When slow is bad

Speed limits represent the maximum safe speed in ideal conditions.

So a 30mph limit should mean that it is safe to travel at 30mph if weather and road conditions are good, but not if it is raining hard, or the road is damaged, or there are a lot of parked cars or pedestrians about.

Recently it seems that many highway authorities, and certainly pressure groups like the warm-hearted but inexpert Brake, are ignoring this principle by assuming that if the speed limit is 30mph, everyone will travel at 30mph. This is clearly ludicrous, but their policies are based on it.

So the call yet again is to reduce speed limits. What effect will this have? It will have no effect at all on the people it is supposed to target – namely those who travel too fast whatever the limit. They will continue to do so.

What effect will it have on good drivers? A lot of the time, they will have to drive more slowly than is necessary. Does that matter?

Ignoring the economic argument for getting work done more quickly, let’s consider the practical aspects. The good driver – and most drivers are pretty good – will know from experience what the correct speed is for the conditions. If forced to drive consistently more slowly, he or she will get frustrated, bored and distracted. If the speed limit is enforced by cameras, he or she will look repeatedly at the speedometer, because a good driver does not want to become a criminal.

The result will be large numbers of drivers who are not alert and who are paying less attention to potential road hazards than they would normally do. Clearly, this increases the danger to other road users.

Because the argument for blanket slowing down is essentially flawed, Brake has been using an emotional argument about the effect on children of being hit at 30mph – as if anyone wanted to hit a child at any speed. I mean, we all love children, right? But what they don’t seem to realise is that if you drive at 30mph, you will not hit anyone at that speed unless you are driving with your eyes closed (or watching your speedometer too closely).

If you can see clearly ahead, you will be able to avoid a child running into the road because you see them long before they get there. Even if you can’t see clearly enough to avoid them completely, you will have reduced speed considerably before impact. To state that someone driving at 30mph will hit a child at 30mph is just inaccurate, to put it as kindly as I can.

A recent survey, again by Brake, shows that nearly three-quarters of motorists drive at 35mph in a 30mph limit. I’m sure they do. This is because 30mph is very often (though not always) too slow in good conditions, and is actually an argument for increasing the limit. Needless to say, they don’t see it that way.

Instead of victimising safe motorists and making the roads more dangerous – which is what slower limits would do – it is time we targeted really dangerous drivers. There are various ways of doing this (cameras set to realistically high levels is one option), but the most desirable by far is increased numbers of traffic police. Combined with proper penalties for proper offences, this would hit the dangerous drivers and remove the repeated demands and distractions from so-called safety “experts” who simply don’t like cars.

Risk of stalemate

World chess champion Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand has narrowly avoided the need for a coalition with his challenger, Veselin Topalov, when he beat him in the final game of 12 in the championship match in Sofia this week.

Although Anand, from India, scored only 6½ against his Bulgarian opponent’s 5½, this was sufficient to take the title outright.

Players keen on proportional representation would like the championship decided by a tournament of the top players. In that case, if Anand won with 12, Topalov scored  11 and the world’s currently highest rated player, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, made 10, the championship could theoretically be shared by Topalov and Carlsen.

Sources close to the International Chess Federation described this as “fanciful”, but Prof Sam “Ian” Aufmerksam, of the University of East Anglia’s School of Chess, Penguins and Road Surfacing, said it could herald an exciting new era of chess politics. On the other hand it could lead to stalemate, or perpetual check.

Anyone with any sense was unavailable for comment.