High on speed: can we kick the habit?

Speeding has become the norm in Canberra. “In a 60 km/h speed limit area, the risk of involvement in a casualty crash doubles with each 5 km/h increase in travelling speed above 60 km/h.” 5 km/h above the speed limit is the equivalent of the blood alcohol concentration of 0.05. We have kicked the drink driving habit, can we now kick the speeding habit? A 25-year-old Australian study warns of the dangers of speeding.

Reducing our speed limits in Canberra is long overdue. Most would not know that urban area speed limits in Victoria and NSW were 50 km/h until the early 1960s! Most major collectors in Canberra through suburbs have a speed limit of 60 km/h. Local streets are 50 km/h. Austroads recommends 50 km/h for major collectors and 30 km/h for minor collectors and local streets.


Austroads recommended speed limits within Canberra.

The recommended speeds and circumstances description are taken from the Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), page 9.
Table 4-1 The recommended speeds and circumstances description taken from the Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), page 9.

For many people, 30 km/h may seem a bit too slow. Austroads sees it differently.

“It is increasingly accepted by road safety practitioners that, to be aligned with the Safe System philosophy for pedestrians and cyclists, 30km/h impact speeds define the upper limit of an ‘acceptable’ collision. This ‘Safe System boundary condition’ coincides with an approximate 10% chance of the struck pedestrian being killed by the collision. Put another way, this corresponds to a 90% chance of survival. For the corresponding situation with serious injury (i.e., a collision with a pedestrian producing a 10% chance of serious injury), a much lower impact speed applies.”

Integrating Safe System with Movement and Place for Vulnerable Road Users (Austroads, 2020), 14.

We have been warned of the dangers of speeding that it is tiresome to mention it again – were it so not that speeding is so common in Canberra. We have seen a remarkable increase in speeding in Canberra during the lockdown. Even a small increase in speed greatly increases the risk of accidents, so it cannot be ignored.

In a 60 km/h speed limit area, the risk of involvement in a casualty crash doubles with each 5 km/h increase in travelling speed above 60 km/h.

Kloeden CN, McLean AJ, Moore VM, Ponte G, Travelling Speed and The Risk of Crash Involvement, Volume 1 – Findings, NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit, The University of Adelaide, November 1997.

The University of Adelaide study

An influential study from Travelling Speed and The Risk of Crash Involvement (The University of Adelaide, 1997) warns of the dangers of speed and makes the following recommendations, including the reduction of 60 km/h streets to 50 km/h.

We therefore recommend that:

1. The tolerance allowed in the enforcement of the 60 km/h speed limit be reduced or removed.

2. The level of enforcement of the 60 km/h speed limit be increased.

3. The penalties for speeding and illegal drink driving be reviewed to align them more closely to the risk of being involved in a casualty crash.

4. The level of public awareness of the risk of involvement in a casualty crash associated with speeding be increased with the aim of developing a culture of compliance with speed limits, similar to that which has developed in relation to compliance with blood alcohol limits during the past 15 years.

5. To assist with the preceding recommendation, we also recommend that the results of this study be widely publicised, emphasising the risks associated with speeding in relation to the risks associated with illegal drink driving.

6. After a period with stricter enforcement of the 60 km/h urban area speed limit, consideration be given to changing the urban area speed limit to 50 km/h on all roads, as in most other highly motorised countries.

Kloeden CN, McLean AJ, Moore VM, Ponte G, Travelling Speed and The Risk of Crash Involvement, Volume 1 – Findings, NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit, The University of Adelaide, November 1997.

The risks of causing a crash increases exponentially when a motorist exceeds the speed limit.

Figure 4.3, Travelling Speed and the Risk of Involvement in a Casualty Crash, Relative to Travelling at 60 km/h in a 60 km/h Speed Limit Zone

Kloeden CN, McLean AJ, Moore VM, Ponte G, Travelling Speed and The Risk of Crash Involvement, Volume 1 – Findings, NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit, The University of Adelaide, November 1997.

Note: Relative risk at 60 km/h set at 1.00., 95% confidence intervals are shown by the vertical lines.

Slow and no learners

Slowing down improves your safety, the safety of other motorists and the safety of vulnerable road users – people who walk or ride bikes. Primary age children do not have the cognitive ability to judge vehicle distance and speed. For that reason, they are most at risk. A car hitting a person at 50 km/h usually often causes a fatality. For this reason, 30 km/h is recommended on all local streets. Local streets are for local residents and our communities. Cars should be seen guests.

25 years after this study, Canberra – our National Australian capital – has some of the highest speed limits in the country. Speeding has become a bad habit for many. It is time to break that habit and to slow down.

Most motorised countries have an urban area speed limit of 50 km/h, as did Victoria and NSW until the early 1960s.

Kloeden CN, McLean AJ, Moore VM, Ponte G, Travelling Speed and The Risk of Crash Involvement, Volume 1 – Findings, NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit, The University of Adelaide, November 1997.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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