Over the last 20 years or so, we’ve been constantly bombarded with the mantra that speeding on our roads kills, and slow equals safe. What a giant crock; and frankly, road users are being scammed. The person travelling 20km/h under the speed limit is way more of a danger than the person travelling at 10km/h over the limit without tailgating, lane-wandering or, as the authorities would have you believe, hooning.
Let me explain. I’ve driven 4X4s (both towing and not), fast cars, well-handling cars, motorbikes (fast and slow) and heavy rigid and articulated trucks on the road for as long as I can remember and you won’t be surprised to hear that they all need to be driven/ridden very differently. Some vehicles do need to be driven slowly to be safe – there’s no question about it; but others can quite comfortably (and yes, safely) be driven well north of any arbitrary speed limit.
The fact that a Subaru WRX is limited to the same speed as a fully loaded B-Double is ludicrous. And no, I’m not suggesting we abolish speed limits. I’m suggesting we take a look at how they’re determined. There is the argument of course that many people simply can’t drive that well. Spend a day on the roads in any major city and the amount of folks you’ll see on their phones, drifting aimlessly between lanes, listening to headphones, not using their indicators, displaying next to no spatial awareness or are simply off with the fairies is really quite alarming. But instead of throwing fines at everyone, why aren’t our governments promoting driver education and operating vehicles to the conditions? Surely this would provide a much better impetus for lowering the road toll and reducing the inherent danger on our blacktop?
We drive 4X4s, which are generally large vehicles, and they have to be driven as such. You can’t punt a double-cab LandCruiser through the twisties the same way you would an MX-5; if you were to try to do so that would be called driving like a knob. But penalising people who are capable of handling their vehicles (which are designed for speed) at speed seems completely ham-fisted to me. Weather conditions also play a huge role in determining how fast you should go. A clear day on a six-lane highway with zero pedestrian activity – why shouldn’t you be able to go 140km/h, providing both you and your vehicle are up to it? Or on the contrary, punting down a single-lane road at dawn in heavy fog… absolutely you should slow down and stay alert for any unseen dangers. These types of things should be predicating the speed you travel at; not what some pen-pusher randomly decided is safe for the road.
Let’s promote driving to the conditions, let’s promote driver education, let’s promote being aware of your vehicle’s handing characteristics, situational awareness and being honest about your ability as a driver. Watch the road toll drop. This anathema to speed is finally coming back to bite us on the bum – just look at the woman recently who went on a Facebook rant about the cops booking her for travelling too slowly in the right-hand lane. Her ignorance is a direct result of the ‘don’t speed’ ethos we’ve been subjected to, and she’s far from alone. Imagine if we had driver education that would actually make people aware of what is the correct way to do things rather than just throwing infringement notices at people who are travelling a few km/h above the speed limit.
No, I’m not advocating driving like a hoon. I haven’t had a speeding fine in over 15 years. I’m simply saying that this focus on speed being the issue is a sham. Drive to the conditions, know your limits and your vehicle’s limits, and be safe out there. It’s really a simple concept being complicated by government-sponsored misinformation. We need to take a long, hard look at how we approach our attitude to road safety.