Strict speed enforcement detrimental to road safety?


We often speak about the disproportionate attention paid to the issue of speed. Under no circumstances should one construct this as condoning speeding in general. It is rather of noting that speed in itself is not the issue but more specifically the inappropriate use of speed.


In the pursuit of applying speed limits little attention is paid to the consequences thereof – until now that is.


Research shows that strict speed enforcement can have a detrimental impact on road safety. This is because drivers are dedicating more attention to monitoring their speed than detecting hazards, a study has found.


Researchers from the University of Western Australia used a driving simulator to test whether reducing the speed enforcement thresholds impact a driver’s mental and visual abilities.


The study recruited 84 participants who were told they could be fined for driving one, six or 11 kilometres per hour over a 50 kilometre per hour speed limit, and measured their response to small red dots which appeared in their peripheral vision.


Lead researcher Dr Vanessa Bowden says the study finds those who are given a one kilometre per hour threshold were less likely to detect objects outside of their immediate line of sight.


“We concluded that drivers’ mental and visual resources are being used up by paying extra attention to the speed monitoring task. This takes some of their attention away from the visual world around them when they are driving,” she says.


The participants are also asked to fill out a questionnaire on how difficult or demanding they find the experience. Drivers who have stricter speed limit thresholds rate the experience as more demanding.


Dr Bowden says road safety authorities should take note.”There can be a perception that by making it stricter you’re only going to get benefits, like you’ll get everyone driving more slowly and more safely,” she says.


“But … you can’t necessarily make drivers pay more attention to the speed and go more slowly without taking their attention away from some other critical aspect of driving.”


Police say there is a small leeway above the speed limit in WA, but do not publicly reveal what it is. The researchers will also investigate whether drivers respond poorly to hazards when strict speed limits are enforced.


Information such as this is now doubt of interest to those who want road safety to be a priority – not just in thought but in action.  Given that information it will probably take time to digest and work through its implication in South Africa.


Til next time, drive safely


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