Research shows strictly enforced speed limits could harm road safety

Stock image.
Stock image.

RESEARCH from UWA has found strictly enforced speed limits could have a harmful affect on road safety.

Researchers used a driving simulator to test whether lowering speed enforcement thresholds would affect a driver’s mental and visual abilities.

Eighty-four participants drove under conditions where they could be fined for travelling 1km, 6km or 11km over a 50km/h speed limit.

To measure drivers’ mental and visual workload a peripheral detection task was used.

Participants also completed a questionnaire, which asked how difficult or demanding they found the experience of driving under the different enforcement thresholds.

The study found drivers rated the experience as more demanding when under stricter speed limit enforcements.

Consequently, such enforcements led to poorer peripheral object detection and weakened hazard perception among the drivers.

UWA School of Psychology’s Vanessa Bowden said past research had found drivers had a limited pool of mental and visual resources and showed clear reductions when these resources were divided between tasks.

“Our overall finding was that stricter speed enforcement may impair a driver’s ability to detect hazards, especially those on the side of the road, because drivers are dedicating more attention to monitoring their speed,” Dr Bowden said.

The study also found benefits of reduced speeding with stricter enforcements was somewhat offset by the greater mental demands on drivers which weakened their response to stimuli on or to the side of the roads.

Dr Bowden suggested the findings underestimate the impact of strict speed limit enforcements because real-world drivers experience a greater pressure to drive at the posted speed limit.

The researchers plan to continue research in this area of study to further develop and support these new findings.