Enforcing strict speed limits on our roads is bad for road safety because it is a distraction to drivers and makes them less aware of hazards. This is the chief finding from a new study by the University of Western Australia (UWA). Can we just go full Autobahn already?
A group of researchers from UWA ran a driving simulator to test how speed limits impact a person’s ability to drive. The simulation found that enforced speed limits have an adverse impact on mental and visual driving abilities.
During the test, participants were divided into three groups who were told they would be fined for driving one, six or 11 kilometres per hour over the nominated speed limit. The researchers then measured each group’s response to small red dots which appeared in their peripheral vision.
In an outcome that isn’t too surprising, the drivers who were given the stricter speed limit threshold were less likely to detect the dots. They were also more likely to rate the experience as mentally demanding.
In other words, paying too much attention to your speedometer reduces the ability to detect objects outside of your immediate line of sight. Forcing drivers to pay more attention to the speed they are travelling is safer in theory — but it also takes their attention away from other aspects of driving that are no less critical.
“Our overall finding was that stricter speed enforcement may impair a driver’s ability to detect hazards, especially those on the side of the road, because drivers are dedicating more attention to monitoring their speed,” study co-author Dr Vanessa Bowden said.
“Similar effects have been shown for individuals who drive while talking on a phone or operating their car’s stereo.”
So the next time a cop pulls you over for breaking the speed limit, explain that speeding is actually safer than talking on your phone. You’ll still get fined, but science is kind of on your side.