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Danish study shows that increasing speed can save lives

We all know the received wisdom on speed in cars. Faster cars mean more accidents, damage and casualties. At least, that is what we are told. This is why there are so many speed cameras and speed limits and even speed bumps, all designed to make us drive more slowly. Now, however, results have been published of a Danish study that appears, in some situations, to show that the reverse is true: increasing speed saves lives.

We all know the received wisdom on speed in cars. Faster cars mean more accidents, damage and casualties. At least, that is what we are told. This is why there are so many speed cameras and speed limits and even speed bumps, all designed to make us drive more slowly. Now, however, results have been published of a Danish study that appears, in some situations, to show that the reverse is true: increasing speed saves lives.

The Danish Road Directorate conducted the study over two years and looked at the way accident rates and drivers’ behaviour altered after the speed limit was increased on motorways and two lane rural roads. The speed limit on rural two lane roads was increased in certain areas to 56mph from 50mph for the purposes of the study. The key, and some would say controversial, finding was that accident rates actually fell on these stretches of road. Researchers put this down to a decrease in the differential in speed between the fastest and slowest drivers. This meant that fewer drivers felt the need to overtake and hence the dangers of these manoeuvres were reduced and accidents decreased. Interestingly, analysis of the data showed that the slowest drivers did indeed increase their speeds on these stretches of road but the fastest drivers actually slowed down by around 1mph on average. The reduction in fatalities was repeated when the study increased the speed limit on motorways from 68mph to 80mph.

The findings of the study were welcomed by the Alliance of British Drivers, whose spokesman said: “The research would seem to suggest that we are going the wrong way in the UK. This has proven that deaths and accidents have fallen despite limits increasing.”

A spokesman for the Transport Research Laboratory added a more cautious welcome, saying: “A key element isn’t just the risk of the crash that is proportional to travelling speed for a given road, but the risk of injury should a collision occur. We would be interested to see how the Danish study has handled confounding factors. This would all influence the applicability of this scheme to other countries or road networks."

The Association of Chief Police Officers has so far declined to comment on the findings of the study.

The study would seem to contradict the thinking behind UK policy, which has long been focused on containing and reducing speed. Whether any aspect of the Danish experience will be incorporated into future UK policies remains to be seen.

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