Government Admits To Exaggerating Accident Statistics

Lies, damned lies and statistics. That’s the phrase that springs to mind on the news that the Department for Transport has been using out-of-date accident statistics in the recent Think! anti-speeding campaign.

Speed Kills T-shirt

The campaign claimed that if a child was hit by a car travelling at 40mph there was an 80 percent chance of them dying, while if the speed was 30mph then the chances of death were reduced to 20 percent. What wasn’t pointed out is that the figures were from the 1970s and had not been adjusted for modern cars.

New research shows that the chances of a pedestrian surviving an impact at moderate speeds are actually much higher. In a 30mph impact seven percent of victims will be killed, while at 40mph that rate goes up to 31 percent.

A spokeswoman for the DfT explained that the reduction in fatalities could be attributed to improvements in car technology and safety, as well as medical advancements made in the last four decades.

“Road safety is a priority for the Government, but misleading statistics only serve to undermine our case, not help it,” Mike Penning, the road safety minister, told The Telegraph.

“However, the fact remains that the risk of death is still approximately four times higher when a pedestrian is hit at 40mph than at 30mph. So no one should be in any doubt that 30mph limits protect pedestrians, and that to speed through residential areas puts lives at risk.”

Penning accepted that the previous Labour Government had used the outdated figures in good faith, but said that the new figures should be released as soon as they were available.

“This Government will be absolutely straight with the public. That’s why we have published this data as soon as we were made aware of it,” he said.

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Author: Chris Auty

Voted the Breakthrough Blogger of 2013 by SEAT and the Guild of Motoring Writers , Chris has lived and breathed cars since he was old enough to say 'faster'. With a penchant for hot hatches and an allergy to public transport, he would much prefer to drive a bad car than never drive at all. Fortunately his family has learned to put up with this obsession and the internet has provided a channel for his ramblings.

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  1. Surely the point to be made is not whether the statistics are accurate or not but rather, is the 30mph speed limit a safe and reasonable one that can be justified. During my career dealing with road traffic incidents at a forensic level, it remains a fact that the fatality rate for pedestrians at 40mph is four time greater than at 30mph, particularly for children. In this case the percentages or any so-called improvements in auto technology are irrelevant.

    The same could be said about outdated statistics on braking distances that have improved considerably in recent years due to advances in vehicle and tyre technology.

    Splitting hairs undermines any arguments proffered by people who habitually exceed the speed limit in a controlled 30mph zone, regarding it a petty misdemeanour. It is against the law which was established to protect pedestrians from the lethal consequences of speed and driver error (or incemptence), not to challenge thoughtless or inept motorists who, in my view are already challenged in other ways and should not be driving.

    Clearly, the financial penalties for being caught are not a deterrent so education would appear to be a better option. Unfortunately, even that is wasted on the unintelligent motorist who has regard only for themselves and I doubt that holding the hand of a dying child at the scene of an accident would register with that kind of moron. A better solution would be to deprive them of the priviledge of owning a driving licence if they considetently drive above speed limits. Technology exists that could address this automatically and I personally have no doubt that it would work – almost overnight.

    However, there are other relevant reasons for establishing speed limits that have regard for other road users, property, road surfaces. lighting, camber, junctions, roundabouts, signals, visibility and fuel economy – to name a few. The fact that the average motorist has no concept of such considerations does not invalidate them or the speed limits that are imposed. Any speed limit is the maximum for ideal conditions and some motorists would do well to have regard for this fact. Speeding is against the law and for good reason but when it is perceived that a speed limit is unjustified – to high or too low – there are procedures for changing it by reasoned argument to the highways authority in control.

    For the accident victim the difference is this and it has nothing to do with statistics or vehicle design. The forces of inertia in a human body that is struck at 40mph often mean that the internal organs are displaced with such force that the attached blood vessels become detached. Often massive internal bleeding results and even if the victim were to reach the A&E unit within minutes, there is nothing anyone can do to stop the bleeding or save the life of the victim. They bleed to death in minutes and such blood loss, fatal or otherwise, can cause serious brain damage – if the impact hasn’t already. done that.

    The same incident at 30mph renders such trauma considerably less likely due to the reduced intertia of being struck by a moving vehicle. This allows more time to getb the victim to a treatment centre so what does it matter what the statistic say? These facts are consistent regardless of statistics.

    Come on folks, let’s be sensible and reasonable about the 30mph speed limit and stop splitting hairs just because you want to go faster. Are you really that selfish and insensitive? Road surfaces have improved; vehicles have improved; driving standards have not improved so any relative reduction in accident statistics have nothing to do with improvements in the human condition – they have happened in spite of it.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not one of those people who thinks that 30mph limits are to be ignored or scrapped. In the majority of cases they exist for a very good reason and the people who travel through them at 40mph+ really do deserve to have their license taken away. I’m even happy with 20mph limits … in the right places.

    As the Transport Minister said at the time, “no one should be in any doubt that 30mph limits protect pedestrians, and that to speed through residential areas puts lives at risk.”

    What I’m not happy about is the way in which the government cherry picks its statistics in order to validate its campaigns. Sadly this is just the way of all governments. There’s always a study somewhere that can be used to manipulate an argument one way or the other.

  3. Well said Chris! To put it bluntly, politicians often don’t have a clue what they’re talking about or presume that whatever they say will be accepted as fact when of course we know that this is seldom the case. It often follows that when there’s a campaign about something, it is contrived to draw attention away from something else – Swine Flu = Expenses Scandal etc. Do you know anyone who suffered swine flu? Man flu certainly but the swine and bird variety were no more than seasonal mutations of the flu virus with a name attached. It also sells flu vaccine!

    In spite of everything I wrote previously, some speed limits are absurd and some enforcement is clearly contrived to raise revenue. Many of the statistic quoted are based upon redundant information. Even the 2 second braking distance is generous if applied to modern vehicles although the potential for human error, misjudgement or lack of concentration is perhaps greater because of the reliance on superior technology – not much gained in reality so it remains the standard but the figures upon which it stands are no longer supportable.

    My concern is that motorists should obey the 30mph limit which is completely justifiable. Even the 20mph can be supported around schools and places where vulnerable people frequent but not necessarily 24 hours a day. Of course we all go above the limit on occasions either through a temporary lapse of concentration or because the flow of traffic almost dictates it and a reasonable traffic officer will often overlook such lapses with a warning – simply because they know the difference between a lapse and willful excess.

    I am no zealot and could even support variable speed limits where the daytime 30mph is strictly enforced but relaxed between 11pm and 5am in some areas since there are unlikely to be pedestrians around and certainly not vulnerable ones. I see nothing unreasonable in that.

    You are right in proposing that any statistics or other data used to support a campaing or a law should be true and accurate so your original argument is entirely valid. You have obviously given it much consideration and have a greater insight than much of the driving population so I respect your views and support your arguments since our conclusions are essentially the same.

    What a refreshing change to have a reasoned discussion. Thank you!

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