Speed kills... just not that often

What I am about to say may well be controversial to some; however I think it is well worth saying: speed is no where near the main cause of accidents in the UK.

It is worth taking the time to think about what we mean by the claim that "Speed Kills".  Do we mean that going very fast will kill you?  If so then that is demonstrably rubbish.  The fastest I have ever driven a car is 180MPH (at Silverstone race track before anybody suggests I would ever exceed a speed limit).  I have travelled at close to 600MPH and despite both I am still alive.  Others have gone much faster and lived to tell the tale.  So, speed itself is not a killer.  How then does speed kill?  Well, the culprit is not speed but inappropriate speed.  I accept that the warning "Inappropriate Speed Kills" may not have the same ring to it.

The Institute of Advances Motorists has just released research on the various contributory causes of accidents and I have to say that the main causes are far more frightening that going too fast.

The top three causes of accidents are given in the executive summary as being:

  1. Driver error, which appears to come down to not looking properly or thinking about what is happening around them accounted for 68% of all accidents;
  2. Injudicious actions accounted for 26% of crashes; and
  3. Behaviour and experience factors accounting for 25% of accidents.
 This doesn't add up to 100% because there can be multiple causes to any given accident.

Looking at the summary charts we see that for car drivers simply not looking where they were going was the largest single accident cause at 18.6%  It is closely followed by failing to judge others path or speed at 10.4%  Surprisingly, travelling too fast for the conditions accounted for just 5.6% of accidents.

I will quote direct from the report:
"Many of the issues which receive the most media coverage are not actually among the most common contributory factors. Speeding, drink driving, mobile phone use, tailgating, road rage and bad weather are all important but are not as frequently reported as driver errors;
• ‘Exceeding the speed limit’ (13.9% of fatal, 7.2% of serious and less for slight)
• ‘impaired by alcohol’ (10% of fatal and 7% of serious accidents, less slight accidents)
• ‘aggressive driving’ (8% of fatal accidents, less serious and slight accidents)
• ‘slippery road - due to weather’ (11% of slight and 8% of serious accidents but less
frequently reported in fatal accidents)
• ‘sudden braking’ and ‘following too close’ (8% of slight accidents each, but less
frequently reported in fatal and serious accidents)
• ‘Driver using mobile phone’ (0.8% of fatal crashes, but only 0.2% of all injury
• Vehicle defects are recorded in very few cases (2%)."

The message seems to be that speeding will make an accident much worse and that you are more likely to kill or be killed if you drive too fast, particularly in places that are unsuitable for high speed.  However, the one thing everybody can do to reduce accidents is to LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!

As a motorcyclist the report seems to agree with my personal observations.  This morning two people cut across me as I was riding along minding my own business and caused me to take evasive action; neither I nor they were exceeding the speed limit or travelling too fast for the conditions.  Two near misses each way to work and back is by no means exceptional, more like its average because people simply don't bother to look properly or at all before they manoeuvre.  If we really want to cut down on road deaths and accidents I personally think that the only way is to have regular re-assessments of driving and prevent those who are not up to it from getting behind the wheel.  And I say that knowing just how much I would HATE to have to take another driving test.

Incidentally, I did see an accident this morning.  A man on a moped was too busy arguing with a van driver to notice the van in front of him stop and the moped drove straight into it.  Wouldn't have happened had the rider pointed his face in the direction of travel.


  1. I completely agree, it's inappropriate speed that kills along with poor driving. However as a defence solicitor you will be very aware that this would be very difficult to prove.

    Hence the government has went with the much easier to prove over an arbitary speed limit. It may sometimes be safer to go faster (and sometimes to dangerous to go at the limit) but it would be very difficult to devise a system to take this into account.

    However I certainly agree that the government should focus more on education of other matters like poor concentration and not the over simplistic speed kills.

    Anyway, I've never known speed to kill anyone. It's usually the sudden stopping that causes the problem... ;-)

  2. I do roughly 100 miles a day most of it on motorways and I am constantly amazed at the complete lack of planning drivers seem to employ whilst using the motorway, I myself cannot claim to be a perfect driver BTW.

    The problem comes from people driving beyond their limits, be it the limit of their skills, the limit of what they can see or the limits of the vehicle.

    Driver education is they key, you only need to spend 5 minutes on a track to find out that if you drive like a loon you ultimately go slower than smooth, controlled and planned driving.

  3. Anon, I think the key to solving the problem is two-fold. First, as you say driver education. I do think it is bizarre that you can pass your test and go straight onto a motorway having had no lessons or experience on how to drive in that environment - I assume that is why I still see people in slip lanes slowing down below the speed of the traffic already on the road as they try to join. Secondly, you can prove careless or dangerous driving very easily by having a police officer giving evidence or showing evidence of it on CCTV. Of course, that requires more police watching the roads and less CCTV cameras constantly focused on bus lanes (as they are throughout the London Borough of Richmond).

    Phiangle, you are right I don't think anybody can honestly claim to be perfect. I make mistakes, especially on the bike where things can change so quickly, but I always try to learn from them... it helps that I'm a complete coward and terrified of getting hurt!


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