Strict Speed Enforcement Could Make You More Dangerous Behind the Wheel

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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strict speed enforcement could make you more dangerous behind the wheel

When driving, consider how often you look down to check your speed. Even with a good sense of your current velocity, entering a known enforcement zone or seeing a posted limit forces you to stop what we are doing and take quick peeks at the speedometer. It may only be a fraction of a second each time, but that’s still a fraction of a second where you aren’t paying full attention to the road ahead.

You might think that the average motorist is perfectly capable of such basic multitasking without causing additional risk. According to new research, you might be wrong.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed researchers from the University of Western Australia who tested the theory that reducing the speed enforcement threshold impacts a driver’s mental and visual abilities.

The group’s study placed 84 participants into a simulation and told them they could be fined for driving one, six or eleven kilometers per hour over an indicated 50 kph speed limit (a leisurely 31 mph). Researchers then measured their response to small red dots that appeared in their peripheral vision.

Lead researcher Dr. Vanessa Bowden said the study found those who were given a one-kilometer-per-hour threshold were less likely to detect objects outside of their immediate line of sight.

Replace those red dots with things like dogs, other vehicles, or small children and you start to see where this is all going.

“We concluded that drivers’ mental and visual resources were being used up by paying extra attention to the speed monitoring task, and this was taking some of their attention away from the visual world around them when they were driving,” Bowden said.

The participants were also asked to fill out a questionnaire to assess how difficult or demanding they found the overall experience. Unsurprisingly, drivers who were given a stricter speed limit threshold rated the experience as more demanding.

“There can be a perception that by making it stricter you’re only going to get benefits, like you’ll get everyone driving more slowly and more safely,” she said “But … you can’t necessarily make drivers pay more attention to the speed and go more slowly without taking their attention away from some other critical aspect of driving.”

It’s worth noting that this study isn’t conclusive of anything beyond this sample having a hard time spotting red dots under the pressures of being caught speeding. It doesn’t suggest that doing away with speed limits will make us all safer better drivers. However, it does offer something to consider in regard to how strictly it’s worth enforcing those limits.

The researchers plan to follow up this research with an investigation into whether drivers respond poorly to hazards when strict speed limits are enforced.

[Image: David Lofink/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Wsn Wsn on Oct 27, 2016

    The general concept of this study is wrong. It's like this: 1) You select test subjects who were used to drive 10 above for the past 30 years. 2) You asked them to drive 1 above and then 11 above. 3) You concluded they drive better at 10 above. Don't you see anything wrong here? Of course people do better at what they have been doing for a long time. To make the study of any value, you need to: 1) Select people who has never driven a car before. Not easy, but not too hard. 2) Make the two groups (1 above vs 11 above) having the same real limit. I.e. limit of 60 for 1 above vs limit of 50 for 11 above. 3) Use prizes to let the two groups compete for faster time, which would mimic a real world situation.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Oct 27, 2016

    When I'm on the freeway, I get up to the posted speed and look around me. One third of traffic is moving more slowly, and two thirds are moving faster. I just keep up with traffic around me and keep that ratio in mind, and it keeps me "around" the posted speed. The heavier the traffic, the better off you are just going with the flow and ignoring the speedometer. I haven't gotten a speeding ticket in years, but once a few years ago in Los Angeles, a CHP officer motioned me to speed up, and I looked at the speedo and was doing 68 in a 65 zone!

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  • George Hughes What ever happened to the American can-do attitude. I know what, it was coopted by the fossil fuel industry in their effort to protect their racket.
  • 28-Cars-Later "But Assemblyman Phil Ting, the San Franciscan Democrat who wrote the electric school bus legislation, says this is all about the health and wellbeing of Golden State residents. In addition to the normal air pollution stemming from exhaust gasses, he believes children are being exposed to additional carcinogens by just being on a diesel bus."Phil is into real estate, he doesn't know jack sh!t about science or medicine and if media were real it would politely remind him his opinions are not qualified... if it were real. Another question if media were real is why is a very experienced real estate advisor and former tax assessor writing legislation on school busses? If you read the rest of his bio after 2014, his expertise seems to be applied but he gets into more and more things he's not qualified to speak to or legislate on - this isn't to say he isn't capable of doing more but just two years ago Communism™ kept reminding me Dr. Fauxi knew more about medicine than I did and I should die or something. So Uncle Phil just gets a pass with his unqualified opinions?Ting began his career as a real estate  financial adviser at  Arthur Andersen and  CBRE. He also previously served as the executive director of the  Asian Law Caucus, as the president of the Bay Area Assessors Association, and on the board of  Equality California. [url=][1][/url][h3][/h3]In 2005, Ting was appointed San Francisco Assessor-Recorder in 2005 by Mayor  Gavin Newsom, becoming San Francisco’s highest-ranking  Chinese-American official at the time. He was then elected to the post in November 2005, garnering 58 percent of the vote.Ting was re-elected Assessor-Recorder in 2006 and 2010During his first term in the Assembly, Ting authored a law that helped set into motion the transformation of Piers 30-32 into what would become  Chase Center the home of the  Golden State Warriors