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Do we really want speed on our roads to be further reduced?

Updated Monday, 29th February 2016

As towns in Britain begin to switch to 20 mph speed limits, Paul Rowlinson wonders if vested interests will limit their impact.

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An idiot in a car leaves animals dead in his wake, as he cries about his rights Creative commons image Icon Catherine Pain under Creative-Commons license Here in our corner of Suffolk, which borders Essex and Cambridgeshire, there is a local grassroots campaign to lower speed limits in 'black spots' where there have been near misses, but no fatalities. It is a salutary point worth remembering that nothing will be done to reduce speed in black spots unless people do die. Someone joked about pushing the elderly out into the road to boost the figures for the benefit of the community, but even for those who argue that the ends always justify the means this is probably a step too far. 

The more palatable option of a petition has been signed by a small number of people and they have tried to raise publicity on local radio and newspapers. Using borrowed equipment, speeds were monitored and 'alarming data' was uncovered, including a motorcycle travelling at 104mph though the 40 mph zone. 

A petition signer who is also a councillor has said that plans are being drafted to reduce speed limits quite significantly in order to 'make cutting the number of deaths and injuries on the county’s roads a priority'. Plans would include reducing many residential 30 mph limits to 20, which is supposedly the limit that most motorists agree should be in force, and a reduction to 40mph for rural single carriageway roads, which I should imagine would be far less agreeable to the motorists who use them.

My guess is that the majority of people don't really want to have speed limits reduced. They probably consider themselves to be very competent at driving at the current speed limit (add ten per cent or so) and avoiding accidents. This may well be the case. 

The problem is surely the people who repeatedly take risks and don't care what the speed limit is. How is reducing a 40 to a 30 or a 30 to a 20 going to affect the behaviour of someone who thinks that driving at over 100 mph on a road that passes within feet of someone's front door is OK?

We now have the technologies available to either limit the speed of the vehicle to the speed limit in operation, or send the incriminating information to the police, DVLA or whoever – so why don't we use it? Do manufacturers and other vested interests, politicians included, fear that motorists would reject new cars fitted with this technology in favour of older models? Would motorists baulk at such a 'nanny state' initiative, claiming an assault on their freedom and human rights? 

Or is it really OK to drive above the speed limit as long as no-one catches you? It's an almost Zen-like question. If a motorist drives too fast through a forest road and there is no-one there to see them, are they still breaking the law?

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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