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Opinion: Let's find a better way to limit speeds

By Tim Keen, 11 May 2019 Features

Opinion: Let's find a better way to limit speeds

Hear Tim out. Speed limiters are great, just not for limiting top speeds

There’s a lot of hand-wringing over the possibility of introducing speed-limiters in cars. I’m not worried for two reasons.

One is that if people just couldn’t speed, then police couldn’t hand out speeding tickets, and a major source of state government revenue would collapse – something in the ballpark of a billion dollars a year in Australia.

That damp rustling sound, like sweaty hands nervously shuffling paper? It’s the sound of government and police bean-counters “opening reviews” to “look into” speed limiters in Australia – studies which will be ready to change the current way of doing business at roughly the same time the sun finally supernovas and swallows the planet whole.

But the other reason is that I’m all for it. Yes, I for one welcome our speed-limiter overlords. Just not for limiting top speeds.

I’m against speed-limiting cars, in the same way I’m against temperature-limiting my kettle to save me from burning myself. I’ll assume the responsibility of burn-prevention myself, rather than drink lukewarm tea in safety. The price of hot tea is eternal vigilance.

It’s not because I don’t care about road safety. I wonder, has anyone done a study of what percentage of speeders don’t crash? Apparently 40 per cent of drivers who crash were speeding, the statisticians tell us. But that can’t be the whole story, because a whole lot more than 40 per cent of drivers speed – that’s where the billion dollars comes from.

It’s a bit like saying 90 per cent of men who get cancer wear pants. It doesn’t mean pants cause cancer. If it turns out pants do cause cancer, I’ll be glad I’ve invested all my superannuation in kilt futures.

No, there’s better uses for speed-limiting technology.

Related: Speed limiters are coming to Australia

I’m all for limiting people who can only find their accelerator when they reach the overtaking lane. You know the ones – they can only manage 70km/h in an 80km/h zone as long as there’s only one lane each way, but as soon as there’s an overtaking lane, they suddenly floor it.

You can’t catch them as long as there’s an overtaking lane, but as soon as it’s back down to one lane, they lose all their moxie and it’s back down to 70km/h. I’m all for limiting that lot to whatever speed they were doing before, and let the rest of us finally get past when we can.

And I’m all for limiting minimum speeds. As well as maximum limits, some roads in the US have minimum speed limits: now there’s a speed limit I can get behind. (Actually I can get in front of it – you have to.) I would love to see drivers limited to no slower than 10 kays under the limit. If you really can’t handle doing at least 70km/h in an 80km/h zone, I have bad news for you: you can’t drive.

Related: Japan to fight road toll...by raising speed limit

Similarly, I would love to see speed-limiters force people to maintain their speed when they reach an uphill stretch. I call it Flintstoning – when people doing 80km/h on the flat, suddenly start doing 75km/h, then 65km/h uphill, as though they have to push their cars along with their feet like Fred Flintstone. It’s not that hard to push the pedal down another half a centimetre. Maybe speed-limiting tech can help.

If the powers that be really want to introduce limits to stop us from speeding, they should take a leaf from Volvo’s book. Volvo is famously safety-minded, so it must be okay with the hand-wringers: all future Volvos will be speed-limited to... 180km/h. 180! That’s way faster than any Volvo driver has ever driven, including in Supercars, where Scott McLaughlin drove at 55km/h the entire time because he was trying to stop two toddlers fighting in the back seat over who got the Frozen sippy cup. If being ‘limited’ to 180km/h is safe, then I say raise all the speed limits to that and let us all stay under the limit on our own.

Job done.

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