How increased speed makes us safer

Speed limits

Advocates of increasing the speed limits say motorists are safer because they focus more when they are driving faster, but now scientific evidence has been provided.

Long-time motorcycle rider and flight instructor Peter Callil has provided relevant scientific information gained from years of safety research which started on a flight instructor course in 1988.

He says it all comes down to stress levels as noted by human behaviour researcher Chris Welford in 1973. People perform better when their stress level is moderate and worse when it is too low and too high, according to Welford’s research.

“Welford’s research plotted stress, or demand, against human performance,” says Peter who raced motorcycles before joining the RAAF.

Welford's graph of stress and performance - speed
Welford’s graph of stress and performance

“It showed graphically, how human performance is related to the level of stress or demand to which they are subjected.

“In a road safety context, pressure relates to speed, and performance relates to our ability to operate a vehicle safely.”

Peter says that a motorist’s performance is degraded whether they are driving too fast or too slow for the conditions, but that these are “personal parameters”, not arbitrary decided speed limits.

He says the speed most motorists would instinctively travel at the safest should be decided by them, not determined by the authorities. Otherwise they are effectively mandating a one-size-fits-all solution that only fits the least capable.

“The speed limits we use today were established last century, when cars and roads were much less developed, yet speed limits have largely stagnated, or regressed,” he says.

“Since metrication in July 1974, speed limits have “progressed” from four standard limits – 35, 45, 60, and 70mph – to eight, from 40 to 110km/h in 10km/h increments.

Speed limits

“To put this into perspective, at the time of metrication the latest model Holden was equipped with drum brakes, conventional tyres, and front seat belts had been compulsory in new cars for 4 1/2 years. At that time, all major highways had two undivided lanes, and the main road between Brisbane and Sydney had lost its last ferry crossing just eight years prior, in August 1966, over the Clarence River. Canberra had just taken over responsibility for funding the main roads between capital cities in the same year, with some sections of highway being nothing more than dirt tracks at the time.

“If speed limits are set correctly, the majority of drivers could not spare the time or attention to waste on such frivolous behaviours as texting or playing with the sat nav.

“Ironically, those drivers who stubbornly choose to drive to the conditions, despite the posted speed limit, are subconsciously seeking to operate in the area of best performance – thereby seeking the safest course of action.”

Peter has made these claims in a submission to the Senate Committee Personal Choice and Community Impacts Inquiry.



  1. What is speeding?
    Contrary to what the revenue junkies would have us believe it is not exceeding an arbitrary limit that has little to do with what speed is safe at any given time. Speeding is traveling at a speed inappropriate for the prevailing conditions this includes traveling too slow.
    Rarely is the posted limit the appropriate speed. The closest a posted limit comes to being the correct speed is a school zone but sometimes slowing traffic to 40k may actually increase the danger of a serious accident, forcing drivers to stare at a speedo to avoid a fine is not what you want near a school and roads that are normally 100k then suddenly become 40 during school hours is a disaster in the making.
    Enforcing speed limits that are too low especially with roadside revenue machines is wrong on many levels, firstly exceeding a limit by a few k momentarily is not dangerous in of itself and defiantly not speeding (not as defined above) secondly the proscribed offence applies equally to all vehicles but not all vehicles are equal, a motorbike with ABS traveling through a school zone at 80 will get the same or even worse treatment in court as the driver of an old landcruiser with bullbars and fishing rod holders.
    Iam quite certain that had the moron who thought up the speed kills champaign had slipped in the shower and hung himself on his seatbelt so that we were never submitted to such idiocy the road toll would be significantly lower than it is today.
    I also suspect that the cost of all the extra carnage caused by this shortsighted champaign far exceeds the revenue in rakes in!

  2. Hi Mark,
    While I won’t enter this debate on speed and crash risk, people seem to have missed a couple of points that are important from a road safety perspective (all else being equal):

    – There is a clear relationship between speed and injury severity; the faster you are going, the more likely you are to be severely injured if you come off. On public roads there is no doubt about this.
    – Braking distance increases with speed; the faster you are going, the greater the distance needed to stop (e.g for the school kid, the texting driver, the cassowary, or whatever else it is that you don’t expect to appear in front of you).

    Readers here seem intelligent enough to work out the implications of these facts for themselves.

    1. If you drop an egg from two metres what happens? Exactly the same thing if you drop it from three!
      What the people who argue against higher speeds don’t realise is that the differences that they are so keen to promote are in fact negligible and even if there were significant benefits to traveling at 110 as opposed to 130 or higher those benefits are lost due to the diminished concentration and higher levels of distraction caused by the boredom of traveling too slow. The other major of our too slow speed limits is the effective deskilling that this causes, drivers who have lost the choice to travel at a speed suitable to the conditions and their own ability and comfort level stop acquiring skill and even loose the skill they have, they are also far more likely to make a wrong choice or even panic and cause an accident instead of avoiding one. If you type car crash into the search box on YouTube you will be greeted with hours of video where poor choices panic and suicidal levels of stupidity are clearly shown. Also you will see many accidents caused by true speeding (true speeding has nothing to do with speed limits it is simply going too fast , you can be doing sixty in a ninety zone and still be speeding)

  3. Please tell me about our “better than autobahn standard” roads….
    Up here in Nth Qld we are proud of our end of the Bruce Holeway….
    But I think that the 100km/hr speed limit here is all this goat track is good for.
    I must admit though, that during our last trip down through central NSW, where the speed limit was set at 110km/hr, my wife did comment that the state of that particular road was not unlike those that the ancient Romans had built some 2000 years ago…….. cobble stone like in texture..
    Peter Callil’s theory about the use of mobile phones is flawed though….. have a look at some of the crap on Utube – Mad P plater, one hand on the wheel and the other holding the phone as they tape how fast they can go….. then post it to all their mates while still flying down the road……raising the speed limit won’t make the average d#&khead concentrate more, we already know that most people will travel around 5 – 20km/hr above the posted limit now and they still manage to text etc.etc. and the thought of Mr Tourist flying down the H’way at 120km/hr, as lost as a virgin at a Hells Angels convention, while fumbling with his GPS or iphone trying to figure out how to use that new handy apt that shows you all the best rest areas….. scary thought.
    No, I think more education is needed along with more over-taking lanes for the impatient.
    Stay Safe.

    1. You know Brad, when you say “I think that the 100km/hr speed limit here is all the goat track is good for.” you are right. For you, on your bike, or in your car, with your skills and awareness. However, can you accept that what we determine to be optimum for us, is not universally true for all riders or drivers?

      The point is not to try and limit all drivers to the same arbitrary limits in a futile attempt to reduce us to nothing more than robots. That solution is bound to fail because it works against human nature – our built in, hard wired, programming that demands we improve, grow, progress, and really experience life.

      The road safety debate essentially lost the plot when they started to focus on safety only, because that inevitably leads to gross inefficiencies that conspire to degrade safety, rather than improve it. The best road safety solution is one that is properly balanced between safety and efficiency, rather than one which ignores efficiency and panders slavishly to safety.

      The ABS statistics on deaths from external causes is instructive on this point. Without going into the detail, more 16 to 26 year olds are dying from suicide than on the road over the last decade or so. This is a reversal of the previous stats when more kids died on the roads than from suicide. I would suggest that an irrational obsession with bashing drivers – particularly young ones – is leading to an decrease in their sense of self-worth, along with other societal factors such as broken marriages, domestic violence, etc.

      My theory on mobile phone use is actually validated by the videos on YouTube which show young drivers taking risks while driving. They are human, like you and I, but neither you nor I can judge them based on a YouTube video. If they do stupid things by our assessment and succeed, are they less stupid, or more stupid than those who do stupid things and fail? We are obsessed with failure, when we should be applauding success, which is also the main reason why the current system of fines will never improve safety – because the authorities succeed when we fail. For any safety system to succeed, the whole system must win when we succeed, and lose when we fail. This is why businesses don’t follow the lead of the government and simply fine their workers if they do something that even looks unsafe, although the building industry is rapidly getting there.

      There is a saying ” Necessity is the Mother of Invention”. Raising speed limits would force us to improve our concentration through necessity, and a focus by the Police on improving courtesy, rather than fining people over the limit by a couple of kph. This would make life better for Police officers as well, who are also highly represented in the suicide figures lately.

      I do agree that education is needed, but it must be unbiased objective education without an agenda.

      Thanks for the sentiment, but I never want to simply stay safe. Life is too precious to waste worrying about death.

      Life’s a bitch, then you fly.

      1. Peter – WOW…… you really have a way with words….
        I must admit I am not much of a man for words but I do like to think I have enough knowledge, no, common sence, to know if a road is good enough to handle a thousand cars traveling at high speed or not……I build them for a living.
        I may not have the skills or awareness of some, but in my 40+ years that I have been riding bikes I have picked up some skills and enough common sence to keep me safe and well.
        I have raced enduro bikes, 2 stroke and 4 stroke, only ever won 1 state title, raced a few different super bikes around the tracks, my favourite being a GSXR1000 – good for time travel at the flick of the wrist, I have also had time on the 400m track racing in both “top fuel rail” and “open fuel bike”, but I know that this still does not make me as experienced as some.
        2 wheels, 4 wheels, B doubles, heavy road plant and mine haul trucks, I love them all, draw the line at a segway though….
        Now days I have only got the one bike, a Suzuki C109RT, she the 16th bike I have owned.
        I have had a lot of fun over the years and still do, I am still alive and well and plan to stay like that for a long time to come….
        I like to think that I have enough experience to be able to negotiate high speed traffic, but I don’t want to be out there doing it with other people with very little experience.
        Rules have been put into place so as to allow all road users, with their different levels of experience, to use the roads safely.
        “Necessity is the mother of invention” – so true – to control those who over estimate their abilities they invented safety rules, because nobody wants to sit back and watch idiots go out and get killed or kill others until nature finds a way to evolve the idiot mind into something that can think for itself……
        When my children drive out on the roads of this beautiful country I want them to go out and be safe, not try to stretch the limits of their ability and maybe become a statistic or force some other poor person to become one.
        Evolution has made us what we are today, I would like to think we are smarter from learning from our past mistakes, there will always be someone that thinks they have more abilities than the rest of us and think they have the right to go out and prove it on the road, well do it where it is safer – on the track……. it is a controlled enviroment with no one coming from the other way……..oh sorry, did I say controlled, that won’t do will it?
        A good friend of mine lost his life when a “STUPID” P plater, yes , i said STUPID, desided his Maloo was fast enough to overtake two cars that were traveling up the Gillies Range near Cairns, he ran smack into Greg as he came around the corner on his 196? restored Norton.
        His wife and two little girls were waiting for him at a little place called Yungaburra, well at least the P plater became smarter, won’t do that again…..
        Like it or not, rules save lives, not just put in place to raise revenue, if you don’t want to raise revenue for the crown…. easy, follow them like the rest of us sheep, so no one else has to evolve into fatherless families……..
        Stay Safe (please)

        1. Wow Brad! You have some great points, and lots of relevant experience, but the cold hard facts remain just that – cold, hard, & fact. I know many won’t like this, because it’s the truth, but rules don’t stop accidents, they just enable people with good lawyers to apportion blame to others when some or all of the blame often lies within themselves.

          Now, your example of the P plater trying to overtake on the Gillies range – a road I’m familiar with after Christmas spent at the Gordonvale Pub, and a few years hauling cane at Gordonvale and Little Mulgrave 40 years ago. Does the road have double white lines where the accident happened? If not, then it’s a short overtaking section that would be very rare indeed. The point I’m making is that even if there were broken lines, the ute driver broke the law by overtaking without sufficient clearway. Now explain to me how more rules would have prevented this accident?

          Let me be clear, there is a role for road rules, but they aren’t the panacea that the majority believe them to be. They are in fact, the easy way out of a dilemma for most of us. Do we dogmatically let the road rules do the thinking for us, or do we do our own thinking and decide what’s best for us on this bit of road, these weather conditions, this vehicle, and my current level of skill and awareness?

          Whether you like it or not, your kids are human. So are you, or at least you were before you were programmed by relentless media conditioning that denied your own ability to think for yourself. What does that mean, you ask. It means that your kids are liable to make mistakes – “To err is human.” The next bit is the instructive part though – “To forgive divine.”

          The reason why most parents wail and carry on in front of the press is so they can divert attention away from their own negligence. They can’t forgive themselves for the errors they made that allowed their kids to drive off without knowing how much they were loved and would be missed if they didn’t come back. Don’t think for a moment that any law will reverse that Brad. If you care for your kids, spend the time with them so they know it, and teach them how to expand their capabilities so that Fate doesn’t find easy prey.

          Thanks again for the sentiment Brad, but after all those experiences you’ve had I’m sure you’ve done some stupid things and got away with it. So have I. Would you change any of it now? Would you forgo the pleasure to avoid the pain?

          Life’s a bitch, then you die.

          1. Peter Callil, I agree with what you are saying. The current oppressive draconian approach to road safety does not make drivers/riders safer. It just makes them incompetent. My greatest strength as a rider is my ability to survive situations in which most riders would crash. I can do this because I have always ridden hard and wild (for over 40 years) and have acquired bike handling and braking skills above and beyond what most riders ever will. While this has meant taking some risks, overall it has resulted in much less risk and made me much safer than those who have always ridden conservatively.

            I also agree with your attitude towards life. Road travel, and indeed life itself, will always involve some risk. To try to live a life that is free from risk means giving up on having a life and becoming pathetic and fearful. That is not how I want to live.

          2. 1st up Peter, sorry, but due to emotion and a lack of concentration, I seem to have messed up something ……..the P plater was traveling down the range, not up, and the ute was a V6 Maloo imitation, not important, just incorrect info …… and yes it was double white lines……….
            Extra rules would not have helped save Greg, and I didn’t suggest that they would have.
            What I was saying is that there will always be those out there that have these stupid brain farts, these people are dangerous, they have no real perception as to what the consequences their actions could cause……… if they did, they may think twice before the brain fart kicks in……
            Raising speed limits would have its benefits, for those of us that have enough experience, but for those with little experience or have an age impairment, i’m not so sure.
            Our roads already have problems with congestion and with a growing population it will only become worse.
            It is an unfotunate fact that speed is a large contributor in road fatalities and speed mixed with alcohol, drugs, lack of experience or sometimes just plain bad luck just adds to the chances.
            I agree that pressure can bring out the best in us, but pressure levels are handled differently by different people.
            That is why some school students thrive and some sink into depression, some people fight while others hide, some can handle higher speeds while others just can’t.
            The RAAF is a good example……. how many have wanted to be pilots compared to how many have been able to handle the pressures involved?
            There are roads that have higher speed limits because they have conditions that suit.
            Yes, today most cars have things like ABS, TRACTION CONTROL, ANTI SKID CONTROL, NAV, ACCD, POWER STEERING, AC/DC, ELO, ETC, ETC, ETC……..but not all……..
            In years to come I think we will have high speed motobahn type roads that span our great country, it would be ideal, but I dont think it will be in the near future……..east to west would be a good start…….. anyone got a few hundred million spare?
            But for now………
            Stay Safe.

      2. Peter, very nicely put and I could not agree more with you comment. Unfortunately, what you describe are the results of a very dumb down society where the self preservation and self improvement have been replaced by ignorance and extreme altruism.

        You will never change that unless you don`t change the anti-Intellectual system of Government that is behind all of this and until people stop saying yes just because they are afraid that the neighbor will look at you weird.

  4. Totally agree, although I am a motorist not a motorcyclist. I have just got back from driving 4 weeks in the UK, and whilst their motorways can still turn into car parks just like ours, when clear it was good to see how their freeways work. 1) On 3 or 4 lane motorways, tucks use the left 2 only. Not sure if by law or just good practice. 2) Almost all drivers move to the appropriate lane, and almost always overtake on the right. No sitting in the right lane doing just the speed limit. 3) The speed limit as per the sat nav was 70mph, but on the road signs showed de-restricted. No problems in changing lanes, up to 85-90mph, get pass done, move left, back down to 80mph and cruise. Constant monitoring of speedo not necessary.

    The “speed kills” dogma continuously trumpeted by pollies and police should really be “INAPPROPRIATE speed kills”. Interstate free/highways like the Hume, the Eyre, the Princes could so easily take a speed limit increase for most of their length. I know myself that a “natural” speed at which I am comfortable is better and safer that a lower and highly policed limit.

    My thoughts after that 4 weeks in the UK is that the enforced lower limits, policing from a 3% factor, and relatively poor driver education is that the current rules are actually dumbing our drivers down to the point that their habits (as opposed to abilities) make then generally worse than the UK. If our law makers and enforcers are going to continue taking travel junkets, maybe some of them should take one to UK/Europe to see how motorways should work. One condition of course – they have to drive them – not be chauffeured.

  5. About time scientific evidence really got behind this, I experienced this every day driving and riding in Germany for 2 years, I come back here and I’m almost asleep at the wheel. The proof is in the pudding.

  6. Pure common sense. But as motorcyclists we all know common sense, flew out the window, when it comes to road traffic authorities/governments. Just look at the motorcycle helmet debacle. No I’m not hanging crap on Guy, as far as I can tell Guy has handed the state authorities the answers upon a silver platter. In pure common bloody sense.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the last bloke in the world that would side with the road authorities on this, but I have some real concerns. With letting loose, half the morons at 130kph, when they can not drive competently at 60, 80,110kph.

    Our licensing system here in Oz basically sucks, Mark brought to our attention the German example, a good one indeed, but look at the German licensing system, well bugger me, they are taught to drive, not how to pass a license test. Will Hagen, on the ABC radio hit the nail on the head perfectly one night a few years back. He presented the very same argument, but with a twist, and I couldn’t agree more, a graduated license system to prove you are worthy of the extra speed de-restriction.

    And whilst our road authorities/police/state governments and their advisers with help from our media, continue with the speed kills propaganda, and are seen by the populous as doing something about the problem by raising revenue, and spending sweet F.A. on the real problem, nothing will change. Our real problem is a large percentage of our driving public, can not drive, and could not drive a nail in with a battery powered nail gun, never mind drive a car. Not siding with the authorities, but they are catering for the lowest common denominator, sadly.

    Good luck Peter Callil.

    1. Thanks for the comments Mick, and I’d agree that a large percentage of the population cannot drive, but they are not the majority. If they’re like any other profession or trade, usually there are about 10% who are very good, 10% very bad, and the rest somewhere in the middle. The only true safety solution is to maximise your own potential, rather than focusing on the inadequacies of others. Especially as bikers, we must expect the unexpected, and be capable of handling it, otherwise we’re riding on borrowed time, and we will eventually pay for that.

      Cheers Mick.

    2. I fully endorse the proposal for a graduated licensing system though. That was one thing I found to be very useful for improving the skills of pilots, something that kept their interest up and increased their engagement in safety.

  7. Mate.. just opened the laptop while her indoors watched the Bold and Beautiful. Sunday should be dry.. I hope. Heading to the hills on the S10 🙂

  8. Mate we visit Germany on business every 2 years or so. I always rent something fast to get around on the autobahns. And while I have driven at 230 – 250 (on the limiter) most traffic seems to settle around 140 K/Hr and that is a good compromise speed. However here down under where we live in the nanny state and “every K over is a killer” the government thinks we need to have them interfere in all levels of our lives.. including how fast we drive/ride. Crazy, as some of our highways are as good as and some even better than German autobahns. Last time I was heading back to into Munich from our supplier in Raubling, they slowed us down to 125 K/Hr as they were mowing the sides of the highway. Traffic finds its own speed if drivers/riders are left to themselves. Experienced this in California in August too. We’re all doing 85 mph along the freeway with a CHiPs motorcycle cop in the mix with us all. Never mind…. I actually wonder if the cops who enforce this shit believe that every K over is a killer?

    1. Hi Mark,
      I dunno, I’ll ask my neighbour, an ex-inspector!
      Gotta say, that was a really qwuick response! Do you sit around waiting for me to post?
      Cheers mate and make the best of a wet weekend.

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