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Speedo gazing is a ‘fatal hazard’

Speedo scotland

Strict speed limit control through speed cameras and police radar has turned riders into speedo gazers, says motorcycle tour founder Peter Colwell.

Peter says police and governments are obsessed about targeting speed with thousands booked annually unless they gaze at their speedos.

In Queensland, alone, the first year of lowered speed tolerances netted a 45% spike in motorists caught driving up to 13km/h over the limit – the lowest level speeding offence. The fine is $146, netting a cool $5.1m extra for the government coffers. One fixed speed camera on the Gold Coast nearly quadruple the number of tickets it issued for low-level speeding in 2014, issuing 2417 fines for 13kmh or less up from 624 in 2013.

Low-level speeding offences like this are turning us all int a nation of dangerous speedo gazers, says Peter who founded Te Wai Motorcycle Tours, New Zealand and has guided 39 trips, including 19 trips to America, Canada and Alaska. He says his experience in countries with strict speed policing is that motorists become “speedo gazers”.


“Speedo gazing is a fatally dangerous hazard,” he says.

It’s not until you ride in a country that has realistic and sensible speed limits that you realise just how much your brain focuses on avoiding being booked, and neglects to concentrate on riding.

“In northern South Australia where visibility is clear in every direction for miles, cruising at an easy, steady 130km/h I’m good for a $400 fine,” he says.

“I keep forgetting to watch for animals, being narrowly focused intently on the road ahead. Suddenly there is a 130km/h road sign at the NT border and just as suddenly I become conscious of my surroundings. I feel safe, relaxed, tenseness gone, I can look around for animals, and totally forget that car a mile ahead is coming my way. It is a palpable feeling of stress relief. Speed remains at 130km/h.”

Peter on a 140km/h speed limit "highway" in Zambia - speedo gazing
Peter on a 140km/h speed limit “highway” in Zambia

Peter addresses the adage of “don’t speed and you won’t cop a fine”.

“Every road has a natural speed, even unlimited roads do not have many people going really fast; they find their natural speed at which they feel comfortable. In the Northern Territory it’s about 120km/h, on a German autobahn it’s about 170kmh, on Interstate 70 in Colorado where the limit is 120km/h it’s 135km/h.

“Force them to go slower than that and concentration drops dangerously, even to the point of micro-sleeps.”

Peter calculates that sticking to a precise speed limit involves speedo-checking about every five seconds.

“It is impossible to ride safely with your eyes glued to the speedo,” he says.

“Set the cruise control at the speed limit and permanent-sleeps are a foregone conclusion.”

He says our governments’ obsession with speed enforcement is fatal.

New Zealand - speedo
Peter and wife Kate near Queenstown

“The absolute obsession with speed limit enforcement is costing lives, make no mistake. It is dangerous,” he says.

“Australia’s approach is way out of touch with many foreign countries, some of whom have much lower road fatalities than we do. And yet we persist with this dangerous money-grabbing exercise forced on us by ignorant holier-than-thou authorities who’s experience is confined to a city office.”

Peter says there is a growing hostility among motorists who have been booked for petty speeding offences.

“Let’s hope it does not come to what happened in Arizona, where a camera operator was shot dead. They no longer have mobile speed cameras in Arizona,” he says.

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I completely avoid the new tunnels because there are about 20 speed cameras in each and unless you’re staring at your speedo, you cant notice you’re speeding up as you go down the decline – all the while not properly observing vehicles ahead.

    It sux and is dangerous to be in a police state (or country for that matter). But apparently it “for your safety”!

  2. Nothing will change, too much money is being made from fines… Unless u find a way for them to make money, no changes will happen.

  3. Totally correct, I’ve been saying this for years and it’s exactly the same for car drivers. Road safety doesn’t seem to enter the equation when there’s money to be made, they just hide behind their stupid speed kills slogan!

  4. How many fines are required to cover the cost of cleaning up mangled motorists?

    Speaking of tunnels, my automatic pass or whatever it’s called, for the Clem7 tunnel (etc) in Brisbane was taken off me by the authority, due to lack of use.

  5. triddn I disagree, we still live in a democracy and things can change if we use our votes appropriatly. I voted for the fishers and shooters party in the NSW election. Their policy matches what the article was talking about. As the government policy gets more draconian I believe that their will be a momentum for change.

  6. I found riding the US that when I was on interstates, that the police didn’t book traffic for speeding if the bulk of traffic was doing the same speed, even if it was 10-15 miles/hr above the speed limit (~16-25km/hr) here that is a substantial fine and between 3 and 4 points from you licence.

    The same approach needs to happen here.

    1. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) riders course I took in the U.S. during the late 70’s taught a few critical things that included: 1. Believe and act as though everyone was out to kill you. 2. Go with the flow (no matter what the speed limit might be) because variance from the flow created collisions, (Most cops in the U.S. will not cite you when you “Go with the Flow.”). 3. The farther ahead that you focus, the more time you have to react. 4. Stay out of blind spots.
      40 years later, all of those safety principles are still pertinent. Too bad that “authorities” in some areas of Australia have decided to circumvent two of those safety principles for the sake of revenue.

  7. As a South Australian, I can confidently say we have the worst drivers and the worst enforcement in the Commonwealth. When things like roundabouts and having to merge are relatively recent things to negotiate (in this state), there is no instruction on how to do so outside of one’s driving lessons. No paid government ads, nothing from the CTP insurer – it’s all about “Don’t tailgate”, which is sending the wrong message. The message should be directed at the dickhead in front who is failing to keep left.

    I realise that keeping to the left lane does not apply to all multi-laned roads. Maybe it should, at least while we drive on the left hand side of the road in right-hand-drive vehicles.

    The article is quite correct in saying don’t take your eyes off the road. Police advise against it as most accidents are caused by inattention. Keep with the flow of traffic, leave space in front for any evasive action that may become necessary and keep your eyes on your surroundings – front, rear and sides at all times. 360 degree monitoring won’t kill you.

  8. The police have lost their way. They have lost sight of what their purpose is. Instead of being focussed on road safety they are focussed on enforcing the rules and disturbingly, some of them don’t understand what the difference is.

    Road travel is very complex with an infinite number of variables and different situations. Hard and fast rules don’t always work in this environment. Some rules need to be strictly adhered to, eg. Give way at a give way sign. But it would improve safety and traffic flow if other rules were treated more as guidelines, and you only got penalised for breaching them if what you did actually was dangerous. The road rules (with the exception of filtering) were designed for cars and in many situations don’t suit the performance, manoeuvrability and small size of motorcycles. There are many situations where it is safe for a motorcycle to overtake or make a U-turn but the road markings indicate that it is not permitted. Even where those manoeuvres are permitted you still have to judge for yourself if it is safe. I often have to ride past a place where it is completely safe to make a U-turn (if the road is clear) and go to the next crossroads. Then if there is on-coming traffic I have to stop and wait hoping that I don’t get hit from behind or by a vehicle that fails to give way on my left or right. There are many situations where it is safer for a motorcyclist to exceed the speed limit a little and overtake instead of being stuck between other vehicles. Being out in front also gives a motorcyclist a clear view ahead to avoid potholes, objects on the road, straying animals etc. And as mentioned in the article above, we now spend far too much time looking at our speedometers. It really is getting ridiculous.

    Rigidly enforcing the road rules to the letter of the law makes motorcycling more dangerous. It also increases traffic congestion and wastes time and fuel.

  9. I could not agree more with Peter’s comments re the NT border, when travelling south out of NT the other aspect which is immediately noticable and dangerous is the lack of cleared run off areas each side of the road reducing visibility and reaction time for roos and other animals.

    There is Canadian research which backs up Peter’s comments on people finding their own speed and driving to what they feel is safe. Authorities here are Authoritarian fools who who sell fear not safety and count the revenue as it flows in

  10. It’s a funny thing about the tunnel and this article, I could go on and on about it, but it seems to be the same thing said over and over again…..I was going through the Airport link tunnel yesterday, and as usual it’s posted at 80, due to the worry of being booked, I was sitting around 75, I looked down to watch my speed again and I passed a speed sign, I don’t know if it had the speed down to 60 or not, but shortly after that I passed the camera’s and shortly after that, I passed another speed sign that said 40, due to tunnel maintenance……I will probably cop a fine due to that, and yes it was my fault, but watching your speed so much is just dangerous and takes your focus off the road. When will we be allowed to focus on our driving rather than be paranoid about speed? I see idiots doing burn outs and wheelies, yes they shouldn’t be doing that in a city, but when you’re out the middle of no where with no one around, let them be stupid as long as they don’t hurt themselves, and don’t come complaining when something goes wrong!

  11. The rea$on$ mo$t $peed limit$ are u$ed by mo$t authoritie$ are obviou$ to mo$t ob$erver$, and tho$e rea$on$ do NOT include $afety. Some places are worse than others. Driving in much of Australia is a gauntlet of attempted assaults on the drivers’ wallets. The draconian fines for the crime of driving safely for the conditions are obscene. The insatiable greed of the authorities for traffic fines is obscene.

    People who study the issues, as I have for over 50 years, know that speed limits tend to produce the smoothest and safest flows of traffic with the lowest crash risks when set at the 85th percentile speeds of free flowing traffic under good conditions, rounded to the nearest 10 kph or 5 mph interval. Australia and many other areas do NOT set limits for the best safety, they set them for the highest confiscatory totals of fine revenue. It is for obscene greed, not safety.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association (USA), a driver with over 170 million kilometers of driving experience in 24 world countries.

  12. Thanks for this article. It expresses thoughts that I’ve had for a while. I find it especially annoying that my favourite rides around Sydney have all had the speeds dropped by 20Ks, leading to the ludicrous situation where a curve can be preceded by a warning sign suggesting 55Ks on a 60K stretch of road. The Royal National Park and Pacific Highway are both diminished because of this–and all the while we know that it wasn’t bikes going 80 through the park that led to accidents; it was usually some combination of riders going nearly twice that, or bad road conditions, or bad car drivers. Yet those who stay close to the posted limits are the ones who lose much of the joy of the ride.

    I currently ride what is by far my safest and most stable motorcycle, with features that I couldn’t have dreamt of owning a decade ago. But I will never be able to get anywhere near the edge of those advances as long as I’m in NSW.

    I do, on the other hand, feel that my cruise control is a safety feature because I can just set the speed and not worry about being booked. That helps me focus on traffic rather than my speedo.

  13. you better stop looking in the mirrors, that takes time , you better stop looking to the side, that takes time. In fact, you should just stop rideing. If the microsecond it takes to check your speed is such a concern to you, you dont have the skills to be riding.

    1. Do you actually ride a motorcycle Stephen? Your comment suggests that you don’t know much about riding.

      I have very good peripheral vision. In fact I am surprised at how the slightest movement at the extreme edges of my vision attracts my attention. Looking to the side is never a problem because my peripheral vision takes care of most of that, and when I do turn my eyes it allows me to still notice things that are straight ahead. When I check my mirrors I can still see everything else in my peripheral vision. Both looking to the side and checking the mirrors do not take my eyes far from looking straight ahead. When I look straight ahead my peripheral vision is monitoring the mirrors and is often the first indication that another vehicle in approaching behind me.

      But when I look at my speedo I have to look down and move my eyes further away from straight ahead. It takes my vision away from the most important thing I need to observe – what is ahead of me. It reduces the distance that I can see ahead to a dangerous level. You don’t just have to see the speedo. You actually have to read it which means you have to look much more directly at it (it is even worse with digital speedos). When you read a book you can see the whole page but you have to move your eyes across it because you can only read with the centre of your vision. To read a speedo you also have to adjust the focus of your eyes on it which is much closer than all of the other things you have to observe. Focusing your eyes on something close reduces your ability to see all of the other things around you

      Having to carefully monitor our speed to the degree that we now have to is also an unnecessary mental distraction. We should be concentrating on more important things instead of making sure that we are not just a little over the speed limit. Mobile phone use by car drivers has shown how dangerous mental distractions can be. The point of this article is that the recent irrational obsession with speed limit enforcement is making us spend more time looking at our speedos. It is distracting, and any extra distraction is a bad thing. I have not had to increase the amount of time that I spend looking to the side or in the mirrors.

  14. Couldn’t agree more with Mark. Taking your eyes off the road is not ideal and with the burgeoning amount of DATA gathering on Cluster packs.. I can see accidents increasing.

  15. Speedo gazing is ridiculous and very dangerous. I do cars and pushies, and driving through twisty roads without looking at the road or the traffic would have been a very dangerous thing to do. But there was a rent-a-pig radar ute parked between bends on Monday. It was night, and I was looking at the road and the traffic. Will I get a ticket?

    Pushies are worse – sooner or later too many people will be murdered by drug-crazed bicycle riders, sent homicidal by cooking their brains through helmet wearing. I only hope that someone famous will be bashed on TV, the bike rider will then die, and the autopsy will reveal that their helmet cooked their brain and killed them. Until the helmet legislation is repealed, the law may require all Australians to admit that they will happily be bashed to a pulp by dying bicycle riders. Safe or Not?

  16. Couldn’t of said it better myself. This country is really screwed when it comes to speeding and safety, they have NO clue and this article says EXACTLY what most people are thinking in this country, the government cares more about revenue raising than actually fixing the problem, not only that it has made it MORE unsafe with what they have done. Again couldn’t agree more with this article, spot on.

  17. One thing I forgot to add….. the government is running HUGE campaigns on how much you time you travel without your eyes on the road from SMS etc. What about constantly having to check your speedo because of the way this country has placed a war on speed? It is beyond a joke an extremely dangerous.

  18. Today I realised one of the major problems that the rampant revenue raising speed kills BS has caused. In order to ensure you don’t enter the revenue zone you have to keep glancing at the speedo every few seconds after a very short time you stop looking ahead to the horizon and all that is in between and you start focusing more only on what is immediately in front of you. It gets really exhausting to pay so much attention to the speedo so you stop paying attention to everything else. This is why the rate of tail enders and fatal accidents is climbing, even when you can use cruise control you still find yourself checking the speedometer because a slight down grade can put you over the limit not to mention the numerous different speed limits you might travel through in very little distance. Speed kills is turning good drivers into average ones and average one into bad.

  19. Dont know what the problem is I have been riding motorcycles for 38 years, check my speedo regularly as well as my mirrors, no problems, unless your riding at ridiculous speeds, then well fool you.

    1. Mark I am just back from Victoria on my bike. Riding the Hume Highway where there are multiple speed cameras only a few Ks apart.. and a 3 k tolerance. No cruise control and changing head to tail winds can push you over in a heartbeat.

      A 3k tolerance is all about revenue. I do not believe it is about road safety.

  20. This is how I feel every single time I am in Germany driving at my comfortable limit. Which for most people in Germany is around 160 – 180kph. (Only the sports cars really go 200kph and motorbikes etc)

    I can cruise all day long, NEVER have suffered fatigue and never been fined and completely aware of my surroundings.

    Australia would rather fine me than save my life. I have come to this point a long time ago. They would rather you gaze at your speedo and die or not and get fined. Those are basically the only two outcomes of driving in Australia and it is a damn joke and needs to be changed.

  21. In the light of recent stories regarding being fined for minor infringements, eg, Scotland’s plan to fine for one MPH over the limit, – I should correct the impression with regard to the picture at the top of the story. I was stopped for speeding through a small Idaho town. My three mates* were well ahead of me, and the officers correctly said; “you were trying to catch your mates, weren’t you?” After a pleasant conversation that involved no lecture, I was allowed to leave with no conviction and told to be safe and enjoy the rest of my trip. A thoroughly pleasant experience. The officer picked up that I was not a hoon or idiot and treated me with respect, as I did to him. Respect is till alive there, but RIP here.

    *I still wonder what would have happened if the officer had known that one of my mates that escaped was a real life actual practicing Court Judge….oh the joy of it all….

  22. Too many speed zones for no apparent reason, school zones are the exception for obvious reasons.
    But why the constant changes otherwise?
    Time focus on mobile devices use and failing to keep left on ALL dual lane roads.

  23. Tosser >>> Stephen says:
    10th April, 2015 at 7:05 am

    You sound like a very scary driver indeed & if you’re a motorbike rider, oh dear!

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