In denial about our speed habit?

We motorists are in denial about our terrible speed habit (The Observer)

This is an article about speeding and speed cameras. The author got a speeding ticket and was given a place on a course rather than take points on his licence (which pushes up your insurance premiums and, if you drive for a living, as I do, it may make that more difficult). He found that many of the motorists on the course were “in denial”, blaming the camera rather than their own driving, and the course “debunked many of the myths that have grown up around speed cameras”. He claimed that the message promoted by a recent anti-speeding TV ad - that 80% of people hit by cars doing 30mph survive, while only half of those hit at 35 do - was not sinking in.

I’d dispute that the advert was really intended to persuade drivers not to speed; their purpose was to win the argument over speed cameras, and over putting up cameras to catch motorists speeding at 5mph or less over the speed limit in a 30mph zone. In my experience, some of the places these cameras are located cannot possibly be places where a lot of pedestrians are getting killed by speeding motorists. They are located in places of prime visibility, for easy catches. A good example is the one in Southend Road, north of Beckenham, Kent (actually SE London); another is on Forest Road, in Walthamstow, east London, on a stretch of road recently reduced from 40 to 30. Neither of those roads are residential - one could do 40 quite safely; one could certainly do 35 without much risk of hitting a pedestrian.

The other problem with the obsession with policing speed is that bad driving which is not easily policed is ignored. In my driving jobs I’ve sometimes worked for car rental companies and endured the driving “skills” of runner drivers, who drove groups of us out to fetch cars and vans to bring back to the depot. Some of them drove like maniacs, cutting corners and on one occasion picking back roads they could bomb down and fling the vehicle round sharp bends, until they hit a traffic island and damaged the car’s wheel. Although I reported the incident, the driver responsible was not sacked until after he caused another accident.

I can remember a trip down the Machynlleth to Tywyn road in west Wales, during which we were confronted by drivers coming the other way who clearly “knew the road” and thought that entitled them to drive faster than they really should drive on a road with such poor visibility. The other day, driving a Transit down the narrow Banstead to Chipstead B-road, I was forced to a halt by a truck speeding (if not necessarily in the legal sense) the other way. In the Rotherhithe tunnel in east London, there is a 20mph speed limit and a camera pointing into the tunnel on the south side. However, that point is not the most dangerous point in the tunnel - the most dangerous points are the bends, at which I’ve sometimes been forced into the side of the road and to a stop by large vans and even small trucks coming the other way, who saw no reason to stop or slow down despite signs saying “large vehicles, give way at bends”. Since it’s not illegal, just dangerous, to do 20mph round those bends in a 7.5-tonne truck with a Transit van coming the other way, they do not put cameras up on the bends.

In any case, the debate should have moved on from the 30mph limit, since whole areas of London are now being hit with 20mph limits, among them the B-road from New Cross to Rotherhithe (Trundleys Road) and Shardeloes Road south of New Cross. Trundleys in particular is not a residential road, and there are no repeater signs warning of the reduced limit, as there should be on roads with other than the normal speed limit. I can understand imposing a lower limit around school entrances, in residential roads where traffic should be kept out, and in narrow and bendy tunnels, but Trundleys Road is none of these. It’s an important, if obscure, urban main road. Admittedly there are no speed cameras, but it would not stop any group of police lying in wait on a stretch of that road, catching drivers who think the speed limit is 30, as it should be.

The TV ad that Thomas Quinn refers to misses the point. There are so many places where neither speed, nor other forms of bad driving, are policed despite being much more dangerous than some places which are. I would like to see more policing on roads like the Lower Richmond Road in Putney, where there are shops and where I was nearly knocked over the other day on one of the many times I had to cross it while delivering, and less on open A-roads where speeding is of less consequence but more easily detected. Until this happens, the suspicion that the cameras exist to make money will never quite go away.

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