Strict Speed Limits Actually Make You Worse At Driving: Study

Strict Speed Limits Actually Make You Worse At Driving: Study

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.

[Via Gizmodo]


  • About time someone had some sense when it comes to the ridiculous road rules Australia drivers (especially Melbourne) are subjected too.

      • No need.
        I recently drove a (newish) car in the UK which had an electronic speed limiter function which linked to the in-build GPS. I could set it at say 5km, and the car would not go more than 5km over the speed for that road.
        I would expect that as systems like this spread, drivers will be able to drive “heads-up” more often and stop looking at the speedo altogether.

        • That’s cool.

          My point was more about having a tracking device that feeds back to the authorities – and therefore having fines automatically issued.

  • They could easily increase the tolerance for people going slightly over and dramatically increase the penalties for people clearly breaking the law. They need to focus on the people with no regard to other road users and stop focusing on people who make a small mistake.

    • In Vic, the tolerance used to be 10%, then it was dropped to 3km across all zones about 10 years ago. I would love to know the percentage of revenue coming from drivers who get pinged for 5kph over. The state Governments are addicted to the income.

  • Speed is so easy to measure with cameras. It is used heavily in Victoria.
    In the past I fond that it was not so stressed in Sydney, Canberra or U.S.A.

  • It would have been more relevant if they’d had road hazzards to avoid and to see who had the higher collision rate. It then takes into account the longer stopping distance when going at higher speeds vs. slower reaction time.

  • If you really want to stop people from driving over 50kph, you don’t set the speed limit at 50kph and fine everyone caught over (e.g.) 53kph. You set the speed limit at 40 kph and fine everyone caught over 50kph. Yet in all the propaganda about how dangerous it is to exceed the speed limit by a small margin, the possibility of simply reducing the speed limit to compensate for the margin is never mentioned. Why not? Because it’s about revenue, not safety.

  • One thing that always seems to get ignored in these discussions is that you don’t need to go as fast as the speed limit. If you can’t do 70 in a 70 zone without ignoring everything else around you, then do 65. Or 60. Then you can be in the 11km/h group and be able to detect the dots.

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