Speed kills

Speed camera (picture David Bleasdale / Flickr)

Your blogger was required to attend a speed awareness course last night, having been caught by a speed camera two months ago and wanting not to acquire any penalty points. I was expecting some kind of annoying lecture on how bad it is to speed (I had been pictured doing 36 miles per hour in a 30 zone), but I was actually quite impressed with the way in which it was presented.

It is one thing for drivers to put themselves at greater risk by driving too fast – it is a choice, if a foolish one – but it is quite another thing for them to put pedestrians at greater risk, people who have no choice in the matter at all. The latest figures show that 23 per cent of road accident fatalities are in fact pedestrians, and the speed of the car makes a great deal of difference to the outcome of a collision. The table below shows how the survival rate decreases with greater speed.

Speed Survival rate
20 mph 97.5%
30 mph 80%
35 mph 50%
40 mph 10%

Cars themselves have become a lot safer for the drivers and their passengers – seatbelts, air bags, crumple zones – but there have been no such technological advances on behalf of the pedestrians. In fact, it is likely that the increased safety measures in the car have made drivers less careful about the safety of the other people around them, thinking (if they think at all) that safety has been taken care of. But it hasn’t.

And that’s why I have written an article on this subject for this blog. Actions can have adverse consequences for third parties, and we look to regulation to reduce the possible harm.

There may be a plus side to doing something more quickly, but if there are possible negatives, too, these need to be taken into account.  Even if people are left to make judgements about the risk that they expose themselves to (and there is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that they cannot do this very well), they should not be left to make similar judgements about the risk to which they expose others.  This is true of the driver of a car, the management team of a bank, and the government of a country.  It is not inevitable and it is certainly not right that risks are dumped on to others.  If politics means anything, it is to protect the innocent.

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