Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
The Hidden Truth Behind Statistics Used To Justify Speed Enforcement Priorities
Around 1,800 people die on the roads per year and around 24,000 are 'seriously injured'. It is well known that around 15% of fatal, and 7% of serious injury crashes, involve speeds above the speed limit 1
. But how many of those (217 deaths in 2016) involved the sober, otherwise legal drivers travelling a few mph above the speed limit who are the prime target of road traffic enforcement by a huge margin? 2
The truth is shocking. It seems that those who collate the statistics have never bothered to find out!
So who are the drivers who crash and kill above the speed limit? Listening to the government, local authorities, the enforcement industry and vocal campaigning organisations, the impression given is that it is largely normally law-abiding drivers travelling just above the speed limit who are mowing down pedestrians and cyclists left, right and centre. This is clearly what they intend us to believe.
Observing the news, however, we see a contradiction: Almost every day there are cases of 'speeding drivers' who are also drunk or drugged, driving stolen cars, racing, making highly dangerous high speed manoeuvres or simply travelling at recklessly high speeds killing whilst also happening to be travelling above the speed limit. These are ALL of course recorded as above speed limit fatalities or 'Speeding Deaths'.
So surely somebody will have asked the question of how many are actually killed by the prime target of enforcement, the sober, otherwise legal driver travelling just above the limit; and how many by the above categories of driver for whom such enforcement has little if any effect?
Shockingly it seems not.
So what information do we have?
Of course the vast majority (85% of fatal and 93% of serious injury crashes) involved vehicles judged to be travelling within speed limits.
However we are concentrating here only on the remainder, crashes above the speed limit.
217 people died in such crashes in 2016, 1,238 were seriously injured.
Statistics show that large proportions of crashes above the speed limit involved other serious factors: 3
- 23% involved vehicles used in course of a crime
- 21% involved stolen cars
- 23% involved aggressive driving
- 20% involved drugs
- 16% involved alcohol
- 19% involved disobeying double white lines
- 10% involved mobile phone use.
- 8% involved inexperience (Shockingly there is no category for unlicensed drivers, so presumably this would include these)
Clearly there has to be some overlap of factors such as the drunk and drugged driver crashing above the speed limit in a stolen car. So what overlap is there? Shockingly nobody seems to know. The DfT don't know. The enforcers don't know. What speeds did the crashes occur at? How many were at recklessly high speeds and how many were minor transgressions of speed limits as we see all the time on our roads. Again, despite speeds always being approximated after fatal crashes, nobody seems to know or have bothered to investigate.
So how have we got to this incredible state of affairs and what do we do to rectify it?
ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries comments:
“We have got to this point largely because for decades now there has been a huge campaign by the authorities to convince us that sober, otherwise legal drivers exceeding the speed limit are a major cause of death and injury. A huge, well-funded industry with vested interests has built up around that 'fact' being true; but clearly this 'truth' is very much in doubt. Many of the public believe it and many campaign on the issue, some with axes to grind; but most probably genuinely believing in their cause. Most politicians, both local and national, have never questioned it. Those who dare question things are shouted down and come up against a brick wall. Now is the time to hold those responsible for this shambles to account. We need some answers.”
So what needs to be done to put things right?
Well actually it is extremely simple. The number of fatalities in a given year occurring above the speed limit — whilst of course tragic — are fairly small numbers to investigate. There were 217 in 2016. Serious injuries are a larger number 1,238 in 2016; but again by no means an unmanageable figure to investigate. Approximate speeds are recorded by police after every fatal and serious injury crash. The statistics are there but are hidden on the individual crash report forms and not available to the public.
If these figures were to be released to an independent researcher it would take maybe a day's work
for one person to collate the facts. It is that simple.
If the authorities are really serious about improving road safety — as opposed to merely burying their heads in the sand while collecting ballooning speed awareness course and fine revenues — they would urgently investigate this issue. The ABD strongly urges them to do so. We cannot continue prosecuting millions of road users per year on an unsubstantiated (but extremely profitable) whim.
For all we know, very few of the crashes above the speed limit — or indeed none of them — may actually involve the sober, otherwise legal driver exceeding the limit by small margins. In which case, the last two-and-a-half decades of speed enforcement-biased road safety policy have been based on an entirely false premise. Indeed, the ABD strongly suspects this to be the case from the evidence available.
The investigation of road accidents, and associated statistical analysis, is woefully inadequate compared to the way that aircraft and maritime accidents are investigated by the AAIB 4
and MAIB 5
The ABD has long called for an independent, objective road accident investigation body, but the government just stalls and makes excuses.
Perhaps they are frightened the embarrassing truth may come out?