All entries for Sunday 23 October 2005

October 23, 2005

The road safety bill and detection devices

I am currently considering purchasing a Snooper S6-R radar detector for a very simple reason – I am tired of spending my entire driving constantly monitoring the speed limit and my speed, watching out for speed cameras and police vans etc. It is getting to the stage now where I am concerned that my ability as a driver is being impaired because of the amount of attention this takes off of the road and onto just monitoring the speedo and what's parked in the next layby. So this is where the detector comes in. By having one of these devices, it will constantly have a display of my current vehicle speed, the current speed limit (often hard to spot in areas of speed camera enforcement due to lack of signs!), I can set audible alarms for when I am over the speed limit so that I know when to slow down without having to concentrate on every single speed limit sign with the constantly chopping and changing speed limits that exist on our road network today, and I won't have to scan behind every bush and tree and on top of every motorway bridge for cameras and enforcement officers.

Aha, I hear you say, you want one of these just to break the speed limit. Well partly I do want one of these so that if conditions allow I can break the speed limit safely by not having to concentrate so hard on cameras etc yes. I'm not going to try and feed you all a rubbish story that it's all about ensuring that I never break the limit. But on the other hand, a lot of the time my concentration problems are related to the fact that there are speed cameras everywhere and I haven't spotted the single speed limit sign that was 4 miles back half covered by overgrowing trees. And if you've driven on British roads recently you'll notice that the speed limit changes rather a lot. Hence by having this system in my car I will not have these troubles anymore, and consequently make me a safer driver.

The government doesn't seem to agree though. The current road safety bill seeks to ban detectors (although GPS-based systems will remain legal). The argument is that detectors are used by drivers to basically exceed the speed limit where they see fit, and as such make our roads more dangerous. Given the number of statistics and numbers thrown about by road safety groups, it's perhaps surprising that in this bill they evidently haven't read the largest survey into radar detector use, conducted by MORI in 2001 and sampled just over 1,000 drivers, about 50% of whom had a detector and 50% hadn't. Read the report and it's findings here if you wish. To summarise, there is a stark contrast between the profile of a driver who has and a driver who has not gone to the effort of purchasing a radar detector. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it takes someone who cares about driving/keeping their licence a lot more than your average motorist to voluntarily go and invest several hundred pounds in a detector in the first place. The average distance driven between accidents however was just over 217,000 miles for a user of a detector compared to a little over 143,000 miles for non-uses. This means that the user of a detector is approximately 50% less likely to have an accident in a given journey than a non-user. This has to be in part down to other factors – for example, the users tend to clock up a far higher annual mileage. However, it does fly strongly in the face of the suggestion that detectors make our roads less safe, because either they are making "bad" speeding drivers safer (in this instance we would expect to see a reduction in accidents) or that the users of detectors (who seem to be those who speed more in the first place according to the poll) are actually pretty safe and competent drivers to start with (rubbishing the idea that drivers who speed are the spawn of satan and cause no end of damage on public roads compared to Mr Joe Public).

Either way, the move to ban radar detectors seems to be based on statements related to road safety that are completely contradictory to the evidence that actually, if anything, detectors make our roads safer to be on in the first place. Furthermore, our sterotype preconceptions of road safety and speed, particularly when related to the issue of cameras and detection, are deeply flawed and long overdue for revision. Most of all, the Road Safety Bill requires amendments and fast.


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