killing your speed

jonathan crouch on the need for slowing down.

I wonder how many drivers could say, hand on heart, that they've never broken a speed limit? Many have never been caught, but that's no reason to feel smug. Tedious as it might be to slow down to 30 mph in an apparently deserted village high street, limits have been set for a reason.

A car travelling at any speed can be dangerous if the driver is careless and even the most careful drivers cannot anticipate the unexpected. The first fatality in a motor accident was 44 year-old Bridget Driscoll of Upper Norwood, killed by a car travelling at four miles an hour. This was in 1886 and the unfortunate driver had been driving for all of three weeks. He said in his defence that he had rung his bell and shouted "stand clear!" but to no avail.

Drivers can't possibly predict what pedestrians are going to do. A careless or excited child can suddenly rush across the road, any one of us could step out in front of a car when we're deep in thought. Drivers can't anticipate that sudden move into their path - but if they're travelling within the speed limit prescribed for that stretch of road they'll have more chance of avoiding a fatal accident.

Talk to advanced driving instructor Paul Ripley and he'll tell you that just two seconds is all you need to avoid an accident - and even save your life. Whether you're driving "too fast" is not determined by speed limits alone. Danger arises from "excessive speed for the prevailing conditions."

That's a matter of judgement and experience, but if in any doubt, slow down. Mr Ripley would remind you to keep a minimum time gap between yourself and the car in front of two seconds - in good, dry conditions. That gap should be at least doubled when it's wet.

That's not just on the motorway, either. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security when you drive around country lanes. Country roads are more of a death trap than the motorway, according to national statistics. While most road accidents - more than 70% - happen on urban roads - more than half of road deaths occur on rural ones.

Speed limits are constantly under review on major routes, too. If you've driven on the M25 in recent times you'll have noticed big red rings with speed limits in them at various stages of your journey.

You might have thought there was an accident or roadworks ahead the first couple of times. Then you'll have realised that they weren't a warning to slow down because of a hazard, but simply to slow down. (The fact you might have been doing barely 30mph when the 60mph sign was up is neither here nor there.)

The signage is part of the Controlled Motorway Scheme. This involves varying the speed limits during busy times to achieve a more controlled flow of heavy traffic - and thus improve safety.

Surprisingly, motorways are the safest roads in the UK. There are around 200 deaths on motorways each year, but per number of journeys it's a tiny proportion - town streets and rural roads are more dangerous by far.