In a spin: Speed cameras and the fallacy of road safety.

Recently, with the cut in funding and subsequent turning off of speed cameras in Oxfordshire there has been a great deal of chatter about how this will increase the numbers of deaths on the roads. Today had the local speed camera organisation, “Thames Valley’s Safer Road Partnership”, spouting statistically unsustainable statistics about how many people were now breaking the speed limit as opposed to when the cameras were operational. (Notably, they didn’t say by how much the speed limit was being broken by. Also, one location is notorious for chavish lads driving recklessly, which wouldn’t be halted by the camera.)

Two days ago we had another pressure group and a number of police chief constables put their oar in: One basically saying that there would be carmogedden and the other blaming the middle classes for speeding “until one of their family got killed.” That second one is laughable if you’ve ever lived anywhere close to a “working class” neighbourhood.

The trouble with all this spin and hoo-hah is that the evidence for speed being the main killer on the roads is just not there. In 2008 only 14% of road accidents had speed as a contributory factor. Note that this is ALL accidents reported to the police and not just lethal ones. So, speed cameras, even if they were 100% effective, would not help in 86% of accidents.

So, now we know that speed is not as high a risk as the quangos who run the cameras and the police forces (who don’t want to spend money on traffic enforcement officers) would make out, do cameras actually help at all?

Well, in some locations I’m sure that they do. In most locations, however, they’re more of a hazard than a help. How many times have you seen a car brake heavily (usually from a speed under the speed limit already) to pass a speed camera? I’ve seen it quite a number of times, causing the cars behind to have to make sudden braking maneuvers themselves. i.e. increasing the risk of an accident. Also, forcing drivers to be more concerned about the absolute speed of their vehicle and watching the speedo more and more decreases the time they have to concentrate on other road hazards or taking note of what an appropriate speed for the situation might be, again increasing the risk of an accident.

If you add to this the congestive effect of cars slowing to well below the speed limit to pass the cameras and, on a road close to capacity, causing the generation of a solitary wave of congestion to pass back along the queue causing a complete jam.

What about the other “safety” features imposed by local authorities on the roads in the name of safety?

Well, there are the extensive 50 mph speed limits which seem to encompass huge swathes of the A road network. It seems that the default reaction when there are an above average number of accidents on a road is to restrict the speed limit by a mere 10 mph. The fallacy here is that doing so will automatically cut incidents.

Let’s break down the logic using a specific example, the A420 between Oxford and Swindon. There are a few places where the junctions are relatively blind and would benefit from the traffic being slowed. It could be said that in these areas 50 mph is still way too high and a 40 mph limit would be more appropriate in the close vicinity of the junction. However, for most of the road the national speed limit of 60 mph is not a dangerous speed (under good road conditions). The majority of fatal accidents on the road, however, are from drivers who have been reckless and have been speeding, losing control of their vehicle on bends. Note: these people are already breaking the speed limit.

So, the knee-jerk reaction has been to decrease the speed limit on about two-thirds of the whole length of road to 50 mph. Firstly, his will not help to greatly reduce the danger on the risky junctions as the time to see a vehicle from the junction before turning out onto the road has not decreased by much. Secondly, those who caused accidents by speeding recklessly will still ignore the speed limit. (And no, more speed cameras wouldn’t help.)

In other words, the responsible majority have been hugely inconvenienced and no real good has come from it other than to allow the councils to say that they’re doing something.

Of course, I am talking heresy. Tut-tut. The slogan says, “Speed kills!” but actually it doesn’t. Changing the slogan to “Inappropriate speed is highly risky” wouldn’t go down well as it’s not punchy enough. Of course, it’s not the speed which kills ultimately, it’s the rapid deceleration.

Just my two-penny’s worth…

Task completed: Some thoughts on the experience.

On Tuesday evening I took off the kilt for the last time. The month had passed relatively uneventfully but in the end I was glad that I could change back into trousers again.

The kilt was generally very comfortable to wear and after the half way mark had become “normal” as had not wearing any underwear beneath the kilt. Gone had the feeling of being naked in public and it was now natural.

No, none of these were the reasons that I was glad that the month had ended. Kilts are merely inconvenient. Or rather, the gubbins associated with them are a pain. You see, the kilt itself does take extra work to put on and take off but then there is the sporran, which needs its chain to be thread through the loops at the back. It needs to be taken off whenever you go to the loo and gets in the way when driving. It’s also not as good as a good pair of pockets for storing things.

The kilt itself is a pain in the behind, literally, when sitting in the car. The bucket seat design forces you to sit on the copious pleats which then after a few minutes create pressure points. Driving for more than a quarter of an hour is highly uncomfortable.

Having said all that, I’m glad I went through the experience and I would recommend that everyone try wearing a skirt (let’s face it, that’s what a kilt is) without anything beneath for at least two weeks, preferably three. The first two weeks are to get used to the feeling and the third to show yourself that it is actually a perfectly valid thing to be able to do infinitum if wanted. Also, it’ll show you that there’s nothing sexual about such a way of dressing either. Maybe if everyone did this there would be less prejudice about clothing choice.

Will I wear a kilt again? I don’t know. Not to work, even though a number of people have said word to the effect that they miss seeing me in the outfit. (There are a few who are glad that I’m back in trousers.) I’ve found the change back to anonymity interesting as well. People are truely strange creatures, especially those who allow clothing choice to colour their whole world.

And what about the transition back to trousers? Well, less of a bother than expected. It did take a few hours before I could feel comfortable again but after that had passed it was back to normal again. Still, trousers with undies underneath are certainly more sweaty and probably far less healthy in warm weather.

And what about the charity fund raising? Well here I am totally amazed. Currently the sum is approximately £1100! I never thought I’d get anywhere near the £1000 mark and I’ve topped it. This is very good news.

And so, now life goes back to normal and I can climb ladders or lift heavy objects off the floor without worrying that I’m going to give someone a view they weren’t expecting. In that way being back in troose is very liberating. 🙂