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Stricter speed enforcement could have ‘detrimental impact on road safety’

A zero-tolerance approach to speeding could actually impact on road safety according to new research.

Speeding vehicles on motorway

The research finds that drivers’ abilities to detect hazards may be reduced by stricter speed enforcement

The analysis by the University of Western Australia found that lower speed enforcement thresholds impacted on drivers’ mental and visual abilities, distracting them to a similar extent as using a phone or operating the car stereo.

Using a driving simulator, a total of 84 young adult participants drove under conditions where they could be fined for travelling one, six, or 11kph over a 50kph speed limit.

A peripheral detection task was used to measure drivers’ mental and visual workload. They also filled out a questionnaire which asked how difficult or demanding they found the experience of driving under the different enforcement conditions.

Stricter speed limit enforcement led to drivers rating the experience as more demanding and had a significant negative impact on peripheral vision, or the ability to detect objects outside the driver’s immediate line of sight.

The study, published in Science Direct, can be found here.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Vanessa Bowden from UWA’s School of Psychology, said past studies had established that drivers have a limited pool of mental and visual resources and research showed clear decrements when these resources are divided between tasks.

“Our overall finding was that stricter speed enforcement may impair a driver’s ability to detect hazards, especially those on the side of the road, because drivers are dedicating more attention to monitoring their speed,” Dr Bowden said.

“In reality the effects of strictly enforced speed limits could be even greater than in our study, with real-world drivers experiencing greater pressures to drive at or above the posted speed limit.”

Follow-up research will look at whether drivers are actually poorer at responding to hazards under conditions where speed limits are strictly enforced.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.