutely
excellent idea! It is the diametric opposite of a speed camera.
the equjvalent of giving every motorist there own on-board speed trap
detector device - a device which is illegal in most countries. It is
also a reminder to those looking where they are going rather than at
the dashboard that they may not be at or below the exact speed limit.
What are we to make of this? Is it an admission of the malevolent
insanity and danger of the speed-camera and fining campaign? I hold my
silence. I just do not know. As an observer of human folly, I usually
wait for someone to justify their behaviour before launching into
Meanwhile, here is some news from America for your amusement.
U.S. drivers eat, shave, email
-- oh, and drive
Monday January 22, 05:06 AM
By Andrea Hopkins
CINCINNATI, Jan 22 (Reuters Life!) -
Talk on the phone
while you're driving? Fix your makeup? Check e-mail? You're not
A survey released on Monday shows 81 percent of Americans
do more than drive when they're behind the wheel.
More than eight of 10 people surveyed by Nationwide Mutual
Insurance said they adjust the radio or music while they drive,
while 73 percent talk on the phone, 68 percent eat, 19 percent
send text messages and 5 percent checked their e-mail.
Personal hygiene was also a big driver distraction, with 19
percent fixing their hair, 12 percent putting on makeup and 2
percent shaving while at the controls of a car.
"Clearly Americans have much to do and little time to do
it, so to cope with that we've become multi-taskers," said Bill
Windsor, associate vice president of Safety at Nationwide.
"The problem with that is driving requires focus, and
multi-tasking while driving puts you and your fellow drivers at
Drivers in the survey also admitted to changing seats with
passengers, watching a movie, painting their toenails, nursing
a baby and putting in contact lenses while driving.
Younger drivers multi-task the most, the survey found, with
35 percent of 18-to-27 year olds saying they always multi-task
in the car, compared to 21 percent of baby boomers.
Windsor said the consequences for young drivers are severe,
with car accidents being the number one cause of death for
Americans aged 18 to 27.
"The bottom line is if it can be done in the kitchen,
bathroom, office or bedroom, it should not be done in the car,"
While some U.S. jurisdictions require hands-free devices
for cellphone use in cars, most of the activities listed in the
survey are not illegal unless they are determined to be the
cause of an accident.
The survey of 1,200 drivers between the ages of 18 and 60
found that while 83 percent believe they are safe drivers, 38
percent admitted they have driven a certain distance without
any recollection of doing so.
Sandra Guile, spokeswoman for AAA in Cincinnati, said the
automobile club's driving instructors have seen it all, and
work hard to try to correct the bad habits.
"Imagine if you're going 55 miles an hour down the road and
you spill something on your suit and you have a meeting that
day -- you're going to be more worried about grabbing a napkin
than watching the road," said Guile. "But it just takes a split
second to look away and there's an accident."
Cincinnati professor Penny Braboy said that while she never
eats or makes phone calls while driving, she does answer the
phone if it rings -- and she admits to other distractions.
"I have put on lipstick in the car," Braboy, 55, said with
a laugh. "And I might try to look for something in my purse,
which I know is dangerous."
But she said her distractions have never caused an
"I try to be careful," said she, getting into her sport
utility vehicle, Starbucks coffee in hand,
APRIL 04 2007
WHOOPEE! The Thames Valley Police have
done exactly what I recommended with their speed cameras and limits,
fines and license points. That is the way to get all motorists on side
and driving well. I will post the details her as soon as they are
SEPTEMBER 9th 2008
Experts dispute speed cameras claim
Tuesday, September 9 07:49 pm
Government claims of the value of speed cameras in
preventing death and injury have been greatly exaggerated, claim
A statistical quirk meant that estimates of about 100 lives saved a
year should be cut by half, according to researchers.
assessment methods used to evaluate speed camera success failed to take
account of random "bad luck" at notorious accident spots, it was
Dr Linda Mountain, from the University of Liverpool's
Department of Engineering, said: "Although some parts of the road
network are undoubtedly more dangerous than others, there is also a
degree of randomness in where accidents occur - driver error, bad luck
etc - which means that an accident can happen anywhere."
A study forming the basis of the Government claims looked at trends
at all 4,100 camera sites in the UK.
found that over a period of four years speed cameras were responsible
for a 22% drop in the number of all accidents. The number of people
killed or seriously injured was said to have fallen by 42%, amounting
to around 100 lives saved a year.
Dr Mountain re-examined the
evidence, conducting a new study looking at road accident numbers
before and after cameras were installed at 215 sites.
This time an alternative analysis method was used called Empirical
Bayes which took into account the element of uncertainty.
for the randomness element - known as "regression-to-the-mean" - showed
a fall in accidents of 19%. Not allowing for this element would have
indicated a reduction of 50%.
Speaking at the British Association
Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, Dr Mountain said:
"I think it's not reasonable to say that 100 lives a year are being
saved. I would have thought a smaller figure would be the correct one.
The number has been overestimated by 50% on the basis of our data."
I marvel at all this talk of
lives being 'saved'.... as if people were going to live for ever. Of
the 50 lives we now think have been affected in the whole of the UK in
a year, one should then eliminate those who only had a few years to run
in any event. By the time that is done, the only possible conclusion is
that the entire exercise, including the cameras and their maintenance
and the court proceedings is a colossal waste of time and money.
JANUARY 18th 2010
Now this, on the other hand, DOES MAKE SENSE. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8465515.stm
The speed limit on this stretch of the A13 is to be raised, but
average-speed cameras installed to catch obvious abusers.
JULY 26thy 2010
Oxforshire is scrapping speed cameras. I hope this will spread
nationwide. The arguments against in this report ignore the fact that
they are at present financed almost entirely by fines on innocent, safe
drivers who have missed the signs or, through looking where they are
going, have failed to keep their eyes glued to their speedometer.
People just cannot afford these heavy fines, based on no evidence of
danger or even intention to break the law.
AUGUST 10th 2010
A 'snapshot' on 3 sites has been taken over the days since Oxfordshire
speed-cameras were switched off. Road safety (so called) experts and
lobbyists are 'horrified' to see that there has been an increase in
people exceeding the speed limits. Er.. that would be because they are
looking where they are going rather than constantly checking the
speedo. I doubt very much if that will result in more accidents, quite
APRIL 01 2011
Speed cameras in Oxford have been turn back on again, in spite of their
being no evidence that switching them off increased the accident rate.
Meanwhile across the nation as a whole, more cmaeras are being switched
off. I am afraid this is the sort of thing we can expect from those
with the immature and self-important mentality that leads them to
believe they can 'save lives' and that this is 'a good thing to do'.
OCTOBER 1st 2011
Unbelievably I find myself AGAINST the government in the way
they are trying to introduce an increase in the motorway speed-limit to
80 - up
from 70. Their thinking is immature and half-baked. 80 mph is indeed a
more sensible limit in many cases, but the claim that raising the
overall limit will bring quicker journeys and savings of billions to
the economy is dubious. What will save billions and make for less
frustrating driving is for motorists to be able to drive at a speed
appropriate to the conditions. That means that on a comparatively clear
road the limit should be 80 or even higher, but otherwise 70 is quite
reasonable provided there is no tendency to prosecute drivers who
momentarily exceed it. Drivers should be looking where they are going,
not worrying about having a speed as near to but not over the
limit, which is the case at the moment and actually CAUSES accidents.
It would be good if an advisory limit could be shown on motorway
gantries, set by a control centre with access to all relevant factors.
Unfortunately experience so far shows that we cannot staff and run
such centres properly and the advice they give out with warning signs
in words and speed limits is NEVER to be relied on. They are treated
with contempt - and quite rightly. I have no idea why this should be
the case, but clearly the staff who are responsible in some critical
parts of the operation are very inadequate in a number of skills, or in
their motivation and quite possibly general and specific education and
There has been a further daft suggestion that if faster driving led
to a greater carbon footprint this could be offset by introducing
more 20mph zones in 30mph areas. This again is crazy, as 20 mph zones
cause considerably more, not less waste of fuel - for technical reasons
I will not bore you with but are clearly beyond the intelligence grade
of the average Tory MP (or Labour or Liberal).
Given all the above, I suggest the government leave things alone as
they are until we have a capable and coherent service that can deal
with the issues. I can't see that coming for a generation, but then
NOVEMBER 5th 2011
The accident on the M5 las night near Taunton will now be used as a
reason not to raise the speed-limit to 80. Until it is accepted that
speed should be related to surface, visibility, traffic levels and
density and type and all other factors that a driver should take into
account. There will be times and places and circumstances where it
would be pointless to enforce a limit of 70mph and vexatious to
prosecute anyone exceeding it. There will be other times, places and
circumstances when to exceed 70mph would be pointless and rash, and
times when one should drive at 40 mph limit even on a motorway.
However, to encourage people to drive at times when the motorways are
uncongested, which makes both economic and environmental sense, an 80
mph limit makes more sense than 70.