/ Motoring

Most people admit to breaking speed limits…

Car driving fast

According to car insurer Admiral’s survey, almost four in five motorists admit to driving over the speed limit. And thirty-somethings, who really should know better, are the worst offenders.

In Admiral’s survey of 3,614 motorists, 81% of people aged 30-39 admitted driving above the speed limit, making them speedier than 18-24 year olds and the over-70s – 72% of both groups admitted to breaking speed limits.

That’s a slightly different story to the exorbitant car insurance premiums offered to the youngest and oldest drivers…

Perhaps this survey highlights the need for ongoing training for drivers, as 31% of survey respondents thought they’d fail their L-test if they took it again.

My colleagues at Which? Car will definitely sympathise, only two out of five of our researchers passed their test when they re-took it back in 2009. So maybe mandatory refresher courses every five or 10 years would help?

Are Britain’s speed limits right?

To me the survey also suggests that many of our speed limits are woefully out of date. While I’d never advocate increasing the 30mph limit on urban and residential streets, the swathes of dual carriageways with 40mph limits and miles of motorways with a 70mph limit both feel behind the times. In Admiral’s survey, 55% of drivers thought the motorway speed limit should be 80mph, while 14% wanted the limit to be even higher than that.

When I’m driving at 70mph on the motorway, I found it extremely frightening and dangerous as faster vehicles frequently make hair-raising manoeuvres to get past me.

I’m not saying that the motorway limit should be increased to 80mph just because everyone else is doing it – I really do think that in good road conditions it’s a safe and sensible speed for modern cars to travel at. I personally think the motorway limit should be 80mph, on the proviso that the police then enforce this limit rigorously so people no longer ignore the legal limit.

So, with the majority of people admitting to breaking the speed limit, do you think current limits should be changed?

Do you think current speed limits are out of date?

Yes - speed limits need to be updated (60%, 679 Votes)

Maybe - it depends on the particular speed limit (24%, 274 Votes)

No - speed limits should stay as they are (16%, 181 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,137

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Comments
Guest
ARWits says:
9 September 2012

1. The motorway speed limit should be an ENFORCED 80 mph.
2. Local 20/30 mph limits should be ENFORCED.
Parents delivering their progeny to school by driving through residential areas, like Lewis Hamilton in Grand Prix, should be prosecuted for speed limit infringement, i.e. 20/30 mph.

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Guest

How on earth is Lewis Hamilton relevant to this thread? To the best of my knowledge he lives in Monaco, not the UK, and prior to that lived in Switzerland. By all means criticise him for his unwillingness to pay UK taxes – I’ll be the first in line to support you.

ALL laws should be enforced. Sadly, the cost of manning our police services at suitable levels would be an unreasonable burden on the public purse. A decent compromise is to allow the police to use “reasonable discretion”. But we don’t seem to have the balance right at present.

Guest
Old Cynic says:
9 September 2012

Just how many Police do you think there are to “rigorously enforce” new speed limits – the reality is very few and reducing under government cuts. Enough people are killed on motorways with the 70mph limit so why raise it to 80mph. Cars may be advancing in safety but the human brain behind the wheel is still in the dark ages. Are we also saying that the price of fuel is far too low at the moment ? That seems to be your message, why travel faster and burn more otherwise. If the motorway speed limit was reduced to 60mph there would be a huge reduction in fuel consumption and green house gasses otherwise here’s to an ice free arctic.

Guest
Peter S says:
10 September 2012

This just goes back to the start of the Which? “conversation” – with the risk of recycling all the points already made:
1. If there is a scarcity of enforcement resource then all the more reason to concentrate this on cases where it really matters, rather than fritter away resources trying to prosecute motorists exceeding 70 mph in safe conditions.
2. Arguably 80 – 90 mph in given (not all) circumstances in today’s car and motorway conditions is as safe as 70 mph was when it was first introduced.
3. There is a risk of getting “safety” confused with “fuel conservation”. If fuel economy is the main issue then, as previously stated, start off rationally by banning all 4 x 4’s, Range Rovers and the like. Then, why reduce to just 60 mph, would there not be an even greater saving from 50 mph? Or 40 … What is the rationale, if any, supporting 70?

– If safety is the prime focus then similar questions apply: Why not bring back the men walking in front bearing red flags? 70 in some situations can be a lot more dangerous than 80 – 90 in others.

Like it or not, practical realities mean coming to terms with / arriving at a trade-off between competing priorities. Much of the tenor of this “blog” would seem to be at odds with opinions that can be deduced from the statistics from the Admiral survey quoted in the headlines of this page.

Guest

I live in France where the speed limit on motorways is 80mph (130kph) in the dry and 68mph (110kph) in the wet.

Interestingly, quite a number of drivers sit at 68mph. I believe this is to save fuel but, at least, they have the option of going faster if they wish.

I’m at a loss to understand why the UK doesn’t follow suit.

Guest
Stuart MacPherson says:
20 September 2012

… le bon sens on the other side of the water!

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Guest

I believe that speed limits on motorways were reduced to 60 mph to save fuel during the fuel crisis in the 1970’s. if my memory is correct, motorway speed limits were later increased to 70 but duel carriageways remained at 60 for some time until subsequently being increased to the same speed as motorways. I think 70 mph is completely out of date for most of todays motorways and vehicles and feel this could be increased during dry conditions to 90 mph with a 10% leeway. So absolute enforcement at 100 mph!. Duel carriageways should remain at 70 but the limits on all other roads be reduced from 60 to 50mph. Since returning from a long residence overseas I have been horrified at the speeds being driven on country roads with no allowance for farm vehicles or any other vehicle easing out on to the road.
There should be absolutely no parking allowed within a minimum of 440 yards outside schools between 8 and 9 am and 3 and 4.30 pm (Mums could and should walk from there) with a strictly enforced maximum speed limit of 20 mph within that zone during those times.

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Guest

We still have a bit of a fuel crisis and the faster we use up the reserves of oil the faster fuel prices will rise. Driving at higher speeds wastes a lot of fuel.

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Guest

“Today’s vehicles” are better than they were in the 1970s, no doubt about that.

But are “today’s motorways” better than the motorways we had in the 1970s? True, we now have better crash barriers – but crossover accidents were never that common. True, more sections are lit – but the lights are being turned off to save money. They’re certainly a LOT more congested – personally I feel happier on a quiet, unlit stretch than a congested, well-lit stretch.

But the really important question is – are “today’s drivers” better than the drivers we had in the 1970s?

Guest
Erik says:
13 January 2016

10% leeway might be too much, don’t you think 5% is more suitable? Although 90mph is a brilliant idea.

Guest
M. Kay says:
12 October 2012

There are many roads were speed limits could be raised, there is also a need to look at uping the speed limit on HGV’s! How many times have you been stuck behind a truck and some idiot trys to overtake were there is no room? As to policing I live in Lincolnshire and the only time you see the police is when they are going to an incident its all reactive policing not proactive, Between 25% to 40% of motorists are breaking the law at any time and its not just speeding.

Guest
John Morris says:
25 October 2012

Unfortunately it is socially accpetable in the UK to kill about 2000 a year our the roads. Worldwide the figure is in excess of 1,000,000 people a year. Yes cars have improved, but human reaction times and Newton’s laws of dynamics remain unchanged! Cambridgeshire’s retired Chief Constable, Julie Spence, couldn’t have put it more clearly when she said “Drivers consider speeding as acceptable until they lose a child in a road accident.” Need I say more?

Guest
Old Cynic says:
25 October 2012

Some very good comments in these posts. It’s good that people are thinking about and taking the trouble to put their views forward. I saw an interview with Damon Hill on the TV recently where he said that from his obervations drivers in the UK cannot safely control their cars above 60mph, I doubt whether any of those here advocating an increase in the speed limit can claim to have superior high spped driving knowledge than the former world champion ? I also go back to my previous post, why would you want to travel at 80mph when the extra air resistance means a huge reduction in fuel economy.

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Guest

I once read an article written by a man who tragically killed a child whilst driving in a built up area. The child had run out from behind a parked vehicle and despite the drivers speedy reaction he was unable to stop and the child was hit and killed.This supports my earlier comments that no parking or even stopping, should be allowed near schools during certain periods.
When the police arrived and completed their skid mark measurements, they were able to prove conclusively that the driver was driving below the legal speed limit.The driver was devasted and will be for the rest of his life! However he stated that had he been exceeding the speed limit HE WOULD NEVER HAVE KNOWN IF HE COULD HAVE STOPPED OR NOT and would not have been able to live with himself.
Since reading that article I have NEVER exceeded the limit in a built up area.

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Guest

A truly excellent point, Auspomm.

Had this happened to me, however, I would still have had difficulty living with myself knowing that I had killed a child by driving too fast. The speed limit is a maximum; the maximum was clearly set too high in this case.

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Guest

I said the driver was driving BELOW the legal limit. If children run out from behind a parked car you have split seconds to stop and probably15mph could still be fatal. In fact the chances of a non collision are remote! How can YOU say that the limit was set too high or that the driver was driving too fast!.You weren’t there and we can only go by the Police facts.Do you want the red flag brought back?
Can we assume from your comments that you drive at 20 mph in a 30 mph zone and have never exceeded the limit?
.Unfortunately you have missed the whole point of the article and chosen to be sanctimonious and “nit pick” what could be a very beneficial reminder and save lives in many instances!

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Guest

Oh dear, Auspomm, I seem to have touched a nerve here.

1. You will note from my opening sentence that I agreed with you.

2. My comment referred to my own, personal feelings. I would be devastated if I killed a child. I would be devastated regardless of the circumstances. I would be devastated regardless of the speed limit. I would be devastated if I were doing only 10mph. In my opinion, ‘not-killing-children’ is infinitely more important than obeying speed limits and traffic regulations.

3. It seems to me self-evident that if a child was killed the speed involved was too high for that road at that time (having ruled out other factors, such as the driver not paying attention, etc). And it is perfectly valid to comment on an issue without being present – I note you, yourself, did not witness this event yet feel free to comment on it.

4. No, I do not want the red flag brought back – a spectacularly stupid comment if I may say so. In case you haven’t grasped it from my comments so far, I am a firm believer that speed needs to be appropriate for the circumstances. On a winter’s afternoon with fading light and falling snow, driving past a school at 20mph just at the end of the school day might be reckless; conversely, driving that same road at 5am on a fine, summer morning at 40mph or perhaps even 50mph is unlikely to pose a significant risk.

5. My speed in a 30mph zone varies, sometimes as high as 35mph, but sometimes as low as walking pace. It depends on the circumstances! Sadly, real world practicalities mean that speed limits have to be a compromise and a maximum; but that does not give us carte blanche to drive at those speeds and be absolved of any blame should that speed prove too high.

6. I refute that I am ‘nit picking’. I am very strongly in favour of speed limits and believe that the majority are set about right. I advocate driving within the speed limit even though I am quite prepared to admit that I do exceed it on numerous occasions. But a competent driver will recognise situations that call for a lower speed than the limit.

[This comment has been edited to remove some offensive content. Thanks, mods]

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Guest

Hi Auspomm and gradivus – while we encourage lively debate, please avoid getting too personal with others and keep our commenting guidelines in mind. Thanks.

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Guest

gradivas, sorry if I upset you.
In my original comment I clearly stated that the child ran out from behind a parked car and that the driver was devastated and would be for the rest of his life– his words. .
He was completely exonerated by the Police! I’m not implying that makes it alright, he is still as devastated as anyone would be.However, he said that had he been speeding, he would never know if THAT had prevented him from stopping in time! Hopefully recalling this story will make drivers think twice (as it has me) when they start to exceed the speed limit in a built up area! This was the my sole reason for repeating this article, which I emphasised by using capital letters.

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Guest

Auspomm,

Apology accepted, and in turn I apologise for my harsh response – you touched a raw nerve with me.

I did read your post carefully and, as I have said, I do agree with you. It’s just that I would go even further and remind drivers that the “right speed” is often slower than the speed limit.

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Guest

You both make a good point, though. Decades of driver response testing have shown that people generally get complacent if they don’t have some kind of scare or accident, and this, coupled with our known tendency to overestimate our own skill level, underestimate the hazards and believe we’re lucky, means that the majority of drivers are way too overconfident.

This isn’t a problem until the hazards pop up, especially when they’re complex. And driving in a narrow suburban street is hazardous, especially when there a lot of parked vehicles and pedestrians about. But this is such a commonplace set of hazards, that many drivers don’t prepare for trouble, say, at school kicking-out time; instead they trust in ‘good reactions’ when – too late – they begin to respond to the wild child.

So there are two lessons here. The first, and sad one, is that it’s impossible to allow for everything, and some kids will get injured and killed every year even when the only one at fault is the child. Decades ago, my dad killed a little boy who ran out of an entryway on a quite suburban street, between the row of parked cars and under his wheels. He was crushed before my dad could even react, although he was driving slowly. My dad never got over it, despite not being to blame at all.

The second lesson is about being prepared – not really possible for the first. A few years later, I was practising for my advanced driving test. My Observer had just commented on the 40mph zone (we’d just come into a village from the country) but I’d already slowed to below 30 because there was a stationary school bus ahead on the left. So when a little girl shot out in front of me from the front of the bus, I was able to stop in (we measured the rubber trail) 10 feet. Nevertheless, she hit the bonnet hard enough to dent it with her hand and was flung away in front of us. Thankfully, she was only bruised and scraped, and later that day her mother thanked me for ‘saving her’ – I was still shaking. The road was wide, there was no other traffic and no pedestrians about. She’d rushed off the bus to collect her forgotten gym gear, and the driver didn’t quite stop her, but witnessed it all, lucky for me. Most drivers, said the bus driver, pass this waiting bus at over 40mph. At this speed, she’d have been dead.

So here are two incidents which resonate with a lot of these 200+ comments. The real point is not speed limits; it’s safe behaviour. Outside some schools with a 20 limit, there will sometimes safe driving conditions at 60mph (rare, I know). But when all the kids come piling out, even the 20mph will be too fast – common sense will have to apply. The golden rule is ‘drive slowly enough so that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear’. This makes allowance for traffic, surface, weather and observation. And to it has to be added ‘make allowances for any reasonably expectable hazard’ – like that little girl. If we all did this, the death rate on the roads would be down to a few hundred a year – about the rate on the railways, if you allow for the vastly greater road traffic. Of course, the railways only employ highly-trained and regularly tested drivers, under far more regulated conditions. This would be intolerable imposition to most drivers, who even see travelling at 80mph on a wet motorway five car lengths behind another as no hazard at all!

Guest
Peter S says:
28 October 2012

Seems to me from reading the latest informed comments that it will be all but impossible to square the circle of having speed limit-s (local, urban, rural, motorway) that the majority of drivers consider realistic and practical (and will therefore observe more or less) on the one hand, and on the other that will have such a margin of safety built in that incidents such as just reported can always be excluded. Golden rules are one thing, the law / Highway Code is something else. Variable speed limits may not be feasible everywhere but these do strike me as the least worst option in many places (but more tuned in to events than the majority of the motorway amber message boards that I seem to pass warning of fog in a heatwave – I exaggerate).

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Guest

You’ve got it, Peter! A majority of drivers consider themselves to be fair and reasonable while actually behaving in a mildly dangerous way without realizing it. Others knowingly take risks. Add any sudden hazard to this serial bad behaviour and an incident occurs.

As road safety engineers and psychologists know well, the only way around the impasse you describe is regulation backed up by penalties which can be seen to be rational and fair. The motorway variable compulsory speed limits (upper and lower) have proved to be very effective and well-regarded in the few trials that have been done (West M25 and east M42 especially).

The overhead boards now being rolled-out on rural motorways are coupled to speed sensors under the road surface, and will, when funds allow, provide such control everywhere when conditions require it. When the system’s sensors, controls and message boards are complete, it will all be linked in the future to computer systems already being tested. These will regulate traffic speed everywhere according to conditions, and especially to keep traffic to the optimum speed while avoiding ‘concertinaing’. It will also give very prompt reaction to sudden stops in the flow (which would usually indicate an accident) before even phone calls from witnesses could confirm an incident.

The inappropriate messages we sometimes see these days on the boards are because they are currently manually controlled and mistakes do happen.

Guest
John Paine says:
28 October 2012

I wonder how many other drivers think that the variable speed limits are well regarded –

>( The motorway variable compulsory speed limits (upper and lower) have proved to be very effective and well-regarded in the few trials that have been done (West M25 and east M42)

I ask this in all seriousness because on the occaisions I have been on the M25 or other roads with Illuminated Speed Warning Signs – during which I have usually been travelling at the permitted speed limit – When I slow down to observe the new Speed Limit – I think its fair to say that at least 99% of the traffic flow I was travelling in – just continue past me as if they hadn’t noticed the signs. I’ve also had some difficulty in seeing where the Speed Limits have been relaxed again – and its only after driving for quite some distance ( while being overtaken ) that I begin to suspect that it might be OK to speed up again.

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Guest

John, we’re not talking here about advisory limits, but compulsory – with speed detection, fines and points. It’s only in a few places so far, usually lengths of a few tens of miles and with overhead gantry signs and a separate speed limit for each lane. What makes the difference (and that polled drivers like) is that ‘batching’ drivers at a speed results for them in a smooth drive, no stop-start or worse and clearly better fuel use. It’s also a lot less stressful.

I can see in future that this system now in limited trial will couple in future with on-board electronics, ABS + traction control and radar, so that trains of self-driving cars can be set up. This will give the best experience possible – and the safest – at the speed the driver chooses, which couples with fuel performance. So you can still choose either to be in a hurry or to save money, and keep the manual-control driving and nervous tension for smaller roads. Maybe in 10 years?

Guest
Peter S says:
28 October 2012

I did say “the least worst option” in practical terms. Any improvements? Surprisingly throughout all the corresp I can’t remember reading any ref to the dreaded SPECS which I myself regard as being very effective for very limited but not widespread applications (no substitute for a rethink over speed limits). Even with these also there are some folk who seem to be able to bomb through as if they weren’t there – I could never fathom out the secret other than by using stealth technology.

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Peter, I see electronic (under-surface anonymous rather than SPECS) monitoring of speeds with compulsory control as the way forward on any crowded motorway (or major urban road). When it’s in use in the trials, drivers polled like it and it gets the most cars past any point in the shortest time, without incident or stress. Isn’t that a win-win situation, rather than a least worse scenario?

Of course, for some kinds of driver, the dream is of using police ‘blues and twos’ to bully your way past all other traffic, and some may be dreaming of Grand Theft Auto as they drive. My dream is never to come near any of them!

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Just thought, Peter. As I’ve heard it, drivers who know the local SPECS system well can beat it by turning off before the second monitor, so they never get a speed check. So I guess locals who intend just this can race through the system and vanish into a side road. Luckily, there are other ways to catch them.

Guest
Miles Dexter says:
28 October 2012

What a clot gravidus is, enforcement too much for the public purse, get hold of companies like star bucks amazon etc who evade paying British taxes when they make million upon millions of pounds profit as all American companies do s******g the British via our light regulation trough for them to feed In, when people are slautered on a daily bais on our roads by sycophantic Jeremy clarkso wanna be’s, also another good starting point would be to end our military machine along with the yanks killing thousands in other countries, take away their war chest and spend it on persecuting these idiots (pre meditated killers) running riot on our roads wth absolute impunity because the police are not doing thier job, and just producing comforting sound bites with their media mates. Sometimes you have To have a perspective which goes beyond your garden fence!

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Hello Miles, please stay away from making personal statements about other commenters. Have a read of our Commenting Guidelines for more info.

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Peter S says:
29 October 2012

Reply to Peter: While my head says that SPECS or something electronically similar could be the totally rational way to control movements, my heart and I suspect many others’ would see this as too much like Big Brother if deployed other than in particular black spots. This is arguably at the root of the whole speed limit revision debate.
Passing thought: what use is a speed restriction of say 50 mph to me if I am stuck in a queue @ 20 mph?

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No Safe Speed

When I read [FT mag – Why aren’t we doing the maths?- see ‘timharford.com’] that Doctors cannot do the maths and worse that 1 in 4 LMPs cannot give the probability of getting two heads when tossing a coin twice; it confirms to me that a humans head is generally unable to assess the risks involved when moving greater than at about 12 miles an hour [ running speed] especially given that it has not evolved to do so. [Ancestor homo erectus ran over 4 million years ago; but humans only domesticated the horse only around 4 thousand years ago. From bicycle to brash BMW has taken around four generations, less for most]

You might like to think about the risks being taken and test your heads reaction times for all the drivers here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LMJNFmkwxs

and here:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xpituj_terrible-collision-de-voiture-en-coree-du-sud_auto

Not enough reaction time for any driver is there? Therefore they are all driving too fast i.e over 12 miles per hour!

Vehicles kill about 7 people a day on the roads in the UK from idiots at the wheel -all of us – to those on road crossings to cyclists on footways and mums with kids etc.

7 heads cease to function at all because 7 heads had not evolved to function and in any event probably could not do the maths and did not understand the risks.

Not heart, head; car insurance, emotions are controllable chemical reactions in the brains. All road users have a right to know the risk surely.

Humans may never overcome stupidity and carelessness [not least that of politicians], but universal knowledge would surely make a difference.

No Safe Speed; but dead slow is safer and better than dead moms and toddlers!

Dear ‘Which’,

Surely ‘Which’ has a duty to advise all consumers about the risks of using the road especially regarding the problem the human head has with the safe speed of moving vehicles; [after all ‘Which’ was born, so to speak, in a garage]. All road consumers have a legal human right to know
the risk. ‘Which’ has a duty to inform; surely you will agree. Does not ‘Which’ also have a duty to press media like the BBC to bring us proper news that warns of danger. Once jungle drums warned us if there was a lion about, now twenty million killers in our midst killing 8 a day
are virtually ignored; replaced by items like ‘what the queens daughter in law is wearing’ or ‘the american weather’.

I would appreciate it if you will answer my earlier post query from 2 September 2012 at 5:03 pm; reiterated by email 5 September.

Will you do your duty ‘Which’?

Sincerely,

P.B.

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Guest

Sobering videos to watch, certainly. But both were caused by driver gross error. And luckily, such accidents are very rare, which is why they get on youtube. The one in the snow brought nasty memories back to me, as I was following a driver about 25 years ago who did exactly the same – tried to pull out to overtake, forgetting that slush gives no grip. That car spun into a ditch and overturned, and I was able to rescue the two reps in it. Lucky that the road was clear except for the three vehicles.

What this is telling us has been said again and again in these comments. Drivers tend to overestimate their own skills, capabilities and knowledge. The answer is further training, but the average driver, let alone crass idiots, is highly resistant to spending any time or money on this, quite apart from the ‘pride in skill’ that prevents them from admitting that they need any help at all.

The risks are always there, but people do seem to have difficulty grasping them – just as the chance of a lottery win is only dimly understood. Caution should be the watchword, but – as you say – emotion often overcomes it.

And Which? has always, right from the beginning, been in the forefront of making the risks better known. Thinking back three decades or so, who’d have known that so many drivers died in frontal crashes from a steering wheel hub stuck through the chest? It took Which? to make it public and campaign to have effective fixes on all cars. And so on. Thank you, Which?

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PROTOCOLS

Anyone who still thinks raising the motorway limit to 80 is a bright idea should watch this and the follow up:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nqccq/How_Safe_are_Britains_Roads_Episode_1/

Two of the BBCs correct but inadequate rare outings on the topic.

Clearly raising any speed limit will result in more deaths and serious injuries of Moms toddlers et al.

Six road fatalities near my home in three accidents this year in a population of under 100k – one a cyclist on the footpath killed by a car. Check out those by you – one fatal per 25k population per annum is about the norm. All because of one common factor – vehicles travelling too fast i. e. at killing speed.

Don’t forget, faster on motorways translates to faster on non motorways!

Surely any video of any fatal or serious accident should be very sobering !

Fatal accidents are not rare events by any standard!

There are well over million a year, every year! All related to vehicle speed, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_motor_vehicle_collisions#See_also

Most car safety improvements and those to road safety came from Europe, America, the car industry and the Department of Transport / TRRL. I am not convinced other organisations like RoSPA and especially Brake RAC AA which have added anything much bar hot air.

Dear Which,

Can I now presume that you will not answer my earlier question. ‘Which’ clearly has a pro mad motorist agenda [indicated by dint of this pro higher speed survey, and pro best [killing]car promotion which is against all that humane reason should wish to put right]. And, that you do not concern yourself with or even believe the ‘accident holocaust’ for road consumers ? No offence but doesn’t that make ‘Which’ mistakenly surely, pro ‘protocols of’ – ‘HenryFord’ a father of this misery, and in any case anti road consumers safety?

Sincerely,

P.B.

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Guest

PB, I agree they’re sobering videos to watch, and I’d like to assure you that Which? does have road safety as a priority. We recently investigated the danger of using a handheld mobile phone while driving to highlight the growing problem we believe this is becoming on our roads: http://www.which.co.uk/cars/driving/driving-advice/mobile-phones-and-driving/

In my conversation on the speed limit, I state that it would be better for the actual motorway speed limit to be 80mph in good weather conditions, and this limit be strictly enforced, rather than drivers flouting the current limit and some driving above 90mph.

I do also state that I think drivers should get more training after passing their test to make them better and safer drivers. I believe regular refresher courses and even advanced driving courses would help cut road deaths.

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If the current level of deaths and injuries is not enough to keep the current motorway speed limit, then the increased fuel consumption is another good reason.

The average speed cameras do seem to be doing a good job in ensuring that everyone keeps to the speed limit on motorways.

Guest
Peter S says:
9 November 2012

I feel that PB’s “PROTOCOLS” makes a number of potentially simplistic assumptions and generalisations each of which would need to be tested, but which I will avoid listing now for fear of repeating what has already been discussed. There is a danger that the discussion has now “matured” to the point where little new can be added and with few exceptions the arguments just get recycled!

Guest
Graeme says:
16 November 2012

40/30/20 limits in build-up areas should be rigorously enforced (safety, noise pollution etc). Weather-dependent limits on M roads and dual carridgeways seems sensible, with maybe 80 mph as an upper limit. Enforcing speed limits should be technologically easy. Fit GPS trackers to every car with a speed limit ‘road map’ installed. If limit is exceeded the data are transmitted to the relevent law enforcement.

Average fuel saving would be best improved by fitting all cars with a fuel rate limiter giving an average of 50 mpg or better, plenty enough for an efficient 5-seater (600 kg load). Unfortunately, oil will not run out. What will happen is climate temperature will increase with well-predicted consequences and Humans will probably be one of the species to survive the effects!

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Guest

You must be stupid, or unaware of the consequences of what you are suggesting.

Technologically it is all possible, I know as I work in the industry, but I definitely would not want my every move tracked by who knows who!

I have been in situations where the need to exceed the limit in force allowed me to avoid an accident, your solution would mean that an accident would have been inevitable.

One thing, just how would you enforce the ‘fuel rate limitation’ on foreign owned vehicles arriving via the shuttle or ferry? Especially the goods vehicles?

Guest
Graeme says:
16 November 2012

😉 It’s all about what we want (rather than need)!

The GPS tracker would give distance travelled. This could release a fuel quota, relaxed if the fuel has a low absolute climate impact to allow less efficient ‘leisure’ vehicles. Make it a global system, after all CO2 knows no national boundary.

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Guest

Sounds a bit too “Big-Brother-ish” for me.

But if we were going to go down that route, why not just let the GPS control the maximum speed of the car for each stretch of road?

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I suggested controlling the maximum speed of cars on one of the Conversations, gradivus. Someone told me I was talking nonsense and that they needed to be able to exceed the speed limit to avoid accidents. I can’t say I’ve ever had this problem.

Guest
Graeme says:
17 November 2012

… but no more “Big-Brother-ish” than if you carry a cell phone, which many folk do willingly. We improve many other systems with monitoring and control mechanisms, why not road transport? David’s point of manual override would be vital, but all the technology to prevent inappropriate speed (and to prevent fuel wastage) exists. After all we submit ourselves to this when we fly (apart from the fuel wastage).

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@wavechange – I think the person that told you it was nonsense was me!

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Yes David. I’ve had a look and it was this Conversation, page 1. If I’m not mistaken it is the first time we have agreed about anything. 🙂

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Graeme. Very true, but I can switch my mobile phone off whenever I want. The European Galileo GPS system is just around the corner which is expected to have a (theoretical) accuracy of about one metre [For comparison, the current US GPS system has a theoretical accuracy of about 15 metres.] I don’t want to hijack this conversation onto Civil Liberties, but I do think ‘compulsory GPS’ as you suggest is a step too far.

Wavechange. My tongue was in my cheek when I wrote that. However, after 40+ years of, relatively high mileage, driving (with a definite penchant for fast cars!) I can think of one, and only one, situation where hard acceleration provided the safest solution. And even then I was below the speed limit throughout.

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gradivus

I get fed-up keeping a check on my speed, so I would welcome the option of a system that would ensure that I don’t break speed limits. My car will let me know if I drive over 70 mph but it’s sticking to 30 mph limits that is hardest.

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Wavechange,

Most satnavs will beep if you go over a preset speed, and some are clever enough to know most road’s speed limit and beep accordingly. My Garmin will do so.

The problem comes if you’re driving at “about” the right speed. If you’re in a 40 zone and driving at 39, for example, it will beep if you speed up to 41. Then beep again if you drop to 39 and go back to 41. Then beep again…

This quickly becomes so annoying that you’re tempted to throw the damned thing out of the window.

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I know but mine does not warn me until I’m 4 mph over the limit, the speed limits are out of date, and I am not aware of any way of turning of the incessant babble of the thing telling me which way to go. It seems that out of date speed limits is a common problem with sat navs.

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Actually wavechange I thought I was disagreeing with you then, but never mind!

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Cars have improved enormously since speed limits were introduced, and could be raised. 30 limits in built up areas should remain, but modern vehicles are quite safe at 80 or 90 mph on motorways and dual carriageways. I would like to see a halt to the creeping introductionof 50 mph limits on A roads as well. A similar argument about the quality of vehicles indicates that lorry speeds could safely be raised to 50 mph on single carriageway roads, too.

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“Cars have improved enormously since speed limits were introduced,”

But have drivers improved enormously? You or the other drivers?

“but modern vehicles are quite safe at 80 or 90 mph on motorways and dual carriageways.”

But are modern drivers quite safe at 80 or 90? Especially with modern distractions? Especially with such high traffic densities? And is that tractor pulling out into the dual carriageway any less of a hazard?

Guest
Peter S says:
24 November 2012

The mistake throughout the discussion is the assumption that raising the overall maximum limit (to 80 or 90 or whatever) on (some) motorways means that everyone will automatically drive at this maximum speed on all motorways and dual carriageways alike regardless of conditions, local restrictions, road and common sense and what have you. This is bound to lead to false conclusions.

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You are right in saying that not everyone will drive at higher speed limits, but perhaps this would make our motorways less safe, Peter.

One of the benefits of motorways compared with other roads is that there is not a big difference between the speed of vehicles, helped by the limited number of junctions, acceleration lanes, ban on stopping except in emergency and central reservation with barriers to avoid impact of vehicles travelling in opposite directions. If you increase the speed limit, lorries will continue to travel at more or less the same speed and continue to try to overtake each other using the second lane. That means that anyone who wants to travel at 70 mph has to use the third lane to get past and now you have vehicles wanting to travel at 80 or 90 mph. Even ignoring those that want to break the new speed limit, it seems a recipe for disaster.

Compared with a vehicle travelling at 70 mph, ones moving at 80 and 90 mph have 30 and 65% more kinetic energy, so an impact with a crash barrier or joining an accident pile-up will be much more serious.

Then there is the environmental impact of higher speeds, which is a good enough reason not to increase speed limits.

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Peter S – You are indeed correct, and I know of no evidence to contradict what you say. Although if you go to Germany onto an unrestricted autobahn you’ll find cars travelling at 70 or less are an extremely rare sight.

But human nature being what it is, I believe the vast majority of drivers will increase their speeds accordingly – those that previously drove at the limit of 70 will drive at the new limit of 80. Those who felt that they could “get-away” with 90 will in future assume they can “get-away” with 100. It’s the way us humans are in the early 21st century – our lives are so, so important and so, so busy that we simply must continually whizz around at high speed in order to cope.

I currently tend to drive at around 75 on motorways. I can give you a 100%, absolute, rock solid guarantee that, if the speed limit goes up to 80, I shall drive at 85 (subject to safety considerations, of course). The only thing that might make me think twice is fuel consumption.

Guest
Peter S says:
24 November 2012

Whilst reducing the limit would no doubt please the purists (I don’t intend any negative connotation here), I believe that a perfectly plausible case could be constructed along the lines that – considering the nitty gritty practical realities – selectively raising the maximum on suitable sections of motorways would have a negligible differential effect on overall, national, aggregated, annual statistics. It would be all but impossible to measure in isolation, and even harder to predict when taking into account the various aspects of human behaviour that have featured in this correspondence (e.g. if I am stuck in a classic M6 traffic jam, doubling or tripling the speed limit is not going to make an iota of difference to safety levels or environmental considerations). If there is validity in this view (proofs either way would require a laboratory equipped with a time machine) then the argument devolves into one of ideals and moral principles. Which may be what this column is all about ..

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Thou shalt not kill.

The brain is like a child! Ignorant but it knows what it wants [to survive]: REWARDS.

These come in the form of pleasure sensations derived from neurotransmitters
released in the brain.

The rewards are hardwired for release for anything that ensures survival of the
individual or group like high energy food, sex and importantly here, moving quickly,
either to capture prey or escape predators.

Unfortunately the brain has not evolved to recognise early on the effects of too
much of anything like nicotine, alcohol or moving too quickly.

A heavy object like a brick, a boulder or a car becomes dangerous to living
creatures if it gains any momentum

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20871042

The law is that humans shall not kill each other. Therefore the law should logically
ban cars especially given the ‘right to life’ law!

There is no economic reason for speeds of vehicles to be greater than 85% of the
mean speed in free flow conditions and given safety first a further reduction in all
speed limits would be warranted on economic grounds.

But the brain wants what it wants and the sensation of speed rewards and is as
additive as heroine!

The problem is therefore compliance / enforcement and education.

Anyone who argues or votes for higher vehicle speeds [that higher speed limits would
bring] is arguing for the right to kill their own kin; do you all and ‘Which?’ not
agree?

Sincerely,

P.B.

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That’s neatly put, PB. And accurate.

But I’m sure that most people (men?) would argue that the main reason they want to go faster on motorways is that time is money and they’re busy and just want to shorten the journey. It’s genuinely arguable that travelling at 80mph in a stream of others doing the same, sitting quiet and almost still in a soundproofed, wind-proofed, climate-controlled box is more soporific than exhilarating; and overtaking the next lane at a 10mph speed differential isn’t exactly exciting, either.

Now, weaving in and out of traffic at 100mph is different – that’s exciting! And deadly. So it fulfils your requirements, but isn’t the subject of this conversation. Motorway driving is among the safest ways to travel, even when most drivers are doing 80. It’s when things go wrong that our brains can’t cope – when we reach the same situation, with similar results, as a gang of hunters meeting a pride of lions unexpectedly. That’s the problem with 80mph (and arguably 70mph) when an unexpected fog bank appears, or a car three ahead moves across a lane and clips the one it passed. That’s when death visits.

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I’ve never understood why “time is money” when travelling somewhere – once you have transport at reasonable speeds. Do you cost the time spent in a traffic jam? Who do you ask for payment? If you are driving home and take a little longer, you’ve not lost money. If you drive on business, you don’t lose money if you drive a little slower but leave earlier. The argument about HS2 is similarly flawed – half an hour longer to get to Birmingham? Leave home half an hour earlier. You’ll have a bit more time to work on the train if you want to. It might be convenience – but money?

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I agree, Malcolm, but it’s a commonly held view. Whether for business or for ‘leisure’, so many people seem to be frantic to GET THERE and to avoid ‘wasting time’. A sickness of our culture, maybe, but those who believe this way are a powerful voice and governments will want to be seen to oblige them if the can – and will certainly NOT want to be seen disobliging them!

Guest
Peter S says:
1 January 2013

“REWARDS. These come in the form of pleasure sensations derived from neurotransmitters
released in the brain … importantly here, moving quickly,”

I could accept this without being a neuro-surgeon

“Unfortunately the brain has not evolved to recognise early on the effects of too
much of anything like nicotine, alcohol or moving too quickly.”

Debateable. I can recognize an addiction even if I can’t do anything about it.

“A heavy object like a brick, a boulder or a car becomes dangerous to living
creatures if it gains any momentum”

No. It depends on its force, direction and surroundings.

“The law is that humans shall not kill each other. Therefore the law should logically
ban cars especially given the ‘right to life’ law!”

Cars (in isolation) do not kill humans.

“There is no economic reason for speeds of vehicles to be greater than 85% of the
mean speed in free flow conditions and given safety first a further reduction in all
speed limits would be warranted on economic grounds.”

Any evidence for this contention? How do you define “mean speed in free flow conditions”? Why 85%?? Are you not conflating safety with economics? There could be a contradiction.

“But the brain wants what it wants and the sensation of speed rewards and is as
additive as heroine!”

Exaggeration rather destroys the force of the argument. There is some (limited) truth in the assertion to which I plead as guilty as any.

“The problem is therefore compliance / enforcement and education. Anyone who argues or votes for higher vehicle speeds [that higher speed limits would bring] is arguing for the right to kill their own kin.”

The link(s) between speed limits and actual speeds has to be both defined and tested. The mental jump directly from speed limit modifications to genocide is simplistic.

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Sludgeguts says:
7 January 2013

They won’t increase the limit on motorways because ‘speed kills’ – really? so how do F1 drivers survive?
I worry every time I go on the motorway. lane 1, doing 70mph with a huge gap ahead of me. meanwhile, lane 2 and slightly bunched half a dozen cars doing 65mph – the guy at the head won’t move over & those behind can’t overtake because lane 3, bumper to bumper, a dozen or so cars doing 70, but all constantly touching their brakes.
Idiot drivers who believe they alone must enforce the 70 limit or idiot drivers who insist lane speeds are 60, 65 and 70 or we have a ‘fast lane’ and a ‘slow lane’.
Me? I get accused of ‘undertaking’. What? I’m doing the limit in a near-empty lane, I can’t pull across lane 2 into lane 3 to overtake because lane 3 is going slower than me.

Maybe manufacturers should install tech which prevents cars from driving too close? The distance allowed between you & the car in front should be determined by the speed you are travelling. and not by the width of your tyres divided by the age of the car plus 1 yard for ABS and another for ‘assisted braking’

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Sludgeguts, look back at F1 conditions in the ’60s and ’70s. In those days the cars had none of the billion-pound protection they have today. In the last 17 years, no F1 driver has been killed, despite horrific accidents, with cars being mangled and the drivers still surviving 150mph-plus crashes. Back then, drivers of the same quality and on similar tracks had a one in fifteen chance of a disabling crash and one in 30 chance of death EACH YEAR they raced. The best and the worst (who were still superb drivers) died indiscriminately, and far too often took dozens of spectators into horrible death with them. What has made the difference is the growing emphasis on safety, which has had plenty of spinoffs for us on the roads. F1 drivers then and now behave very similarly, with the big difference that drivers today take more risks, because the consequences are much slighter. They will do almost anything to pass the car in front and are well aware that the slightest mistake will mean disaster – but still do it. It’s a tribute to the drivers’ superlative skills that accidents are so uncommon; but here, uncommon only means a dozen or so a race! Not what you want on the road!

So F1 conditions are very different to road driving – you can’t use them as an example. How, then, does all this F1 experience relate to motorway driving? Motorways are quite similar to modern F1 circuits in that they have smooth changes in bend, hill and camber with good sight lines, ‘runoffs’ for those leaving the motorway and all the traffic is going the same way. So they are the safest roads to drive on, mile for crash, but that doesn’t mean behaving the same way.

What F1 drivers have to learn – and it came out very well with the new drivers last season – is that a cool head is needed when you take risks. You must wholly concentrate on what you’re doing, and your actions must be completely predictable to nearby drivers. Most incidents happen when drivers do the unpredictable, which is why crashes are so common when an F1 driver tries to fool another to make a pass. On the motorway, all the same points are true, especially as we are constantly having to cope with distractions, and none of us have the skill levels and fitness of an F1 driver.

So, Sludgeguts, you know that people often behave badly on a motorway, and this is dangerous. So will you behave like an experiences F1 driver and calmly find the safest way round, or will you be a ‘rookie and take a chance? For example, to use your gripe that ‘undertaking’ being illegal is unfair, the point is that people don’t do it, so when someone does, it catches the other driver by surprise. Being human, most drivers, when they pull back into the left lane after a pass (or because they’ve just realized that they’re holding people up) barely glance left – because no-one passes on the left, do they? Nasty crash occurs. In the USA it’s generally allowed to pass either side, so drivers will always check carefully before any lane change, either way (well, usually!). Inside overtakes are fine there.

So learn from F1 drivers. If you have to pass a bloody-minded 65-is-my-speed-and-lane-2-is-my-lane driver, then creep past very slowly on the left, say at a 1-2 mph differential, until you’re well ahead and can accelerate safely. Then there’s no chance of a collision and no silly behaviour by a driver who thinks he’s been slighted ant wants to take it out on you. Remember, just as in F1, it’s not who’s right that counts – it’s who’s left!

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Simon says:
3 June 2013

Speed limits are totally out of date and hark back to days of drum brakes and so on. All that needs exercising is common sense. I just try to go with the flow in general to be honest. On a totally clear motorway at 3 am for example if you do 150mph it is not dangerous to anyone not really even yourself given how far cars have now advanced so whats the problem and who cares really NOBODY. The only reason to care is if they think they can screw you out of some money.

What is needed is the excercising of common sense not the draconian enforcement of dated speed limits .

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In 2008 we had 158 killed and over 11,000 injured on GB motorways. How many deaths would make ‘common sense’? Cars have undoubtedly improved but maybe drivers and their attitudes have not.

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John Morris says:
4 June 2013

You have completely missed the point. Cars might have changed but the laws of physics are still the same, unless you are travelling at speeds near to the speed of light (178,000 miles/sec).

Example 1: You drive at 30mph and a child runs out in front of you. You do an emergency stop and just manage to avoid hitting the child. If you were doing 32mph you would hit the child at 11mph. If you were doing 40mph you would hit the child at 26mph.

Example 2: You drive at 70mph and a heavy object falls off the lorry in front. You do an emergency stop and just manage to avoid hitting the object. If you were doing 80mph you would hit the object at 38mph.

Q.E.D.

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QEND

Example 3: You drive at 29mph and a child runs out immediately in front of you. You hit the child even before your foot gets to the brake pedal and hit the child at 29mph. But you were driving at a speed less than the posted speed limit, so all is OK?

It’s not speed limits that save lives, it’s driving in accordance with the prevailing conditions, as the IAM teaches. In the context of your chosen examples of the laws of physics, debating the benefits of speed limits is specious and has little to do with the problem that you’re trying to claim they fix.

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Peter S says:
4 June 2013

Your observation, as I interpret it, reinforces the previous point. We can’t dispute the laws of physics (yet ..) nor what John Morris says. However – to make the direct causal link between “speed limits” (variations of) and road deaths / accidents is logically very dodgy until and unless the definitions, conditions and circumstances have been precisely defined, and the assertions tested. I think we are quite some way away from that and in the interim it would be prudent to go easy on generalisations.

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Jaytee says:
4 June 2013

John, I’d like to see your calculations for your examples to establish what assumptions were made, as I’m not convinced by the figures without this information, especially considering that the speed of light is generally accepted as being 186000 miles per second.

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Simon’s post arguing for a increased speed limit is a classic example risk compensation. That is we adjust our behavior to the perceived risk. So if braking technology improves, instead of accepting a lower casualty rate, we call for raised speed limit, thereby maintaining a consistent casualty rate.

Note, Simon’s post offers no data or evidence to show how improved technology has improved safety figures to support his argument for increased limits. And he wouldn’t find the evidence if he looked. Why? Well because risk compensation has already modified our behavior. Improved brakes results in drivers closing their following distance and increasing their speed. When we improve safety technology we simply take more risks to compensate.

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I’ll give you a quick paraphrase of the general philosophy used by police patrol officer trainers and IAM experts (usually retired police trainers), who teach all the others. This is bearing in mind that they train drivers to be realistic about their own abilities, and to be in all-round observation of the road, conditions and hazards ALL of the time:

1) Always drive slowly enough that you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

2) Know your and your vehicle’s capabilities.

3) Expect the unexpected.

Police class 1 patrol drivers must demonstrate that they can drive safely within 90% of the maximum speed possible allowing for all this. To pass the IAM’s advanced test, you must demonstrate that you can drive as fast as circumstances and the law allow – what’s called ‘making progress’ – most of the time during a one-hour test. So we aren’t talking about snail-like driving here.

Most drivers can meet the IAM standard with training. Most would fail as they are now – and it’s not to do with having a particular style, but of simply proving that you know what you’re doing and that you’re safe. People who try an IAM ‘test drive’ with an observer find it a sobering experience. When I was preparing for my test three decades ago my wife, who isn’t medically allowed to drive, helped me practice and keep the standard I was taught. So she learned good road observation too. Since then, she gets very uncomfortable as a passenger with most drivers, because she sees trouble coming that they simply miss. And that’s the point – most drivers need upskilling, yet won’t be persuaded. Till this changes, all the points made again and again in these replies will stand. Speed kills – because most drivers can’t handle it. Legislation is needed to keep us all safe, not just from idiots, but from our own folly.

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Well said, David!

Just one thing – and maybe it changed since you took the IAM test – but when I took mine in 2006, my test lasted no less than three hours. Was a quite interesting time too, because we spent quite a bit of that time discussing that police officer’s former life as an army bomb disposal expert! All whilst remaining completely observant and in full control of my car – oh, and ‘making progress’…..

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Well, yes, Nigel. But back then, an hour on the road was the minimum, so I quoted that. My test was quite a lot longer, too, and full of tips and help, even though I was ‘polished’ for the test by a police driver volunteer and you might have thought I’d not need to learn any more. Wrong! We’re all constantly learning; it’s just that most drivers haven’t learned what to aim for or what are actually the best ways to drive, observe and behave.

My absolute best driving whas wen that patrol driver accompanied me and gave a running commentary of what he would be seeing and doing if he’d been at the wheel – and I did as he said. I was stunned at the difference between his standard and mine; it gave me a fresh respect for those professionals’ skills. Just think: their driving manual if freely available for any of us to learn from. How many have a copy, though, and how many could be bothered to learn more in a useful way?

Note: the book’s called ‘Roadcraft’. Have a look inside on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roadcraft-drivers-handbook-Essential-Handbook/dp/0117021687/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370387951&sr=8-1&keywords=roadcraft+the+police+drivers+handbook+2012#reader_0117021687

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When I did my test, I already knew about the running commentary, so was surprised when they told that it was no longer a required part of the test. Instead, it was by then a voluntary thing, which meant that the training course (presented by the local IAM group) did not cover it. A shame, because I would have liked a bit of information on approaches to doing a running commentary, with some ideas on specific topics that should be both observed and mentioned. As it was, I had a go at doing it during the test, but only for about ten minutes, following which the police officer reciprocated. And yes, you’re quite right, his observations did include quite a few things that I would never have thought of!

Other than that, though, I found the advanced test surprisingly, even disappointingly, easy and did it with very little rehearsal. The training course was well presented, but contained little material that I could honestly say I hadn’t already known. On the tests we were given – on highway code, road signs, situational examples etc – I somehow managed to score an overall 100%. My thought was that, as in IQ tests, that really shouldn’t be possible!

But then, I’ve always thought that the standard driving test (to get your licence) was ridiculously easy and insufficiently discriminating. If it were up to me, then the state driving test would be at least as hard as the IAM advanced, and that latter would, in turn, be even more demanding. Just think, if it were all done in the right way, not only would our roads be safer, we’d also have far less congestion with which to contend!

Thanks for that link to the Roadcraft book – I remember reading quite a bit of it during my IAM training. Always meant to buy a copy, but never did get around to it – maybe I now will. I already added it to my wishlist, to bookmark it.

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Peter S says:
6 June 2013

I can remember quite some time back pleading (almost) with Durham Constabulary for the opportunity to experience being in a patrol car plus accomplished driver with commentary. Answer was that the only way would be for me to commit an offence of sufficient magnitude that would warrant me being taken in the vehicle to the nearest police station. To date I have not taken up the generous offer.
Danger of straying off topic… I’d be interested to know contributors’ views on the statistics quoted at the head of this website. I get the impression that the majority if not all would dispute the views reflected by the figures.

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Peter,

With the possible exception of those who habitually drive at speeds well below the applicable limit, I doubt that there’s a driver that can honestly say that they NEVER exceed the limit, so most of those who said they do not, were probably lying! That’s one of the biggest problems with such surveys.

The problem with speed limits – and the associated use of speed cameras – is that they are, of necessity, non-discriminatory and, to a great extent, arbitrary. Logic tells us that a single, fixed limit on any particular piece of highway, which applies equally to all types of vehicles, in all road conditions (technically) and at all times (day, night, weekends), can never be appropriate in every circumstance. Instead, the safe speed will vary, according to those (and other) factors and the safe speed will often be different to the posted limit. And when I say ‘different’, it may be higher OR lower. As the law stands, whilst lower speeds are legal (barring a charge of obstructing other road users), technically any higher speed is illegal.

Nevertheless, IAM training advises that there are times when exceeding the speed limit is not only safe, but actually recommended. The classic example is when overtaking. If it’s safe to overtake another vehicle (and if it isn’t, then of course, you shouldn’t be doing it), it is advised that one should minimise ones “time exposed to danger” by accelerating to pass the other vehicle in the shortest possible time. I made a point of specifically asking the traffic cop about this point during my advanced test and he said that was perfectly good advice. But he also acknowledged that, should you be ‘unfortunate’ and happen to do this just as you were passing a speed camera, then you will most likely get a ticket, because those cameras are totally non-discriminating.

So it all comes down to the fact that speed limits are arbitrary, are essentially unpoliceable (on any continuous basis), and are already proven NOT to be the primary determining factor for road safety statistics anyway. The only reason we have the current enforcement regime of legally-imposed speed limits and a network of speed cameras is that it’s the best the current enforcement bodies can do with the technology available to them.

Consider what would happen, for example, if they were to deploy technology that *continuously” monitored drivers’ compliance with the prevailing speed limit. All perfectly feasible (at a cost), by requiring all cars to be fitted with transponders, so that the in-car equipment would always ‘know’ what the prevailing speed limit is and thus be able to record when the driver exceeds the speed limit, by how much and for how long. How would the data thus collected then be used for enforcement purposes? More importantly, would that enforcement policy be determined by sane logic, for road safety purposes, or would it be determined by political expediency, for financial purposes?

We had a better system, as most people seem to realise, when traffic cops were out there on the roads, applying a discretionary and reasoned approach to enforcing the rules of the road. Those same traffic cops would no doubt confirm that the majority of unsafe drivers that they stopped, and perhaps penalised, were largely doing unsafe things that were not related to their speed. But technology can’t yet cope with assessing those more dangerous things, UNLESS they also happen to involve exceeding the speed limit AND they happen next to a speed camera. And even then, the driver will only be penalised with a speeding ticket, whereas the offence should have warranted a much more severe penalty!

The trouble is, it’s long since been decided that having all those traffic enforcement cops out patrolling the highways is “not cost effective”. Well, it certainly doesn’t MAKE money for them, in the way that a network of speed cameras does. But, as long as we don’t require people to meet a higher, tested standard of driving ability, so that they can be relied upon to exercise good judgement whilst driving and thus be able to make reasonable assessments of what the safe speed is on a continuous basis, and then consider posted speed limits as ‘advisory’, rather than compulsory, then we’re all probably stuck with a system that is completely illogical and riddled with unjust outcomes, which doesn’t actually achieve its primary, stated objective!

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Peter S says:
6 June 2013

I’d go along with these sentiments as would I suspect a sizeable number of the 60% quoted above. Human weaknesses / common sense being what it is, if a limit just doesn’t make sense most of us given the option will ignore it – no moral judgement intended – and this includes going slower than 30 opposite a school at finishing time as well as exceeding 70/80 in appropriate conditions on a motorway. Pity that cameras can’t be programmed with common sense!

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There are three levels of skill offered, Nigel.

1) The beginners’ test. This is solely designed to check whether a driver is safe enough to be allowed to drive alone in a vehicle without endangering themselves or others – and it’s one of the world’s toughest (maybe second to South Korea?). You are then expected to begin to learn to drive properly.

2) The IAM (and others’) Advanced Test. This is intended to allow a driver to prove core competency. Some years ago, a survey showed the drivers who passed the IAM test were 20 times less likely to be involved in an accident that those who took the test and failed it (and would, presumably, already be better drivers than the average). So this is probably best regarded as the general skills test for your average driver. Yes, I think that it should be compulsory, but no, not for a beginner. If you found it ‘disappointingly easy’ then you’ve been well trained – which is the aim of IAM local groups, surely?

3) High-level tests for professionals, of which those for police patrol drivers (NOT the average bobby) are probably the epitome. Compared with these lads and lasses, I’m a rank beginner!

Of course, there are intermediate tests, like ‘Pass+’ and HGV tests, but the first two above are where I think that competency training for most drivers ought to aim. Let’s put it this way: I reckon that anyone who’s unable to pass the IAM’s Advanced Test ought not to be on the road. As you say, it’s still pretty basic competency.

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David,

Seems that we’re broadly in agreement. But, there is one contradiction in what you wrote there. You say that the IAM test (or its equivalent) should be compulsory, but not for beginners. Then, at the end, you say “anyone who’s unable to pass the IAM’s Advanced Test ought not to be on the road” (with which I more than agree). So, if those beginners shouldn’t be on the road, where do we put them?

OTOH, would it really be so unreasonable to raise the level required to even have a licence to that required by the Advanced Test? I don’t think so. We don’t accept such minimal standards (as in the basic driving test) for pilots, train drivers, PSV and HGV, so why should we accept them for car driving?

Oh, and BTW, when I said that I found the advanced test ‘disappointingly easy’, I would have found it so without any of the IAM training. Whilst the training course they presented was well done, I couldn’t honestly say that I learnt anything new from it, so I can’t credit them for making it so ‘easy’! Sorry if that sounds immodest of me – it’s intended as an objective assessment and may well not be the case for others.

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Nigel: We have, how many? – half a million – new drivers in the UK each year. While I like the idea of them training to IAM standard right from the get-go, I don’t think it’s realistic.

In South Korea, they do up to 100 hours offroad in specially-built centres before being allowed to finish training among real traffic, and it costs half a year’s salary to pass the test – yet that’s not a lot higher standard than ours. For UK beginners to get enough traffic experience, learn the observation skills and so on to pass the IAM test, we could probably add a lot more time, accompanied, on the road. So I think that we ought to trust the Driving Standards Agency to do their job properly (as in no. 1 in my last comment), then use Northern Ireland’s ‘New Driver’ plate to warn of a beginning driver while they train for the ‘proper’ test, what is now ‘Advanced’. And we’d need to allow a maximum unaccompanied time (2 years?) before passing or going back to ‘learner’ rules.

The problems with all this come in at least three ways, though:

1) Where will all the advanced instructors and examiners come from?

2) What would be the political consequences when thousands begin to fail the new test and stop being allowed to drive?

3) How do we process retrograde testing at the new standard for all current drivers – we have to, or we get a 2-tier system of older, less skilled drivers and newer, higher-skilled drivers. And how would this reflect in insurance risk and prices?

It’s a big can of worms, that no sane politician would touch without a popular consensus! And how many ‘average’ drivers would admit to needing to pass a more stringent test? It’s hard enough to get them to keep a safe gap on a motorway – in fact, they only widen that gap after an accident or a near miss, and only then for a little while. Most drivers just don’t know what level of risk they’re taking, or they wouldn’t do it. Which brings back to the headline story that we’re commenting on!

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David,

Well, I didn’t say it would be easy!

To respond to your specific points:

1) It wouldn’t necessarily need that many more instructors and examiners. They just need to be training to a higher standard of requirement. Sure, it will increase the total amount of time each ‘learner’ would need – and the instructors themselves will first need to be re-trained to the same higher standard – so there would likely be a need for some increase in the numbers of instructors, but there must surely be enough (suitable) people currently looking for work, to meet such a demand.

2) Political consequences? No politician seems to have incurred that much popular wrath as a result of making the current speed camera network legal. Indeed, as this forum alone shows, there are a sizeable number of people who support the use of cameras and, presumably, those who mandate their use. That’s not to say such decisions as I’ve proposed are without political consequences, but I doubt that the authorities would see this alone as a reason for not doing it. Because they don’t usually worry about them.

3) Retrograde testing. Good point you make here. Yes, I would fully support that all currently licensed drivers would be given a period during which they would be expected to get themselves trained and re-tested to the higher standard. Fail to do that by the end of the period and your licence ceases to be valid. Outrageous, I know, but if we were really serious about tackling many of the behavioural issues on our roads, then it would be hard to say that it’s not a necessary step. The hardest issue relating to this might well be to find a fair way to handle all of those who’ve voluntarily already put themselves successfully through IAM advanced testing – should they, too, be obliged to do it all over again?

Apart from anything else, we have to get everyone away from the attitude whereby they consider that they have a basic RIGHT to drive a car. No-one has such a right. I’d also support a move towards regularly re-testing everyone – say every five years or so – even after a new higher standard of driving test had been fully introduced. As a society, we do such things for all manner of activity and I certainly don’t see any reason why driving cars should be an exception to that!

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… Right to drive … No I don’t think I have a right necessarily to drive but I do have a right to work and to do that I need transport since I live 30 miles from my place of work.

What I would ask is what would the government do if a large percentage of existing drivers failed to pass the an advanced test as they do not have the in built ability and they then find that as there is no way to get to work they are then fired and have to go on the dole and obtain large amount of benefits?

I agree with a previous comment ‘no sane government …’

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David,

Let’s distinguish between a right to work and a “right” to put someone’s else’s safety at risk due to negligence or incompetence.

Unless you can provide another example, our road’s are the only industrial environment where we tolerate repeated exampled of driving incompetence on the premise that stopping them from driving would result in their unemployment. From my experience of the mining industry I can assure you that if you were to disregard mining H&S regulations in the way that many drivers disregard the HW code it would CAUSE your unemployment. Put someone else’s life at risk and you get dismissed.

There are some drivers on the roads in excess of 12 points that have courts permitted to drive. Why is that?

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Just to qualify, my response was to David Ramsay.

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Skeptiktank – you miss my point and are approaching it from the driving angle and not from the ability to get to my place of work.

I, by choice, live in the country, well on the outskirts of a market town, my place of work has NO direct transport link other than by car or motorcycle.

My point is that people these days live where they enjoy living and commute to work, long gone are the days when people live and work in the same location, I know as my dad didn’t drive and because of beeching axing the train network we had to move to a location from where he could get several buses to work.

Now as there are lousy even abominal transport links we have to consider the negative aspects of the actions of introducing a regulation which may result in unforeseen circumstances.

You seem to be worried by the risk of someone getting injured or killed, people take that risk leaving their home each day, I see no problem with ensuring that someone who causes an accident being held liable for that but to enforce the need for draconian training and cost to the exchequer in the long run is not necessarily the best way to tackle it.