The ostensible reasons to reduce the speed limit to 100 km/h are piling up. And they’re all lies
First it was energy minister, Dipuo Peters. She proposed reducing the highway speed limit for ordinary vehicles from 120 km/h to 100 km/h because this would save South Africans fuel and magically reduce the price of paraffin. As we saw, this argument is nonsensical.
Not two months later, transport minister, Sibusiso Ndebele, chimed in with the same proposal. “There are increasing calls and signs that something drastic needs to be done to arrest the current situation,” he said about the country’s relatively high road death-toll.
“And anything will do,” he didn’t add.
It didn’t take the media long to find dozens of experts willing to point out that speed, although sometimes a contributing factor to the severity of an accident, is rarely the cause.
News agency Sapa quoted Howard Dembovsky, chairman of the Justice Project of South Africa, saying that a head-on collision was devastating enough at only 60 km/h.
The South African Guild of Motoring Journalists said that the focus on speed violations was the reason why so many other traffic violations, which really do cause accidents, go unpunished.
The Natal Witness found Rob Handfield- Jones, a road-safety consultant, as well as two emergency services personnel, all of whom agreed thatspeed is not the problem.
Research by the Institute for Transport Engineers (ITE) in the US has found that, per mile, high-speed highways are safer than low- speed roads.
It lists under common misconceptions both the notion that lower speed limits mean drivers will actually slow down and that they will decrease the number of accidents.
It proposes the “85th-percentile rule”, a sound scientific basis for setting speed limits. It is simple: monitor unguided speeds on a given stretch of road and then set the limit so that only 15 per cent of vehicles exceed it.
“Studies have shown crash rates are lowest at around the 85th-percentile speed,” it reported. “Drivers travelling faster or slower than this speed are at a greater risk of being in a crash. Not only high speeds relate to this risk; it’s the variation of speed within the traffic stream.”
No sooner was the ink dry on the debunking of Ndebele’s fresh motivation for the old idea, than Peter Lukey, acting deputy director general for climate change in the department of environment affairs and tourism, piped up.
Reducing the speed limit, he told parliament in what Business Day described as an “off-the- cuff remark”, would “dramatically reduce carbon emissions”.
Of course, this is spurious reasoning for the same reason that Peters’s fuel saving argument is nonsense. The urban cycle consumes 80 per cent more fuel than highway driving and measures to allow consistent cruising speeds – such as synchronising traffic lights along arterial routes and removing speed bumps – will have a much bigger impact on fuel efficiency and the consequent emissions.
Besides not having much by way of positive impact, reducing speed limits will have a negative impact on drivers. Time is money and being able to cover more distance in an hour can make a significant difference in both the fatigue and productivity of motorists.
No doubt this column will hardly make it to print before some nabob invents a new reason why it is imperative that speed limits be reduced. Maybe it will reduce the alarming road-kill statistics, or reduce the wear and tear on the road infrastructure for which South Africans pay three times over through various taxes and tolls. The litany of lies reveals a more banal truth.
Road Accident Fund statistics show that only half as many motorists exceed a 120 km/h limit than a 100 km/h limit. The government has given one reason after another, none of which stand up to scrutiny, so we can conclude that Automobile Association spokesman, Gary Ronald, hit the nail on the head when he told The Witness: “Our feeling is that this will only generate revenue through speeding fines rather than save lives on the road.”
Quite so. The ITE research points out that unreasonable speed limits discourage voluntary compliance, create a feeling of entrapment, cause public antagonism toward police, create a bad image for a community in the eyes of tour- ists and may increase the potential for crashes.
By contrast, reasonable speed limits encourage compliance from the majority of drivers, indicate prudent speeds and encourage the majority of drivers to comply with them, provide an effective enforcement tool and minimise antagonism toward police due to obviously unreasonable regulations.
A 100 km/h speed limit on South African highways is a pointless charade to cover up blatant extortion.