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Report: Speeding Not a Significant Cause of Accidents
UK government report shows exceeding speed limits contributed to only three percent of accidents in 2006.

Department for Transport logoTransportation departments in the UK and the US have devoted millions in taxpayer funds to campaigns designed to boost speed limit enforcement as the primary method of improving road safety. A major UK Department for Transport report released last week suggests this emphasis may be misplaced. According to Road Casualties Great Britain 2006, exceeding the posted speed limit was not a major cause of automobile accidents. The comprehensive study classified the factors that caused or played a role in 145,798 road collisions last year.

"Exceeding speed limit was attributed to 3 percent of cars involved in accidents," the report stated. (Page 42)

When trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles are included in the figures, the number of accidents where speeding played a role increased to five percent overall. Despite nearly two million speed camera citations issued last year, the number of fatal accidents where exceeding the posted limit played a role increased from twelve percent in 2005 to fourteen percent in 2006.

Exceeding the posted speed limit is just one of 77 factors that a police officer on the scene of an accident might note during an investigation. The factors, "are designed to give the key actions and failures that led directly to the actual impact to aid investigation of how accidents might be prevented." The most common factor is failed to look properly which contributed to 35 percent of accidents.

"Four of the six most frequently reported contributory factors involved driver or rider error or reaction," the report stated. "For fatal accidents the most frequently reported contributory factor was loss of control, which was involved in 35 per cent of fatal accidents." (Page 37)

Road safety expert Paul Smith, who first uncovered the contributory factor data in 2005, urged transportation officials to adopt a wholly new approach to road safety that focuses on improving driver skill.

"The problem is that DfT's 'speed management' is a massive distraction from the things that really matter," said Smith, founder of the Safe Speed road safety campaign. "Department for Transport have quite obviously failed to consider road safety as a system with road user quality underpinning everything else. That's the reality. Their policies are fantasy and their own figures prove them to be so."

The DfT report also showed that the focus on regulation of speed can itself become a direct cause of accidents. Traffic calming devices, such as speed bumps and chicanes placed in the road, are specifically designed to slow traffic. Last year, they helped caused three fatal accidents, 37 serious injury collisions and 170 minor accidents last year. (Table 4b)

Source: Road Casualties Great Britain 2006 (UK Department for Transport, 9/27/2007)

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