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Enforcing strict speed limits without leeway can distract drivers from hazard detection, and therefore may have a detrimental impact on road safety, an Australian study has found.

As reported by the ABC, researchers from the University of Western Australia used a driving simulator to test whether reducing speed enforcement thresholds — principally what cameras that lack human discretion do — would impact a driver’s abilities.

The study was small, with only only 84 participants, but the findings were interesting.

It told each person that they could be fined for driving one, six or 11km/h over a 50km/h speed limit, and their responses to small red dots which appeared in their peripheral vision were then measured and contrasted.

Lead researcher Dr Vanessa Bowden said the study found those who were given a one km/h threshold were less likely to detect objects outside of their immediate line of sight.

“We concluded that drivers’ mental and visual resources were being used up by paying extra attention to the speed monitoring task, and this was taking some of their attention away from the visual world around them when they were driving,” she said.

The participants then filled out a questionnaire asking how difficult or demanding they found the experience. Drivers who were given a stricter speed limit threshold rated the experience as more demanding.

“There can be a perception that by making it stricter you’re only going to get benefits, like you’ll get everyone driving more slowly and more safely,” Dr Bowden said.

“But … you can’t necessarily make drivers pay more attention to the speed and go more slowly without taking their attention away from some other critical aspect of driving.”

The researchers will also investigate whether drivers respond poorly to hazards when strict speed limits are enforced.

The findings back up what CarAdvice’s editorial policy has said for years, which is that not allowing some small tolerance around speed limits, drivers become needlessly distracted, and their overtaking attempts thwarted.

In many states such as Victoria, you can be fined hundreds of dollars for going only a handful of kilometres an hour over the limit, which is uncommon by western global standards. While we support speed limits, we feel that incessantly watching the speedo is not conducive to road safety.

According to the federal Department of Infrastructure and Development, the road toll has gone up this year, with 957 deaths compared to 889 over the same period (January 1 to September 30). Read more on that here.

MORE: Are speed cameras killing us? The stats say yes




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