The other day I was listening to the discussion on radio about lots of people speeding in UK and police trying to have matter under control. Many drivers were questioned and their answers provided for some interesting feedback. I don’t remember the number exactly now, but roughly more than a half of them said that they were speeding repeatedly in the past and that they will drive faster than laws allow in the future. When asked about the methods to stop them, the answers were pointing at drastic measures, such as extremely high fines, prisons, and license nullification.
This discussion reminded me of my own thoughts on the subject that I had about six month ago, but never wrote down. Needless to say that a new storm of ideas happened in my head. I am taking this chance now to write it all down and get it out of my system.
Firstly, I believe that most people drive responsibly. They are likely to maintain the speed that they are comfortable at. I think that for most drivers personal comfort is more important than the law. If the guy is tired or overhelmed by some thoughts of his or his car is unsafe or he just feels like it, he will drive 20 kilometers per hour, even if the recommended minimum is 50. The same way, if the guy is confident in his vehicle, maintains a clear state of mind, analyzes the road as safe or feels like it, he will be driving 70 kilometers per hour even if the legal limit is 50. There are people who go by the law no matter what and/or those who just like driving at the recommended speed somehow. But most people are not like that.
Why do people speed? Because they feel like it. Because they feel confident. Because they feel safe.
Why do they feel safe? Because they are constantly pushed to feel safe by automobile industry advertisements. And because most of the roads were built in acient times and were based on ancient calculations.
Let me go a bit into that last point. How often do you think traffic planning offices are updating there metrics for safe driving? I don’t think that that happens annually. If we are lucky, they do it maybe once in three years. Realistically – every 5 years. If things are really messed up there – every 10 years. Between new metrics getting calculated, tested, cross-checked against the statistics, passed on to the traffic planning offices, approved there, then followed to construction departments, and then actually being applied to real roads – how much time do you think goes by? I’d say 10 years is a very convenient number for calculations which is not far away from the truth. (Note though that I have no slightest idea what happens in real life.)
With this huge 10-year long steps in updates to road safety guides, put your attention on the safety developments in the automobile industry. New models are released at least every other year by major car manufacturers. Every model has at least minor improvements in the safety department. Seat belts, air bags, tires, vehicle body construction, ABS, on-board computers, etc, etc, etc. Cars are constantly getting safer, while road regulations stay the same.
Cars are also getting more comfortable. Comfort saves a lot of time and consentration for the driver. GPS units can tell the driver where and how to go. Air conditions and climate control units can maintain the most comfortable environment for the driver. Automatic gearboxes save the driver all the gear switching experience. Better seats help drivers and passangers to have a pleasent and comfortable time while in the car. And I am not even touching upon the power steering, power brakes, electornics for side window and mirrors control and a number of other items.
Also, with constant injection of modern technology and globalization into our lives, people are starting to live faster. They are becoming more multitasking and multifunctional. Everyone is used to mobile phones. Most people can maintain several discussions via phone, face-to-face, email, SMS, etc simultaneously. This is very different from people of the few recently past generations.
Need and example to help with the picture? My grandfather and me. My grandfather 20 years ago was driving VAZ 2101 (Yup, those creepy Lada cars). I am driving now Mitsubishi Galant 1.8 GDI. My grandfather’s car was as comfortable as a military tank, while it was as safe as riding the horse in the middle of the tank battle. He had the same set of tires for all seasons, all road types, and all weather conditions. His car were made out of 5mm steel or something similar. It could go through a brick wall easily. No ammortization of the front, back, or side impact though. The only safety option present was a seat belt. My car on the other hand, is almost a state of the art. Power steering, power brakes, ABS, air bags, climate control, and anything else I could wish for. I have only one set of tires for all seasons too, but there is only one season here in Cyprus – summer, so I basically need only one set of tires. But if you compare the tires that I have to those that my grandfather used to have… It’s like comparing modern PCs to those monsters they used to have 20 years ago. The strange thing though is that the speed limit for my grandfather and his car 20 years ago is the same as the speed limit for me today. Don’t you think that it is strange? I do.
So, I think that one of the reasons that so many people go faster than the legal speed limit is because the legal speed limit is too low. I think it should be reevaluated and readjusted. I speed a lot in the city. The speed limit is 50 km/h. Most people go 70 km/h. If the legal speed limit was 70 km/h I doubt that the majority of people would be speeding. Same goes for the highway. We have this excellent motorway with 100 km/h being the limit. Most people go 120-140 km/h. If the speed limit was about 130 km/h I think there wouldn’t be so much speeders. The difference between the comfortable speed for the majority of drivers and the legal speed limit would be big enough to justify speeding in the minds of most drivers.
Why don’t traffic planning offices review the guidelines more often than they do? Well, the beaurocracy is always slow – everyone knows that. But there are more reasons than that. I think that government is trying to keep speed limits low to minimize the number of accidents on the roads. I agree, there is a connection between vehicle speed and its odds of getting into the accident. Higher speed makes things happen faster.
But this is in some way similar to controlling murders by the limit on number of sold knives. There is, of course, a connection between the number of knives sold and people killed with those knives. If knives are not good for you, pick anything else that can be used to kill a human being.
I think that proper education and the system of licenses will do much better to the current situation. If people are taught about operation of vehicles on higher speeds than there current comfortable limit, they would be more prepared for their life on the road. Someone will use the knowledge, someone will not. But at least all of them will have it. Most people I talked to, don’t know how the behavior of the car changes with speed. They don’t know which factors they should be adding to their focus when driving faster. But they do drive faster than they were taught.
Education of vehicle operation on higher speeds is not the only education that can be done. People can be educated about different scenarios where things just weren’t under driver’s control. Cases of accidents envolving experienced and good drivers should be made available to all people. In fact, they should be mandatory. People should know that no matter how good you think you are and how safe you think it is, things can still go wrong. There is always something that you don’t notice.
Also, consequences of accidents should be taught to people. Speeding and drunk driving in particular has caused a number of horrifying accidents. People were killed. People were handicapped. Pictures, movies, and unsuccess stories should be told first hand to everyone getting a license to operate a vehicle. But speeding and drunk driving are not the only reasons for accidents. People must be taught that illegal parking or driving without headlights in the dark are as dangerous as anything. Scare people – I don’t care. If they will be scared to drive, it will be just that safer on the road. Let them realize the potential of one thousand or more kilograms moving at a speed of 50 kilometers per hour. Let them think of an impact that can make on a human being.
Anyway, I think the education part is clear. Now for the licensing. There will always be people who will drive fast. Some of them have to, others want to. No matter how hard the laws are, these people will still be on the road. Give them a chance. Teach them good, make them pass a hard exam, maybe even pay a lot of money, and give them a license. Licenses can be gradually separated. It can be similar to naval licenses. Back in the days when I was sailing I had to get a license (and renew it now and than) to operate a yacht. It was specified how big my yacht can be, what kind of sails it can have, how many people am I allowed to have on board, and how far can I sail away from my “port”. Driving licenses can be similarly done. Vehicles, number and types of passengers, speeds, and roads – all can be defined and licensed. People will have a choice. Note the vehicles. Vehicles should be also checked and licensed for high speed operations. This is how traffic police has it. Vehicles are maintained in order. Officers are taught high speed driving and manuevers.
By now you might want to ask me why I have wrote all of these. Well, this subject is very close and personal to me. I love driving. I love speed. I really want to drive safe, but I really want to drive fast. I am willing to learn. I am willing to get the license. I know many people who feel the same. Currently I don’t have that many options. And I am always thinking why and what can be done about it and how it can be done. This post will help me get things out of my head and save them somewhere so that there are not forgotten. Maybe it will help someone else in forming the opinion on the subject.