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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 17:52 GMT
Are speed limiters a good idea?
A group of cross-party MPs are considering ideas for reducing speed limits on England's roads.
Ideas being considered include alarm warnings which sound in your car if you go over the speed limit or speed limiters which actually slow your car down automatically if you go more than 70 mph.
But many motoring organisations maintain police should be concentrating on dangerous drivers rather than overzealously enforcing speed limits.
They will urge the committee not to make rash recommendations that would be the first step on the road to criminalizing ordinary drivers.
Are in-car speed limiters a good idea? What measures would you introduce to get motorists to slow down?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I have been driving now (not continuously) for 17 years and I have adapted my driving to take account of changing behaviour over the years. e.g. aggressive 4x4 drivers, the fact that you can't leave a safe breaking distance on the motorway because someone will fill it. I was taught to watch the road ahead and glance down at the speedometer and then into the mirror regularly. It appears that some drivers don't use their mirrors so it is a fair assumption that some won't look down at their speedometer either. Unless they see the bright day glow yellow jacket of a policeman that is. Drivers don't use indicators or lights or drive on sidelights. The list goes on.
People forget to think once they are behind the wheel of a car. We all have stories regarding stupid drivers. Education is the key and an attitude change of the driving public.
Patience, politeness and a regard for others and the rules would be a good place to start. Visiting the Highway Code web site to review updates since passing test would be another.
Darren Yates, Basingstoke, UK
It is all very well saying that you can drive "safely" at speeds higher than 70mph on a motorway, but those around you may not feel safe or comfortable with your speed.
The motorway speed limit should be higher. I've driven down motorways at 85mph while every other driver in the 2 outside lanes is doing roughly the same speed. Seems perfectly safe as long as the weather conditions and visibility is ok. If you don't want to drive fast, don't go on the motorway.
In the past I have driven heavy goods vehicles, which are now in almost all cases fitted with a speed limiter. I have driven many of these vehicles and so I feel qualified to comment on the experience. The speed limiters are not and cannot be set to an absolutely accurate speed. The typical accuracy is I would estimate about +/- 0.5 mph. One of the consequences of this is that drivers "drive on the limiter." On a motorway or fast dual carriageway everybody will simply depress the throttle to the floor and let the limiter cut in to hold the rated speed. The throttle will be held on the floor. The very slight variations in set speed will then cause bunching. But some will gain very slowly on the vehicle in front and eventually an overtaking manoeuvre will occur with one vehicle passing the other going about 0.25mph to 0.5 mph faster than the vehicle in front. It will take a long time to pass. For a considerable length of time you will be very close to the rear of another vehicle.
Do you want to see this on a bigger scale in the car fleet? I don¿t it simply would not be safe.
In towns the devices would have no effect may encourage higher acceleration as drivers simply 'floor the throttle' knowing the limiter will stop them at 70. Also most accidents happen in town at speeds well below 70 mph.
When you sit back and consider the full implications of this it simple does not stand logical analysis. The real reason for this is a drive to tax, prosecute and hinder the motorist for political reasons.
As someone who lost his brother nearly 12 years ago in a speed related car accident, I heavily disagree with comments made in this forum by Dave R and others. Contrary to your claims, in the vast majority of fatal car accidents in the UK excessive speed for the conditions of the road is a major factor. Hence the wording, doing 60mph in a 60mph zone does not necessarily mean you are driving safely. For example the drivers who killed my brother (2 cars racing) were only doing 60mph on an A road (limited to 60mph). However they were approaching a steep hump back bridge when the front car drove over my brother (aged 11 at the time) who obviously had no chance. Despite these events in my life and the fact that I take road safety very seriously I do sometimes drive at 80 mph on the motorway, but only when the conditions allow. I also believe that in order to avoid possible hazards a motorist needs the ability of accelerating hard (even if they are already at the speed limit) in order
to avoid a danger before decelerating back down to normal speed. This is one reason I never rode a scooter at 16 and today will not drive a car without a sensible level of power. Continuing education of drivers and awareness campaigns are the key, not speed limiters.
Kill your speed, not a child.
I was travelling at 25mph in a 30mph zone, and a guy on a bicycle who was on the pavement suddenly swerved onto the road and into the path of my car. I couldn't avoid him or brake in time. He hit my car.
The cyclist died the next day.
The police told me it wasn't my fault, I was driving properly and the cyclist was at fault. What a price to pay for his carelessness.
So to all of you drivers out there who think that they're 'good' drivers and can safely judge how fast they can travel on a road, remember that it only takes one careless pedestrian, dog owner, motor cyclist or driver to change all that. And when the police are involved, you will be the one who is charged because you were speeding.
Stop being selfish and start thinking of others. Or stop driving altogether.
Speed limiters are the worst thing possible. An alarm for those going over the limit is fine - I for one would welcome such a device. Radar gap-maintainers to preventing tailgating - also a good idea. But impeding the driver's control over their vehicle is lethal. What we need is a comprehensive and in-depth re-evaluation of every single speed limit in the country. 70 on motorways is getting ridiculous with modern vehicles - 80 or 90 would be far better. Some roads have a 60 limit where doing more than 40 is near-suicidal, yet some drivers try anyway, because that's what the limit says. And why are we limited to 10mph increments? There are many roads that are begging for a 35mph limit - 30 is too slow, so people break it, but 40 would be equally dangerous.
There is no reason not to have speed limiters. The reasons given by others here are excuses, like "it will cause inattention" are invalid - come on, you're saying that you should be allowed to go faster because it makes you a better driver??
The technology is there to have speed limiters change settings dependant upon location and road conditions using transmitters built under the road and receivers under the bonnet.
The main reason not to do this is the huge losses the government would make on speeding fines.
I once drove through an electronic speed control which somehow read my registration and flashed it on a very large board about fifty yards down the road telling me that I was travelling at 46 mph in a 40 zone.
This was so effective that I felt that everyone¿s eyes were upon me and I must say that it has had the desired effect.
No Police, No Speed guns, No limiters just my own embarrassment, but what ever happened to that technology. The sign was dismantled, never to be seen again.
Does anyone know what happened to it ? It seemed to be one of the few ideas that worked.
How about integrating the (currently voluntary) Institute of Advanced Motoring into the system somewhere?
Maybe speed-limited cars could be compulsory for all drivers until they have passed the advanced driving test - Many drivers (and correspondents on here) are very vocal in their objections to anything that limits their speed (cameras, limiters, etc.) and bang on about how safe it is for them to drive at speed, how police time is wasted on the area, and so on. It always seems to be OTHER drivers that are poor, never us.
I wonder how many of them have taken the Advanced Test, the core of which seems to be realising quite how poor and complacent we ALL are at driving? Not many, is my guess.
By the way, I would like to take the test myself, as soon as my speeding conviction lapses!
As a former HGV driver who has had the misfortune to drive about 200,000 miles in speed-limited lorries I can promise you that limiters are a total nightmare. They cause inattention and drowsiness, and caused the number of lorry drivers killed in accidents to go up by 24% in the first year they were compulsory. It's so hard to concentrate on driving when you're on a limiter that you just become a passenger behind the wheel.
Speed limits and road safety are two totally separate issues, and the sooner the authorities start to target dangerous drivers instead of those exceeding an arbitrary number nailed to a post the better. Except that that would require thought and effort, and wouldn't make life unpleasant for drivers so they give up and go by bus, would it?
Dave R, UK
Speed limiters are a terrible idea - and there is no need to repeat the excellent arguments already raised. Just two extra points: radar controlled cruise control that automatically kept a safe distance from the car in front would be better - it's travelling too close, not too fast, that is dangerous (some manufacturers like Mercedes offer this feature as an option already). Secondly: if we had speed limiters, what about those of us who need to travel on the continent, where it would be lethal to be limited to only 70mph?!
It's worth remembering that when such innovations as the breathalyser and the compulsory wearing of seatbelts were introduced there was just as much objection - on much the same grounds - as there is now to speed limiters. Ten years down the line we'll be wondering what the fuss was about.
I agree that the greatest danger comes from inattentive or just plain stupid drivers in towns, especially during the early morning commute. There is no mechanism that would prevent drivers from wandering across the centre of the road, accelerating past a school entrance or parking at the roadside without even indicating. Education which will somehow instil a sense of pride in good driving, and thereby protecting our fellow beings, rather than recklessness is the only way forward.
Automated speed control on vehicles may have some advantages. I've heard of a system in development which would produce back pressure against the pedal when the speed limit is reached or changed. This would prevent speed creep on long stretches of road and also allow vehicles to slow down gracefully when speed limits change. The driver would then be able to concentrate on the road without worrying about the speed limit. However, anything which takes ultimate control away from the driver would be plain dangerous.
Ridiculous idea. Such a scheme would cause serious traffic "bunching" and frustration, resulting in an increase in dangerous driving. Also, alarms and speed restrictors that could be economically installed in cars would be child's play to disable or "tweak" to suit the owner's requirements. What's wrong with just rigorously enforcing the speed limits we already have?
How anyone can suggest that automatic speed limiters are not a good idea is beyond me. Why not phase it in by making it compulsory for all new cars? Whether the speed limits are correct, however, is another matter.
Speed limiters are, like high view stop lights and rear fog lights, a backward step. Witness the number of HGVs on the motorways who are now fitted with the device who are now driving nose to tail. Are we to believe that an accident is not more likely to be as serious if every vehicle is travelling at exactly the same speed. As the car in front slows then all those following are obliged to brake harder. If they are all travelling at exactly the same speed there will be no escape. There is a great difference between a fast driver and one who is fast and dangerous or inexperienced. Would it not be better to invest the money in other areas such as education. Why are so many drivers allowed to drive around without headlights working, talking on mobile phones, under the influence of drugs etc. It is not the fact that the police target road law breakers that bothers the majority of motorists, it is the fact that they very often see their prosecution for some offences completely unjustified. A convoy of 100 cars all travelling at precisely 70 mph is not a problem at all - until one of them stops.
Peter Tandy, England
In response to Peter Tandy's comment "The average car today is easily capable of cruising at 80mph in safety" - the speed limits were set for the driver, not for the car. It is totally inappropriate to suggest that more powerful cars and better brakes make safer or more competent drivers - stopping distances depend on the driver's reaction time (slowed by fatigue, alcohol, emotional stress etc.), weather, road surface, traffic conditions, mass of vehicle and other factors. Whether they're driving a Morris Minor or a Porsche, at 70mph they will both take a similar distance to stop. I'm a member of both the RoSPA Advanced Drivers' Association and the Guild of Experienced Motorists, and I observe the speed limits, not because they're law, but because it's not safe to ignore them.
A device which automatically slows your car down is a serious safety hazard. Any device which makes decisions independently of the driver has got to be a mistake. It would only be a matter of time before someone was killed because they were unable to get the necessary performance out of their vehicle to escape an initial, and perhaps trivial, mistake. By all means stamp out speeding. Install more speed cameras. Increase fines. Perhaps consider jail time for persistent offenders. But never ever believe that removing the driver's right to make judgements will be anything other than disastrous.
Speed limiters would be extremely dangerous. Any such device must involve the driver having control of the throttle or the brake taken from him/her. Such loss of control in commonly encountered situations could be fatal or lead to serious injury, thereby defeating the argument for fitting them in the first place. Motorcyclists would be put at risk because throttle and brake control are far more critical to stability on two wheels.
Apart from any rational arguments on safety, I believe such measures are yet another example of the Nanny State and the insidious erosion of the citizen's human rights. The Establishment/Government always presumes the individual has such a limited capacity for rational thought he/she must subject to arbitrary statutory control.
Less cash cow speed cameras and more traffic police who can prosecute reckless or speeding drivers. Robotic control is not the answer since discretion and judgement are absent from the machine.
Richard P, UK
I would have no problem with a speed limiter that would activate in town centres, especially near schools, shopping areas and large residential estates.
However, any speed limiter that cuts in at 70mph, no matter the current conditions, on the motorway, would cause more accidents and congestion than allowing people to drive at a speed suitable to the driving conditions
Speed doesn't cause accidents, bad driving causes accidents. While speed may (and often does) enter into the equation, the problem today, as anyone who travels on British roads should by now have noticed is inappropriate behaviour for the road and conditions. Tailgating, talking on mobile phones, inattentiveness and generally poor driving standards as well as excessive speed are all factors. Speed is something which is relative - which is worse, 50mph in a 30mph zone through a village or 90mph on a clear motorway? The driver exceeding the speed limit by 20mph in a village is by far the most danger to themselves and more specifically, to others.
Speed limiters would mean that the motorist never has the option to pull past a dangerous situation (such as the driver in the middle lane of a clear motorway yapping on his mobile phone and weaving all over the road). Overtaking would become a lottery (since limiting speed does not encourage better driving) as the driver behind tries to overtake in a car restricted to the same speed as yours.
This seems to me like a cynical attempt to be seen to be tackling a problem when the real problems, for reasons I suspect of cost and complexity, remains unaddressed.
Joe Ryan, France
Compulsory speed limiters would be the worst thing that could possibly happen for improving road safety in the UK. Taking away the driver's ability and indeed requirement to remain vigilant at all times, and replacing it with a blind reliance on a technology which simply cannot eliminate the majority of accidents, can only lead to a worse road safety record, not a better one.
This Government's single minded drive to present speed as the major, indeed almost the ONLY, factor in road accidents is both flawed and sinister.
It's flawed, because the causes of road accidents are far more likely to be poor observation, pedestrian error (e.g. jaywalking or drunkenness), failure to take account of road conditions, and quite frankly blatant flouting of common sense rules of the road, e.g. tailgating, running red lights (cars and cyclists), aggressively pushing into queues and my particular pet hate, failure to use the indicators, than excess speed per se.
It's sinister, because speeding is the one thing that is easily detectable by modern technology and therefore it's very easy to impose fines on offenders. In other words, and especially now the police are allowed to keep speeding fines for themselves, it seems the crackdown on speeding is very little to do with road safety and an awful lot to do with revenue raising and hidden taxation.
It's time Britain's motorists fought back against this campaign and saw it for what it really was. If they were seriously interested in improving road safety then why isn't the Government looking into ongoing and regular advanced training for ALL road users, not only for drivers but also for other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, compulsory third-party insurance for anyone who wants to use the roads and regular assessment and training in awareness of road safety and all its risks? Instead we are getting another nanny-state restriction on one single aspect of road safety which isn't even the biggest cause of the problem.
Martin, England, UK
I don¿t think speed limiters are a good idea as I like driving fast and find driving slowly boring. I concentrate less at lower speeds and have more crashes.
Making roads more bendy would force me to drive more slowly whilst maintaining a higher level of concentration and therefore make my journeys interesting, safe and fun.
Speed limiters are a bad idea. Far too many drivers will believe it removes from them the constant need to judge an appropriate speed. The speed limit is just that a limit not a target. Sometimes a safe speed is considerably below the posted limit.
On this issue of speed and safety I feel intense frustration due to the low calibre of the debate and the lack of relationship between this debate and sound science.
May I suggest two other measures to be introduced before this is considered.
Dave Derrick, UK
Speed kills - its a fact. The only people who are
bothered are the people who speed, the
criminals who don't care about anyone or
anything except their own miserable, fast lived
go nowhere existence. Stop the means to speed
the cause will stop as well.
You have got to be joking. Speed limiters in cars are just not workable. Are the powers that be seriously suggesting that all vehicles for sale in this country be fitted with a device that means that 70 MPH cannot be broken? What happens if the car is taken abroad? Being restricted to 70MPH on some continental motorways would be downright dangerous. As usual, this is a half cocked idea from people who are incapable of thinking through the consequences of new proposals. We have laws in this country which state that 70MPH is the National speed limit. Simply enforce the laws as they stand. We do not need "picky" legislation, or any more interference from the "Nanny State".
Speed of itself is not the killer, it is the inappropriate use of speed along with other factors that kills. There are many stretches of road in the UK with which I am familiar, that are unsafe at the posted speed limit of 30 mph on that stretch, never mind anything else. The difficulty is effectively educating the individual motorist as to what is a safe speed for a particular road under the prevailing weather and traffic conditions at the time. Sadly by going after speed as the only issue, the authorities are only concentrating on the "soft underbelly" of the problem.
Garry H, England
When I was a child it was safe to play in my street but if I let my children play in the same street today they wouldn't only be playing with a ball, they'd be playing with their lives. Speed cameras, as they are used on main roads, reduce accidents by people reducing their speed on that stretch. This doesn't help the people living or driving in those areas where there are no speed cameras. Speeding is endemic in this country. It costs lives. I read that there are new police cameras being developed which fit into cat's eyes. Put them on every road and ban those who get caught more than twice a year. This would free up congestion through people driving at a more reasonable speed and also by getting those who think they're Michael Schumacher off the roads completely.
Nigel Bannister, UK
Another crazy idea from the "speed kills" zealots. The government and local councils would achieve better results if they attended to the backlog of road repairs and put some money into proper road awareness training for pedestrians and for drivers. Instead they just parrot the same old ideas that speed is the problem when it's cluelessness that kills.
Speed limits help people stay in control of their vehicles. The highways and byways are not race tracks. They should be regulated and made as safe as possible for the public to use. Drivers will always complain about speed restrictions, but if we didn't have them then people would drive as fast as they wanted all the time. If they did that then the roads would become dangerous and unpredictable. Sometimes we need laws to help protect us from ourselves.
How long would it take for some clever dickens to produce a limiter-delimiter?
Speed limiters in cars? I give it two weeks before somebody manages to hack and disable the feature.
Would there be dispensation for those of us who take our cars abroad regularly and are able to drive on roads with higher limits, such as those in France or Germany? This is just another way for the government to stiff the motorist because rest assured, they'd charge the motorist for the fitment, or fine those who refused to fit one.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK
Why is Mark Newdick prepared to tolerate the lowest common denominator of driver on the road?.
Driving is a skill. Those unable to meet the standard should be off the road. This is one activity which you cannot afford to dumb down!
Why not ban anybody from driving a car with an engine capacity more than 500cc? That should solve the problem and be kind to the environment to boot.
Of course, the government would have to cope with the subsequent loss in revenue from speeding fines and petrol taxes, but a big hike in the petrol prices should provide adequate compensation, I'm sure.
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