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Police over-estimate speed as crash cause

Honda Blackbird killer visibility
(Pic from need4speed)

A specially trained police unit needs to investigate motorcycle crashes as general duties police too easily blame speed, a rider group suggests.

The Motorcycle Council of NSW (MCCNSW) says proper crash investigation would reveal the real causes of motorcycle crashes and help prevent further accidents and deaths.

The call for specially trained police comes in the MCCNSW’s latest “position paper” and follows papers calling for rewards for rider training and bigger fines for mobile phone misuse.

Spokesman Peter Ivanoff says NSW Road authorities claim that speed is the biggest killer on our roads, blamed for 40% of all crashes.

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He says speed is blamed in “every single road crash” yet it is “rarely the actual cause of a road crash”.

Peter points to a 1997 British Transport Laboratory study that found excessive speed was to blame in less than 8% of crashes and a 2005 US study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Technical University put the figure at less than 7%. (*See below for more study details.)

“More importantly, (the US study) showed that in almost 80% of these adverse incidents it involved driver inattention within three seconds, prior to the incident,” Peter says.

Who probes crashesNSW Police helmet bluetooth - helmet camera road rage helmet cameras speed

In NSW and most other states, general crash investigation reports are prepared by general duties police, who are not trained specialist crash investigators. 

“The current investigations are flawed as the purpose and extent of any investigation of a crash is designed to facilitate traffic offence prosecutions and in the case of serious traffic crashes, the possibility of criminal offences,” Peter says.

“These police reports ensure an accurate outline of what happened in a crash, but often fail to discover why the crash happened.

“Consequently, little or no reliable crash cause data is gleaned from police attendance at road crashes.

“Police report data is then interpreted with algorithms to determine speed as a factor in the crash. These algorithms significantly over-estimate the role speed plays in all vehicle crashes, and in particular, motorcycle crashes.”

Peter says the UK uses specially selected and educated police to conduct road crash investigation who do not initiate prosecutions for traffic offences, but focus on the crash cause only.

“The MCCNSW proposes that NSW Police continue to prosecute traffic offenders involved in road crashes and road safety authorities implement proper road crash investigation for the key purpose of understanding true crash causation,” Peter says.

MCCNSW position paper on speed also proposes the following to improve road crash reporting:

  • In the short-term, lobby to have algorithms that determine speed as a cause in motorcycle crashed changed to better reflect the crash characteristics of motorcycles; and
  • In the long-term, all road crashes to be investigated by specially selected and trained police who can determine why a crash occurred.

*UK and US studiesVictory police motorcycles speed

  • In 1997, the British Transport Laboratory undertook a project called TRL323 to better standardise reporting of road crashes throughout the UK. Using this new reporting, they re-examined road crashes in eight policing jurisdictions in the UK and found that less than 8% of all road crashes involved exceeding speed limits as a causal factor. It clearly identified driver ‘inattention’ as the biggest causal factor in road crashes. 
  • In 2005, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with Virginia Technical University, conducted a long-term “Naturalistic Driving Study”, involving more than 42,000 hours of captured in-car footage from 100 participant cars and 241 drivers. The results showed that excessive speed was a causal factor in just 7% of ‘adverse incidents’ recorded. 
  1. Basic physics determines the damage done in all crashes, but speed itself can not be a ’cause’. It just does not make sense. Speed is speed, obviously the speed at the time of whatever causes the crash will determine the outcome, but speed’ cannot ’cause’ a crash.
    The focus on speed deflects resources from the real causes, which I suspect is mostly due to ‘modern inattention’.

  2. For Police using “speed” as the cause means they don’t have to actually consider any other factor which makes their life easier and our various Governments can keep ignoring safety issues relating to road conditions. The problem is that other factors are discounted or not considered, the only way to be sure exactly what happened is if every motorcyclist was wearing a helmet cam (oh wait, they are illegal in some states) and footage could be reviewed after the fact.

  3. Yeh man, sometimes I have to speed up to get away from a driver who is tailgating me and is on the phone. Lack of speed would be the cause in that crash.

  4. Of course all crashes can be attributed to “speed” . If all vehicles remained stationary, there would be no crashes! Now there’s an idea for some clever “road safety” authorities.

  5. Blaming speed for most accidents would certainly help justify all the speed cameras that they keep buying. It’s a pity that all the extra speed enforcement isn’t really impacting the road toll though.

    1. Actually it is ! it’s making it worse. It’s been proven the number of crashes and deaths on roads that have no dangers that cause accidents actually go down when cameras have been removed and on roads where an engineering solution has been used to replace a camera the toll plummets to zero or close to it.
      On one particular road in England cutting down a few feral trees and reshaping a bend work which cost the council about the same as the cost of a speed camera reduced accidents at that location by 99% that camera had only managed 10 % as it was improperly placed to start with.

  6. Where they get the forty percent from is the term excessive speed, excessive speed can be sixty kph in a hundred zone when it’s so foggy you should be doing ten. If you exclude drunks joyriders suicides medical events and those who fall asleep at the wheel the true number of accidents that occurr at speeds above the limit is more like two percent. Speeding and exceeding the speed limit are often two very different things , you can be traveling well below the limit and still be speeding yet you can be traveling at twice the posted limit and it’s only speeding because of the limit.the stupidity of it all is lower speed limits are all the rage in the name of safety but lower limits actually make traveling far more dangerous.
    Some school zones should be abolished because they actually make it far more dangerous the if they doubled the speed limit near them.

  7. A person could be walking along a footpath and accidentally fall over and ‘speed’ would be a contributing factor. Just don’t mention that the person was too busy looking at their mobile phone or at the attractive young lady jogging on the other side of the street to see the uneven gap in the footpath. As previous comments has stated, blaming speed as the key aspect is hiding the true contributing factors for many road accidents and the lack of money being spent by all tiers of government on our roads. It is also an easy cop out for police and governments to justify their belligerent stance on speeding.

  8. In a typical car vs bike at a junction, the police would assume that speed was a factor since, in the words of the typical car driver, the “bike came out of nowhere”.

  9. If they’re interested in safety, & they’re not, they’d do two things:

    1. Get rid of the highly dangerous single layer Armco, & the wire & posts
    which the bends on the Oxley are being filled up with even as I write.

    Those posts chop motorcycle riders arms & legs off. Europe is thinking of banning them.

    2. Motorcycle speed limit 20 km above cars.
    Bikes can then keep away from the cars – to the relief of both car drivers & motorcyclists.

  10. Police make stuff up.
    They have special accident investigation units which measure everything & take happysnaps
    & block the road for hours causing traffic jams
    all so they can cook up scientific-sounding excuses to blame speed (they have a fixation on speed, like greens & plastic bags)
    & then go back to the office & write up & present their gobbledegook findings
    instead of doing something useful like catching criminals.

  11. Pass this article and the above comments on to the transport minister. But don’t hold your breath. “Road Safety” is as much about revenue as it saving lives

  12. The majority of people are wise to the fact that speed as a cause (ads) is used to justify the revenue raising that goes on with the entrapment strategies bottom of hills and high distraction areas where speedo watching is near impossible giving the opportunity to catch people out whilst accidentally and slightly speeding. As one of these studies showed that inattention (to the road conditions) in the few seconds before an accident are high causes of accidents. This goes to show just how many accidents may be caused as a result of constant speedo watching ( instead of road watching) as we are all now paranoid of getting fines for that one moment of inattention. Revenue raising itself is in my opinion a cause of accidents especially for motorcyclist who are veing stalked by police as they corner. There is a lot of rider attention required to steer a bike around a series of corners which upon entering you check your speed then again as you straighten up and exit. I know of a few riders who’ve come off trying to check speed in corners (for fear of accidental and slight speeding) then misjudging the corner.

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