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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A new softer approach to “speed kills”

Nice video isn’t it? Very cozy, soft approach to make people less aggressive behind the wheel. A rarity coming for the state. Governments usually develop a fairly strict routine to make the average commuter and other road users comply with the latest in their “if it only saves one life”, “speed kills” and other assorted “zero tolerance” safety mantras. But even in this video they couldn’t stop themselves from threatening people with the police.

So is it true? Are low speeds and heavy traffic enforcement necessary to keep our roads safe? Simple physics tell us that speed does kill. But is it that simple and where do we draw the line? Most independent experts that analyze traffic behavior agree that speeds our cars and roads are designed for, up to 250 km/h or so depending on the car and road, are quite safe. AS LONG AS WE ADJUST OUR SPEED FOR CONDITIONS, THE CAR’S PERFORMANCE ENVELOPE, DRIVER’S SKILL AND WE ARE PREDICTABLE TO SURROUNDING TRAFFIC.

In other words, it’s dangerous to drive 200 km/h on the Gardiner, even if it’s empty and it’s the middle of the night, yet driving 160 km/h on an empty stretch of the 401, with a few miles of visibility in all directions, somewhere between Kingston and Montreal, probably isn’t. I’ve driven safely on the Gardiner with speeds up to about 130 km/h, but I’ve been on that stretch of the 401 many times and sometimes 40 km/h was way too fast.

Speed limits and arbitrary speed enforcement don’t take circumstances into consideration, of course. Most speed traps are set up in areas with artificially low limits and are designed to nab as many drivers as possible for relatively minor offences. The benefactors: government coffers and insurance companies.

I wrote on these pages a couple of years ago: “In a civilized society the vast majority of drivers when left to themselves display an utmost care and consideration for their own safety and other users of the road. The vast majority of drivers naturally adjust their speed to the conditions present on the road they’re traveling on. We’ve seen this on two occasions over the years, when our Toronto police were on “work to rule” and didn’t actively enforce the Highway Traffic Act. To my knowledge nobody died as a result.”

We’ve also been grooming drivers and pedestrians to believe that our roads are not dangerous and there is no real need to pay attention, as long as you’re driving slowly or cross the street on a green light. So it’s ok to chat, text, talk on the phone, read, eat and generally not to be alert at all times. We’ve also trained our drivers that the basic rules of the road, like signaling, keeping a safe distance and yielding the right of way are not that important.

 We are trying to remove the sense of danger from our driving, yet driving is inherently dangerous no matter what speed you’re moving at and in effect we are promoting inattention and laziness behind the wheel. The police and governments manipulate statistics to fit their agenda, yet when you carefully look at accidents data, most deaths and injuries are caused by driver error and inattention. Our Ministry of Transportation and OPP constantly brag about Ontario being the safest jurisdiction in North America (thanks to their selfless commitment to safety, of course) but I think our safety record is mostly due to advancement in car technology. Other jurisdictions in North America are far more aggressive in speed enforcement and have lesser results.

And besides: Germany has no speed limits on over 60 % of their superhighways and speeds up to 300 km/h are quite common. And you know what? In Canada 9.2 people per 100,000 inhabitants die in car accidents every year. In Germany: 4.5.

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