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Low speed threshold a danger

Low speed thresholds are turning motorists, particularly motorcyclists, into dangerous speedo gazers, according to a university study.

Using drive simulators, researchers at the University of Western Australia studied 84 drivers to test whether a low speed threshold before a fine was imposed affected their driving performance.

The answer was yes!

“Our results demonstrate that making the enforcement threshold for speeding stricter can reduce drivers’ available cognitive and visual resources, and increase their subjective workload,” the research finds.

In other words, the possibility you could be fined for going just a few kilometres over the speed limit is turning us into dangerous speedo gazers.

And motorcyclists could be among the worst, according to lead researcher Dr Vanessa Bowden.

“We didn’t specifically look at motorcycles in our study, but I would agree that having the speedo further away or more difficult to see (than in a car) would likely add extra demand for riders,” she says.

The study recruited 84 participants who were told they could be fined for driving one, six or 11km/h hour over in a 50km/h zone.radar warning sign low tolerance

It measured their response to small red dots which appeared in their peripheral vision.

The result was worst with a low threshold than when the threshold was less strict.

“The implication is that lowering thresholds may reduce attention to the driving environment and impair hazard detection,” the study finds.

“In addition, subjective workload ratings indicated that participants had to invest more effort in driving when under conservative conditions.

“This is of particular concern because increasing driver workload has been shown to degrade driving performance (eg reduced steering activity, poor distance estimation) and increase driver fatigue.”

In other words, more likely to crash.

“It may be that participants spent more time looking at the speedometer during the conservative condition, and that this led to the impaired performance observed,” the study finds.

Make low threshold publicpolice radar licence checks low

Most jurisdictions have a threshold allowance for motorists to stray over the speed limit before attracting a fine. But it is usually an official secret!

While some states and countries announce their speed tolerance such as Scotland where it is 1mph (1.6km/h), it is not often made public.

The public perception, then, is that it is only a couple of kilometres.  This perception is often based on anecdotal evidence and may be less than the actual threshold.

According to this study, that is making motorists more dangerous and inattentive than if they actually knew the threshold.

So why keep the threshold a secret? It would actually be safer for speed thresholds to be made public!

However, be aware that police with handheld radar can still issue a fine for anything over the speed limit.

It is often only speed cameras that are programmed to trigger at a specific figure above the speed zone limit.

  1. ‘Speed’ is the easy target for any countries stats couple that that people will always legislate to the lowest common denominator. .. and you have the recipe that we all deal with.

  2. I’ve often pondered this, between frequent speedo glances and watching the road, knowing I could pinged for 2k over somewhere in the 100 metres between glances.

    Pious individuals preach riding below the limit … … rrriggght … but they don’t mention how to deal with the queue of cranky drivers behind us, of the resulting frustrated behaviour by these drivers.

    Back to the topic:

    Speed limit – 60 kph. Margin – Nil. — Full fine imposed from 1st kmh over.
    Makes no realistic allowance for the smallest speed variation over the shortest time.


    Speed limit – 60 kph. Margin – 5kph. No fine until 65 kph, BUT, 65 kph or over: DOUBLE the original fine for exceeding 60 kmh.

    So if fine for exceeding 60 was 2 points and X dollars, then the fine for exceeding 65 would now be 4 pionts and 2X dollars.

    This is saying to the rider: “we understand your speed can drift momentarily before your next speedo check, so here’s a margin of good faith. BUT – exceed that and U R in trouble”.

    For those who now want to make 64 kph ‘their’ limit, they’re only 1 kph off much heavier fines, and IMHO, fairer fines.

    Thoughts anyone?

  3. I don’t think that a slower limit should be a reason to constantly speedo gaze! Just slow down and relax! You will arrive at your destination intact, with no fines and in a less stressed state. Australian drivers and riders seem to have this crazy desire to get to their destination in as little time possible! Why?
    What does bug me is the drive up the east coast on the Pacific Hwy where even the finished parts of the road have constantly changing speed limits ranging from 80KPH to 110KPH, often without an appreciable difference in road surface or condition that would warrant a change. You might ask the question “why build a new highway to current standards and then apply a reduced speed limit to it?”
    Could politics be involved? I suspect that is the only reasonable answer.

  4. Like Graeme says – it’s a “limit” not a “requirement”, something that not many in the daily Bruce Hwy commute seem to be able to grasp.

    If you’re going to have a “margin” then where do you stop? If the limit says 100 and you’re giving the motorists a 10% margin, then doesn’t that equate to 110? So why not just change the speed limit to 110? Then if you’re going to give a few km/h margin over that, you might as well change the limit to 120… it’s got to stop somewhere.
    The annoying part is the retards who constantly disobey the speed limit (I see it daily where I live) and then crash. They whinge about road conditions when there is actually nothing wrong with them and if they had been driving to the conditions then nothing would have happened.
    What ever happened to common sense?

    However I must extend a big thank you to our local boys in blue who have given me a “flash and a wave” when I’ve unknowingly crept up over the posted speed near where I live.

  5. How about just drive to the speed limit and therefore don’t stress about a “threshold”. Assume it’s zero.

    For those of us that choose to exceed the speed limits, take responsibility and stop crying about it if you get caught. I’m sure we get away with it far more often than not.

  6. It doesn’t matter whether the speed limit is 40 or 130. If people drive (or ride) right on the speed limit, they will spend a lot of time looking at their speedometer. The limit is just that; it’s not a fixed speed requirement. I find that driving at 5 kph below the speed limit means I don’t need to look much at the speedo, as there is some room for the speed to fluctuate. This works for me whether I’m driving a car, a bike or a bus. On the other hand, once I get on the backroads away from population centres, I travel at whatever speed is appropriate and don’t take much notice of the speedo anyway.

    1. Fair point, however as soon as you ride below the limit you get idiots right up your rear causing more issues.

  7. I wonder if the study included the most common “cognitive workload” carried out by drivers – looking at their mobile phone

    1. Mobile phone gazing is not a problem as the bunnies who do it just don’t care how dangerous it is as long as they are under the speed limit they think they’re safe.

  8. Surprise surprise, finally a study to tell us what we already knew, that the overzealous focus of the Australian law enforcement on speed limits is affecting our ability to drive safely. This now supports our initial instincts, that the constant threat of being fined for being just a few km’s over the limit does more harm than good.

    And add to that the constant threat of the randomness of a speed cameras placement, and you have yourselves a perfect storm of distraction; people too focussed on their speedo’s to the point that it’s affecting their ability to distinguish important changes in driving or riding conditions.

    Now we need them to quantify it for us, tell us how much more likely we are to have an accident if we Take our focus off the roads say, every 3, 2, or 1 seconds. Give us something to take to the authorities and say…. Look, what you are doing is making the roads a more dangerous place… You are doing more harm than good.

    How many more deaths is it going to take before this message gets through. If it takes even one, that goes to show they are doing this for the wrong reasons, and would rather gather revenue than save lives.

  9. Next there will be a study to determine if water is wet.
    Although sometimes you need some load of boffins to do a study before the nannies will accept what is bloody obvious!
    It takes more effort on a motorcycle to constantly check the speedo not only because it is not in a very visible location as compared to a car but because a bike can get well over a speed limit in a fraction of a second with only a fraction of throttle so riders tend to be even more vigilant about speedo gazing

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