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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Does speeding get you there quicker?
Do we take speeding seriously?
Speed cameras are set to become an even more common sight on our roads. But avoiding a fine is not the only good reason drivers should stick to the speed limits.

"I still do speed on occasions." This is the sort of admission you could expect to hear at any family barbecue, school gate or water cooler in the country.

That they are actually the words of North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom - one of the keenest supporters of speed camera deployment - points to the almost universal contempt in which speed limits are held.

Speed camera
Coming to a road near you
Mr Brunstrom said he was "ashamed" of his speeding, which he described as "dangerous" and "anti-social".

Though the police chief's words caused a storm of protest in June, few drivers can claim the moral high ground when it comes the breaking the speed limit.

More than two-thirds of urban car drivers exceeded the 30 mph limit in 1999, according to Department of Transport statistics. Admittedly the majority of these motorists were travelling only five miles per hour above the limit.

While drink driving and the smacking of unruly children are widely frowned upon nowadays, the 36% of drivers who keep their speeding below 35 mph would probably not feel themselves ripe targets for censure.

Those extra few miles an hour could prove fatal, that is the message the government is increasingly desperate to put over. A car travelling at 35 mph has a stopping distance 6.4 metres greater than one moving at 30 mph, it would also hit a pedestrian with 36% more force.

More haste, less speed

When struck at 35 mph, pedestrians are twice as likely to die than had the driver been observing the speed limit.

Given these dismal figures, why do so many drivers chose to ignore speed limits? To get to their destination faster presumably.

Britons travel an average of 14 miles a day by car. Given clear roads and benevolent traffic lights such a journey would take 28 minutes at 30 mph. You would shave a princely four-and-a-half minutes off that time if you pushed the needle to 35.

But, of course, urban roads are not clear and traffic lights aren't always obligingly green, says Professor Frank McKenna, a psychologist who studies the behaviour of speeding motorists.

Going nowhere fast
"We've done tests where drivers were sent on a journey across a town at different target speeds. They all took about the same time. We all see it on the roads, drivers who speed past only for you to pull up behind them at the next set of lights."

With traffic and traffic lights there to confound smooth progress, putting a foot down when the road does finally open up is one of the few ways an urban driver can exert some control over a journey.

"Speeding is a risk behaviour with little benefit, but great potential costs," says Professor McKenna.

While people who regularly speed are three times as likely to be involved in an accident (according to the Police Driver's Handbook), ignoring the speed limit may also be an indicator of a predisposition for other "anti-social" activities.

Professor McKenna says evidence is emerging that speeders tend also to take many of society's other rules with a pinch of salt.

And yet while few people would comfortably admit to such activities as fare evading - least of all police chiefs - Professor McKenna says speeding still does not carry a stigma commensurate with its deadly risks.

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