Ireland needs to re-think its relationship with speeding

Ireland needs to re-think its relationship with speeding

Off the top of your head, does anybody know what percentage of accidents on Irish roads are caused by speed?

I think I once saw 4%, or maybe it was 40%. But that's not the answer to my question: the answer is 100%.

Think about it. It's impossible to imagine a scenario where the accident wouldn't have been avoided if the vehicles had been going a bit slower. Driving everywhere at 30 km/h may be annoying, but you'd always be able to stop in time.

This is my bugbear with statistics. If your job is to reduce the number of people being killed in road accidents in Ireland, it is dangerously lazy of you to say "most of these are caused by speed" and then go home.

If we actually want to start reducing the number of killed and seriously injured on Ireland's roads, we need to know exactly how many are caused partly by people who don't know that you need to slow down when driving past a queue of traffic, how many are caused partly by people using their phone, and how many are caused partly by people spending too much time worrying about what happened in the office today.

That will never happen, firstly because it would be impossible unless you had an independent adjudicator in every car. Secondly, even if it were possible, the statistics would make for some really boring headlines.

So instead we're left with this lukewarm National Slow Down Day campaign where drivers who break the speed limit 364 days a year are warned that they might get caught today. Huge amounts of campaigning resources are spent on causing people to associate safe driving with one day of the year.

Despite what it sounds like, I'm a big supporter of the RSA and Gardai's work. There are a lot of drivers on the roads who don't realise how bad they are and they need somebody to remind them.

My issue is that I'm not sure anybody actually comes out of this experience any better at driving.

The law says that the speed limit is the maximum speed you can safely travel at. But in Ireland, it is so frequently possible to safely exceed the speed limit, that the law comes in to question.

Here's the problem: people are pretty good and seeing an empty road with few hazards and think, 'I could probably speed up a bit here'. What people are terrible at - and this applies to almost every driver I've met in Ireland and the UK and although I try to be different, I include myself in this - is remembering that when the hazards increase you need to slow right down again.

Think that bus is going to pull out? Is that kid on a scooter making you uneasy? Can't see behind that parked van? Passengers giving you a headache? Think those traffic lights are going to change any moment? These are all clues most drivers miss that the time for speeding is over.

I would partly blame this on too many people bringing a rural driving style with them in to urban Ireland. But the excuse is irrelevant when people are being killed.

Ireland needs to find a way to teach people how to read the road around them and interpret what they see. But when that approach sounds so boring, how do you begin with it?

If money were no object, I would force every driver to attend an annual race day, where you are taught and insured to drive as fast as physically possible. This would teach people three things: firstly, that driving very fast is fun, which would remove the pent-up rage from people who sit in city centre traffic all day. Secondly, that entering a bend so fast you don't think you will make it is really scary, as in brown-trousers scary. Thirdly, that if you do want to drive fast and safely, you have to keep half an eye on so many potential hazards that there are few real-world scenarios where you can do it without quickly wearing your brain out.

It would surely be more effective than the more practical option: trying to get the majority to see that when we criticise drivers, they are included, and that there is more to education than simply making emotive comments about fatalities and children's safety.

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I love music, media, news, travelling, old TV shows, lists, driving, trains, planes. Have a fear of boats. Humour is weak at best.

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© 2019 Johnathan Randall.