The myth about speeding

2018 Jeep Compass frontal offset crash test

The advertising is all pervasive – it hits our TV shows and radio stations: “Every kilometre over is a killer”, and “Drop five, save lives”.

These messages are constantly bombarding our eyeballs and ears, and they’re slogans that are catchy, and get right to the point – if you speed, you’re going to kill someone.

The problem is, these slogans haven’t been devised by the police, or even by a road safety council.

They’ve been created by advertising agencies. Not a great way to start – who can trust someone trying to sell you something?

But this common belief that when you’re speeding you’re going to die is a simple idea to get across, and with enough scare tactics, people have started to believe it.

But where did the ad agencies get that information from?

The “Drop five” line came from a Monash University study that demonstrated that a five kilometre an hour reduction in speed would prevent a crash.

This study was the subject of a TV ad campaign which visualised the results:

The problem is it’s based on a very strict set of circumstances that are hardly representative of real world crashes.

The above scenario is not how most people die.

Every crash is different, and it’s extraordinarily rare – in fact, it’s impossible – for them to be replicated.

Minor variations in road surface temperature, tyre condition, brake pad thickness, braking power, driver alertness, alcohol or drug impairment and myriad other factors all play a part.

So this broad-brush approach to speeding is simply a catch-all to try to curb crashes. It does, however, come from a good motive.

One death is one too many. No arguments from us – we can all agree on that.

But it’s the way the government handles this problem that is the issue here.

According to the government and those policing our roads, if you speed, you’re going to die.

That is blatantly untrue.

The definition of speeding is going over the speed limit. That’s it. So, exceed an arbitrary number and you’re speeding.

If the speed limit is 70kmh and you do 71kmh, well, guess what – you’re speeding. If the limit was 5kmh (as in a carpark) and you do 6kmh, then you’re speeding.

Are you going to be killed? Hardly.

Let’s look at some facts and figures

You don’t have to be a mathematics genius to work this stuff out.

Let’s take the standard speed limit in Australia. It’s 50km/h.

Any vehicle will cover 13.88 metres in a single second at that speed. According to the government’s ads, every kilometre an hour over is a killer.

So, at 51km/h, you’re now covering 14.16m per second. By adding a single kilometre to your speed, you add an additional 27cm to the distance covered.

That’s less than a classroom ruler.

Now, anyone getting directly hit at 50kmh is going to come off second best, and death is a definite possibility.

But add some braking to the equation and things start to change dramatically.

Imagine a child runs out in front of you, chasing their ball. Your first instinct is to slam on the anchors.

The difference in braking distance is highly variable, and Monash University’s braking equations are based on a study which is nearly 20 years old.

That data is outdated and simply does not apply any more.

Think about the advances in both tyre technology (the materials used, and the tread patterns), braking tech (including electronic brake assist and brakeforce distribution), ABS, and improvements in brake pads, not to mention grippier road surfaces and autonomous braking, which have all improved over the past 20 years.

Cars these days will brake way quicker than a car from 20 year ago – we’re sure you’d agree with that.

So, why are they still hanging onto these same old slogans?


Reaction times are another completely variable factor – a lot of people are driving tired, while others are driving wired.

How many accident statistics account for that?

Put simply, there are too many factors to put the blame squarely on speed or speeding.

Here’s another big reason why the emphasis on speeding is problematic.

Watching your speedometer is actually more dangerous than you think

According to the ABC, a more recent study by the University of Western Australia found that the focus on speeding was actually creating more distracted drivers.

That’s because if you’re constantly focussing on your speedo to ensure you’re not speeding, you’re not looking at the road in front.

That in itself is not just dangerous, but deadly – our concentration should always be on the road.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr Vanessa Bowden, said the study found that the mental and visual resources of drivers were being used up by constantly monitoring their speed.

“There can be a perception that by making it stricter you’re only going to get benefits, like you’ll get everyone driving more slowly and more safely,” she said. “But … you can’t necessarily make drivers pay more attention to the speed and go more slowly without taking their attention away from some other critical aspect of driving.”

Our attention needs to be on the job at hand, not concentrating on a tiny dial, to make sure a needle doesn’t swing past a couple of printed digits.

Okay, so that means that speeding isn’t all that bad and we can all break the speed limit with impunity, right?

Sorry, no. Here’s why.

There’s a huge difference between speeding and excessive speed

We’re not advocating running around at double the posted limit everywhere – that would be ridiculous.

But we do want to make the distinction between speeding and excessive speed. Read that again.

Speeding is simply going over the speed limit. Excessive speed is going too fast for the conditions.

This is something we need to understand properly.

If you’re doing 111kmh in a 110kmh zone, then you’re speeding, but is that really deadly?

Your car’s not going to explode and you’re not going to crash and then die by simply going one kilometre per hour over the speed limit.

Yet, technically you can drive at 110kmh in that same 110kmh zone when it’s pouring with rain, there’s a curve ahead, your tyres are cheap Chinese garbage, and there’s standing water all over the road.

This is completely legal because you’re not speeding. But you have to ask yourself, just because it’s legal, does that make it the right thing to do?

According to the government, everything’s fine. You’re not speeding, so you’re safe. You’re not breaking the law, so you won’t be fined – all’s well with the world.

But driving in that scenario is going too fast for the conditions – that’s called excessive speed.

Excessive speed is very, very dangerous and your likelihood of crashing (and dying) becomes very high indeed.

Let’s break this down

Speeding isn’t always dangerous in itself. But if speeding is coupled with excessive speed, it definitely is.

However, excessive speed is dangerous at any time, regardless of whether you’re speeding or not.

Can you see the difference? That’s good, because the government can’t.

If speed really is the biggest killer, here’s the solution

Let’s say we’ve got this all wrong and have a completely skewed view on this.

If speed really kills, as is claimed by the government, then speed is our enemy and anyone who is speeds is a murderer.

If there was someone out there plotting to kill, and they made their plans public, surely it would be in the public’s interest to put them behind bars before it happens, right?

After all, threats need to be taken seriously – we’ve all seen the anti-terror legislation and the powers those laws have.

But people who speed (you know, those plotting murderers) are allowed to continue on.

Mobile speed cameras snap a photo and those who speed are simply able to carry on, speeding in the meantime, and able to kill more people because they haven’t been stopped. In fact, until the fine comes through – which could be weeks – they’re still carrying on in their murderous ways, with complete freedom.

Where are the police and their duty of care here?

If the cops saw someone performing something illegal, isn’t it up to them to stop them? But they’ve offloaded that responsibility to private contractors – the speed camera operators.

These speeders need to be stopped, and the current system of fining people isn’t working.

We can say that because of the amount of fines being issued every day. People aren’t slowing down.

The system is broken, and people speed with impunity.

So, here’s how we solve speeding in one simple move.

Raise the fines.

No, really, raise the fines so that your first speeding fine that you ever get is $5000.

Your second offence is $10,000. And your third speeding fine is $20,000.

After that you lose your licence for life.

Here’s the question: If there was a system like that in place, how many people would speed?

The answer is none.

But will the government do this? No, they can’t afford to do without the millions of dollars that flows in from speeding fines.

The government won’t change its system because they’ll lose their cash cow. Lives aren’t as important as money.

Either that, or speeding isn’t as dangerous as the government makes out.

Here’s the deal

Breaking the speed limit isn’t dangerous. But excessive speed is.

If we could all learn the difference, we’d be a whole lot safer.

Don’t drive tired, don’t drink or take drugs before you drive, and don’t drive distracted. Pay attention to the road and to the idiots around you.

Stay safe our there, people.

About Karl Peskett 431 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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