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The calls to increase the speed limits have been loud, but they have also been a source of contention. Here are ten reasons why the speed limits can be safely increased.
1. Seat belts and airbags
When the current speed limit laws were set back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, seat belts were rare and airbags simply were not even an option. Today, seat belts are not just the law; they are standard equipment in the front and back of every car sold. As a result, it is now a lot more difficult for an occupant to impact the dashboard, or worse yet be thrown through the windshield during a collision. Airbags are now found in the vast majority of vehicles on the road, having become available on even economy models back in the 1990’s. Today they are considered standard equipment and can be found all around the cabin, designed to deploy only if determined beneficial based on impact force and direction. Occupants inside a vehicle have never been safer in a major crash than they are today.
2. Crumple zones
Modern cars may be quicker to crumple, but that very fact is what saves occupants in a crash. The so-called hard iron cars of the past were certainly more resilient to damage, but were not safer for their occupants. Automobiles are now designed with crumple zones that give way in an impact, folding and absorbing as much impact force as possible, thereby transferring less of that force into the cabin and the bodies of those seated therein. The end result is that a previously fatal collision can now be survived, or even walked away from. There’s a bonus here for pedestrians, too: While the calls for increased speed limits are certainly not for pedestrian-heavy city streets - indeed some areas can stand to be lowered - it should be some comfort to know that today’s softer bumpers also improve a pedestrian’s chances of survival if struck.
3. More powerful engines
Today’s vehicles easily pass the speeds that models were even capable of nearly fifty years ago when the limit of 80 km/h cars, 65 km/h pickups was set. The result of today’s more powerful engines engines coupled with more advanced suspensions is that vehicles now settle in cruising comfortably at speeds well above what was once considered difficult to maintain. This is especially true of pickups that have evolved from goods transport vehicles to powerful lifestyle autos loaded with all the comforts and safety features of sedans and SUVs.
4. Improved stopping power
Faster engines demand greater stopping power. Between disc brakes, anti-lock braking systems and decades of refinement, today’s vehicles have vastly improved braking systems than the simple drum brake setups of the past. Tyres have also evolved considerably, with numerous manufacturing improvements and are now fitted to wider rims for better grip on the asphalt. The design and depth of tyre threads have also come a long way, reducing the risk of lifting off a wet surface (hydroplaning) and the resultant loss of control. In other words, today's cars are much better at maintaining traction with the road and stopping quickly when needed.
5. Lower, wider vehicles
It is easy to overlook this, but anyone who has struggled to open a door in a parking lot or been forced to take humps or drains at an angle should recognise it. Today’s vehicles are wider and lower than in the past. This means that they have a lower centre of gravity and are much less prone to rollovers than their predecessors. The wider design also allows for those wider wheels previously mentioned. On a related note, today’s more windswept designs are also far more aerodynamic than the squared styling of the past, allowing vehicles to remain stable on the roads at higher speeds.
6. Trip times
The world of automation and consumerism has seen a sharp rise in office and retail based jobs, meaning more people working in the urban centres. Added to that, women are now a major part of the workforce and children attend school up until later ages, which are fantastic steps forward for society but also mean increased road usage. Meanwhile, the rising cost of housing has seen people moving further away from their workplaces in search of more affordable homes. Modern life means constantly hitting the road to deliver packages, meet customers, pick up children and so on. A mild increase in the speed limit that saves a few minutes on any given trip can add up to hours each week; hours that can be spent recuperating from a hectic lifestyle instead of adding to driver fatigue and inattentiveness.
7. Cruise control
An ever increasing number of vehicles are now equipped with cruise control. This allows a driver to set a particular speed and then simply steer and brake the car without constantly pressing the gas with an eye on the speedometer. This is obviously not an option in heavy traffic but can be invaluable on long drives outside of peak hours. It should be noted that newer systems actually address this: Adaptive cruise control as found in the latest models can adjust the speed automatically if a vehicle ahead slows down. Some top of the line models even come with lane departure warning and lane keep assist features to further reduce driver error, and it only takes one or two vehicle generations for a new feature to appear in even the lowest end models.
8. Wider, better designed roads
In the time since our speed limits were originally set, many roads have grown to facilitate multiple lanes in each direction, some lanes themselves have grown wider, and overpasses have replaced traditional traffic signals. A wider road with fewer stops can not only be more safely navigated at higher speeds than a narrow one, but also allow faster moving vehicles to safely pass slower traffic. We all know the rule: Keep left except when overtaking. It’s not just the major highways either; there are multi-lane roads complete with filter lanes and medians that are limited to the same 50 km/h set for city streets. We should also not discount the effect of improved road markings and lighting, and the presence of reflectors and rumble strips - of which there really need to be more.
9. Crash barriers
Today’s highways are lined with jersey barriers, cable barriers and guard rails. These features go a long way toward slowing down and stopping errant vehicles and are responsible for saving a perhaps unquantifiable number of lives. Even with the unfortunately - and unacceptably - long periods of time authorities take to repair damaged sections, these barriers represent a clear improvement over the roadways of times gone by.
10. Speed limit enforcement
At one time, enforcing the speed limits meant police officers hiding behind lamp poles. For a while, the enforcement become non-existent. Today however, we have laser-based speed guns with cameras, and hopefully those few hand-held units represent only the beginning. It is now much easier for the police service to enforce the speed limits. The basic premise here is that with active enforcement, increasing the maximum allowable speed does not mean freedom to drive above what is considered safe. We have already seen over the last few weeks what a great difference active enforcement brings to the driving culture.
Now these are just a few reasons why the limits should be increased. While this blog previously made some suggestions as to what the new limits can be, those can only be regarded as that: Suggestions. Before limits can be raised, engineers need to identify the maximum safe speed for the road segments in question, traffic analysts need to determine typical usage patterns and natural driver speeds, and legislators need to agree to pass the necessary amendments.
What we can do is be very clear that vehicles, roads and cultures have evolved in the decades since our existing speed limits were set, and recognise that laws must change with the times. Finally doing something about excessive speeding has undeniably been a good thing for safety and it is unfortunate to have met backlash as a result of the setting of modern limits being allowed to lag behind the introduction of modern enforcement.
At the very least, perhaps the government should be commended on acknowledging that revisions are in order, and this blogger looks forward to commenting on the appropriate amendments once implemented.
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The community software has been upgraded! The most obvious change is the revised menu bar at the top which should help a great deal with some future plans for information pages.
There may be a few rough spots to smooth out so don't be alarmed if things seem to change somewhat on the fly.
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