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All Torque

by Alex Boheimer

Unsafe at Any Speed?

Speed is very much on the agenda at the moment, with a senior police officer proposing last week that speeding should be clamped down on with a new policy of zero tolerance. The technology is now available for very accurate speed traps and the use of digital cameras means that the ticketing could be automated.

Now, before we even get into the "it's not speed that kills, but the misuse of speed" debate, let's get a few things straight. A moving object has energy, and the energy is proportional to the square of its velocity. Looking at the sums you can see that the effect of an increase in speed from 20 to 30 mph is an increase in energy of 125%. This would be the case for any 50% increase in speed, eg: 60-90 mph. That energy has to be dissipated, either in the brakes or, if something goes horribly wrong, against another object. So there certainly is some logic in what people say about speed, especially when you factor in drivers' reaction times. Before you all log off thinking I've turned into a miserable anti-car campaigner, hang on a minute. We need to face up to this with a certain amount of intelligence and probity.

The Facts of Life

Statistics tell interesting stories and are something that insurance companies are well practised with. Young drivers are awful, especially young males. They range from very silly to downright criminal. This is where the "misuse of speed" bit comes rolling off the tongue and yes, you're probably right. The knowledge that there's no point in driving like Michael Schumacher on a busy A road is not compatible with an 18-year-old brain, and unfortunately it passes some people by forever. You know the sort of thing I mean: attempting to overtake a long line of cars which just goes on forever. We've all done it, but some will now admit it was pointless. The other insane activity is attempting to race in town. It really is embarrassing and deserves to be clobbered. However, these sorts of things tend to break existing laws and their current interpretations.

Now I can't help thinking that any clampdown may not be entirely motivated by safety. Revenue and the amount to be gathered must be part of the motivation. Revenues gathered from speeding fines should not go to the Exchequer, and they should not go to the Police. They should be ploughed back solely into the education of drivers, particularly young ones. Here I want to draw a parallel to the attempts to dampen down the birth rate in the third world. Some schemes involved some pretty dodgy tactics, such as paying women to be sterilised, or in some cases even forcing them. The only schemes that were successful were those which concentrated on education.

Chief constables should not be clamouring for more clampdowns on what is a nation of generally safe (by European standards) and law-abiding drivers. So leave us alone. If you truly want to push for safety the only way to do it is through positive moves. As a prime minster once said: "education, education, education"...

If you have any comments for Alex then email him direct: [email protected]

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