June 4, 2007 Its one of the great contradictions of modern transport - automobiles keep getting faster while statistics that prove we need to slow down in the interests of community safety keep rolling in. Governments across the globe a moving to curb high-speed, particularly in areas such as school precincts where pedestrians at are greater risk, but these moves and the way in which they are policed are sometimes criticized as revenue raising exercises that do little to address the core issues. While not strictly within the scope of Gizmag, we believe that the ramifications for transport users in cities around the world is significant enough for us to consider the arguments.
Few would argue that our obsession with high-performance vehicles that can reach speeds as great as 340kmh straight off the showroom floor needs to be balanced against road laws that protect drivers, cyclist and pedestrians from harm. Many governments are making this a priority by reducing speed zones in residential areas. Most parts of Australia for example, now enforce 50 km/h (31mph speed limits) in built-up areas and 40kmh zones around school areas. The City of Portsmouth in the UK has just announced that it will become the first city in Britain to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit across a large part of the city. This seems quite severe in an age where travel times are a major headache for city dwellers - indeed it's reminiscent of the original ruling that cars had to be preceded by a man with a flag when they replaced the horse drawn carriage as the main form of urban transport early last century - but when considered in light of statistics that show the major benefits to safety the inconvenience of longer travel times seems insignificant.
In the UK, an average of seven children are killed or seriously injured on foot or bike every day and reducing speed dramatically reduces the chance of a fatal outcome. It's estimated that if a driver hits a child at 20mph they have a 90% survival chance but this figure skyrockets to an 85% chance of being killed at 40mph [http://www.roadsafetyweek.org]. In parts of Australia research has shown that 40% of fatal road accidents are speed-related and the impact of changes made to pedestrian zones has resulted in pedestrian fatalities have fallen by 40 percent since 2002.
It is difficult to argue against the merit of these changes in the face of this evidence. Governments have however come under fire for losing sight of the primary objective in regard to road safety and using the reduced speed zones to raise revenue. New technology that assists in helping drivers to be more aware of speed zones is potentially beneficial in this area. Gizmag recently covered a new system developed in Europe by Siemens that automatically recognizes traffic signs and prevents unintentional speeding. The broad introduction of such new technology, particularly at the automotive manufacturing level, will not only by helping motorists avoid speeding tickets but also reinforce the need for safety and counteract the "revenue raising" argument by overriding the perception that motorists are being tricked into paying fines rather than being encouraged to save lives.
For further reading on developments in the UK ahead of Road Safety Week 2007 see www.roadsafetyweek.org.