Road Safety News

Motorists aren't safe to drive at over 55mph: Damon Hill

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

Speed limits should be cut to 55mph because most motorists are not safe to drive any faster, says former Formula One champion Damon Hill (Telegraph).

The British grand prix driver and twice BBC Sports Personality of the Year said the roads are “dangerous” and that most people drive too fast without knowing what they are doing.

According to the Telegraph, Hill said that a recent Government proposal to increase the speed limit to 80mph made him “shudder” and that instead it would be better to reduce it.

Referring to a law in some parts of America, Hill said: “I am a big fan of the 55mph speed limit. Most people aren’t safe to drive over 55.”

Hill continued: “Honestly, the speed limit going up to 80mph makes me shudder. Mostly people drive too fast, too close to the car in front, and they think they know what they’re doing, but they don’t.

“What happens when people drive on the roads is that they don’t concentrate, they just think about something else. So they’re relying on their unconscious to respond to things. That’s why it’s better to drive at a sensible pace.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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Sorry Mr Jones, but u are wrong. It is in many cicumstances the mindset of the driver or rider that causes the metal to become damaged. No matter the speed, be it high or low.

A person of whatever age and ability who has the wrong or bad attitude to driving such as boy racers and those on pocket rocket motorcycles cause not only injury and/or death to themselves but to others as well.

Its not just those who put others at risk. With a loose or bad attitude to the road and maybe complacency or superiority (it will never happen to me or I am a better driver than others) then they will cause errors that may have consequences to others in matters like the SMIDSY [sorry mate I didn't see you) accidents at road junctions.

Yes it is ultimately and finally the metal that kills but it is the driver in control of that metal that is the causation. I have never yet known of a car being taken to court for a death and/or road traffic offence.
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

Hugh, you say you have stopped people for speeding so are/were you a Police officer? And, if so, why/how were you performing speed surveys identifying every vehicle. I didn't think the Police did that (and neither do LAs) unless you used the ANPR system to track every single vehicle? Or used a speed camera to record every vehicle (which could render any prosecution illegal). It's usually only TRL or other research groups that do that, isn't it?

But I was really wondering have you any evidence that you can present? Can you refer me to the reports you have written/read?
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

Phew…bit like a game of chess this. Is it my move again? (Apologies to the editor for this lengthy reply)

Those with an axe to grind tend to make statements and claims which they would like to be true and may well impress the uninitiated, but which don’t stand up to scrutiny by those in the know.

This subject is my bread and butter and has been for many years, so I can claim a certain level of expertise and as I don’t have an axe to grind, I can comment objectively on how it actually is on the roads based on speed measurements and analysis - observed and recorded - (detailed vehicle-by-vehicle and second-by-second speed breakdowns for most types of roads) and talking to drivers at the roadside about their behaviour behind the wheel – which inevitably includes their speed - which can sometimes be worth far more than data.

For hopefully the last time then, when measured and calculated properly, the 85th%ile speed gives an indication of the spread of speeds on a road - and that’s all it indicates. It is itself determined by the prevailing speed limit and the physical characteristics of the road. By definition, only a very small number (typically 4 or 5%) actually travel at the 85th%ile and as speeds drop below this, the number of vehicles doing these decreasingly lower speeds increases, peaking at around the 50th%ile (about 30% of vehicles). It does not mean 85% of vehicle are travelling at one specific speed!

Other measurements would work equally well such as average speed, percentage over 30mph or 35mph etc. And if you know one figure you can calculate the others anyway – as long as you are comparing like with like, it probably doesn’t matter except that in the field of traffic engineering and road safety, the 85th has come to be adopted as the recognized speed measure.

It does not however, represent a safe speed or an optimum speed (if it did, more drivers would adopt it in which case it would no longer be the 85th%ile speed anyway) and in urban areas especially, the difference between the stopping distance of a vehicle travelling at the 85th%ile speed compared to one at say the 50th%ile is crucial enough for the authorities to want to try and reduce speeds on these roads.

That’s not to say that driving at the 85th is inevitably dangerous, it’s just that the driver’s safety margin is reduced for the character of that particular road and those drivers who consistently drive at or around the 85th%ile speed are therefore at a higher risk of being involved in a collision than those who don’t - not the other way round as someone has suggested.

I have lost count of the number of drivers I have spoken to who were driving on an urban road at the 85th%ile speed of that road (where it was over the speed limit) who admitted that if they had to, they would not have been able to stop in time to avoid collision. That’s good enough evidence for me.

Yes – high levels of concentration, attention, observation, awareness and intelligence are vital for safe driving as someone has said, however the absence of these elements does almost inevitably lead to higher speeds than are unsafe so, to compensate, outside influences to slow speeds such as enforcement or traffic calming are reluctantly implemented because, at the end of the day, it’s the impact of the moving vehicle that physically breaks the bones, not the mindset of the person behind the wheel.

Case closed and game over! (I hope)
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (7)

I clearly omitted an important word.
I meant "Most drivers (and that is where the 85% applies) will drive SAFELY at a speed which suits their ability, degree of alertness, etc."

I'm afraid your understanding of the 85%ile is so distorted there is no point in continuing. There are other stories on this website that explain that 95% of accidents are caused by human error. Occasionally human error results in increased speed but I would suggest comparatively rarely - most accidents, for example, happen within the speed limit. I've often seen a car travelling slower than the rest on, say, a motorway, only to find they are on the phone. Your ongoing belief that speed is a good indicator of driving ability is misguided and the implication that forcing vehicles to go slower improves safety is unfounded and dangerous wishful thinking.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (4) | Disagree (4)

Interesting opinions Hugh, but is there evidence to support it?

Speed surveys and contributory factors could suggest otherwise. Most drivers exceed speed limits, yet the vast majority of accidents occur when drivers are not speeding.

Also the safest roads, the motorways, are the fastest roads.

The evidence suggests people go faster where they feel safe, and their judgement of safe is largely accurate.

And is there any evidence that "regular users of any particular road tend to adopt roughly the same speed everytime", because I certainly don't and I haven't noticed this when I'm a passenger.

I am rather wondering whether D Hill did any research before commenting.
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (6) | Disagree (7)

Eric has hit the nail on the head but probably not in the way he meant. Whilst the 85th%ile speed does indeed indicate a range of speeds on a particular road at a particular time and could therefore be said to reflect different attitudes to driving, safety, levels of awareness, concentration etc, those driving at this higher speed invariably are not doing so because it “suits their ability” or “degree of alertness”, - it’s typically because they’re “late for work” or “going to pick up the children” or “chatting to their passenger” or “having a delivery to make” or simply “not paying attention”. None of these drivers would claim “I’m driving at this speed because it’s the 85th%ile speed and therefore it’s safer!”. With this unfocussed state of mind so prevalent, I’m afraid these people will be more accident prone.

This is the reality of everyday driving, not a theory based on a graph.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

Apart from the extremes (fast and slow) I see no evidence or argument to suggest that the speed of a vehicle is much of a guide to them being prone to accidents. Most drivers (and that is where the 85% applies) will drive at a speed which suits their ability, degree of alertness, etc.

There is an implication in Damon's view and yours that slower equals safer. That is a misguided.

And is Damon really suggesting a 55mph limit on motorways? The level of boredom/drowsiness induced by having insufficient stimulation is what would frighten me - why do so many 56mph lorries hit things on the hard shoulder? It's because they lose concentration or do other things (as well as driving) to keep them occupied.

Road safety by blanket low speed limits would be doomed to tragic failure.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (5) | Disagree (6)

Eric - Yes you’re right about those factors but as far as I know, the technology does not exist that would allow an observer on the road or at the roadside to measure remotely, drivers’ concentration, observation, anticipation and judgement, however the output (as you put it) of those factors i.e. the degree to which those factors are present, CAN be gauged (with our own eyes) and where necessary, measured by speed measuring devices.

The observed speed that someone drives at in any particular circumstances and their placement on the road with respect to other road users - especially the one in front - are as good an indication as any (short of a scientific experiment) as to whether they are likely to be “accident prone” or “accident free” .

Referring back to Damon Hill’s original comments, I think this is where we came in!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Hugh, I agree with you to a point.

You say "but understanding driver behaviour and their speeds is fundamental to collision reduction and is unfortunately subject to misconceptions".

I fundamentally disagree with "and their speeds". Why pick on that parameter of driving when you could have said "and their level of concentration" or "their observation" or "their anticipation" or "their judgement"? Speed is an output from the driving process and is a very small factor in the quality of someone's driving and will vary between drivers for the same conditions.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Dave - Sorry, not quite right I'm afraid with all due respect. In free-flowing conditions, regular users of any particular road tend to adopt roughly the same speed everytime. Obviously if there are impedances to flow, speeds will drop overall, but will still be in proportion to the established spread in free-flowing conditions. I know I've strayed off the original subject myself, but understanding driver behaviour and their speeds is fundamental to collision reduction and is unfortunately subject to misconceptions.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

A person will not drive down a road at exactly the same speed every single time. A person could have an average of 25mph and an 85%ile of 31mph.

Why? Because conditions change.

Do not confuse each measured speed with a different driver each time.
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (4) | Disagree (5)

Gentlemen.. the question remains unanswered - if as an example, on an urban (30) road the spread of speeds essentially centres around say 25mph, which would typically represent about 30% of the traffic, then how is it deemed that the much smaller number of drivers (approx. 5%) travelling at the 85th%ile speed of probably 30-31mph are 'safer' or 'better', in these particular circumstances? What does this small minority know that induces them to travel faster than the majority? Nothing! It's a road safety myth derived from misinterpreted data. I think these drivers are probably the ones Damon Hill had in mind.
Hugh Jones Cheshire

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Statistics are important because they tell us how the world works, but we must understand them.

The 85%ile is the speed 85% of vehicles do NOT exceed.

After measuring vehicle speeds for 2 days, the 85%ile might be 44mph, which means only 15% of vehicles exceeded that speed, but, as drivers may pass several times, most drivers may well have exceeded 44mph at least once.

If the 85%ile was 44mph, the average speed might be 39mph and 47mph might be the speed 50% of drivers do not exceed!

We must be cautious that we understand what statistics mean.
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

Hugh Jones reveals his lack of understanding by referring to the much larger number travelling at, say, the 50%ile and therefore significantly slower speed". The range of speeds for a given set of vehicles on a given road will be represented by a distorted bell curve.

On, say, a 50mph road in free flowing conditions most may be typically be travelling "around 50mph".

The 50%ile is the speed that 50% exceed. Firstly, that does not necessarily make it "significantly slower" - it could be, say, 45mph.

Malcolm Heymer will have seen data which backs up what we see on the roads, that accidents on 50mph roads are as likely to involve a 30mph vehicle as a 70mph one.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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How can Malcolm Haymer, or anyone else for that matter, possibly conclude that those who "drive in the 80th to 90th percentile speed range have the lowest accident involvement." Another example of people coming up with data, statistics, misconceptions to try and support a view that is flawed. It's not the real world. These are the very people that Damon Hill is referring to. How can the very small number of people driving at the 85th be perceived to know better or be inevitably safer than the much larger number travelling at, say, the 50th%ile and therefore significantly slower speed?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

Journey on any motorway at 70mph in the slow lane and note the majority of vehicles that overtake you. Also note in the overtaking lane (outside), the speed and the distances between the vehicles, sometimes less than a cars length, with suicide aggression mindlessly pushing the car in front to go faster, or get out of the way unless you want me in your boot.

Then those that do not have a clue how to use the acceleration lane and expect the car in the slow lane to move or be side swiped because they have nowhere to go (and it's their God given right to nudge into place), or the motorists in the slow lane that are in cuckoo land oblivious that if they regulate their speed there is room for the vehicles in the slow lane to join.
David Matthews Desborough Northamptonshire

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Maybe strayed off just a liitle bit but it does reflect another side of the coin. However. At which speed would Hugh Jones concentrate more - 30,40,50, or an even higher speed? Accidents happen at any speed including when reversing as can be seen on many occasions in the media whereby people have been killed.

Let's not put all drivers into the same can of worms, some are indeed better than others. As with all tradesmen where we have the cowboys and the competent ones, just like drivers and in all other walks of life. I don't think I need someone behind a camera informing me that I am a danger to others and charging me £60 and three points to inform me of his thoughts on my driving. Let's have the policing as it should be, then maybe we shall see some improvement on the roads.
Reg Oliver Derbyshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

Damon did not say that the speed limit should be 55mph. He pointed out that the current driving test has allowed standards to drop to a level so low that new drivers are only safe at or below 55mph.

However he did not address what is needed to improve driving standards and ability. I guess he just as much at a loss as the politicians are to this point.
Jack Lord

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

One or two people have strayed off the theme of the original news item about Damon Hill's views and have taken the opportunity to remind us (again) of their rather blinkered views on certain other recurring issues.
Hugh Jones Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

Damon Hill is right in one regard - most accidents are caused by lack of attention and concentration. This is the primary cause of road accidents and there is a need for a prolonged public awareness campaign about the necessity for all road users (not just drivers) to give their full attention to what they are doing when using the roads. Driving (or cycling or walking) on public highways should not be seen as a secondary activity.

His 'solution', however, will only make matters worse. If drivers are forced to travel below the natural pace for a road they will switch to auto-pilot, so there would be even fewer alert drivers. Those who drive in the 80th to 90th percentile range have the lowest accident involvement, so slowing down is not the answer - paying attention is!
Malcolm Heymer, Dereham, Norfolk

Agree (12) | Disagree (1)

Everyone can quote RTC figures and KSI, also the costs involved, but how many fail to obtain the cost of those on drugs and alcohol? This, including smoking, far outways the costs of RTCs in the UK and don't forget the above are all self inflicted. I dispair at the driver being persecuted while all the other thousands are afforded such resources. Mind you, they wouldn't have any finances so they are "not a cost effective option" when compared to the driver who is snared into an automated monopoly conveyer belt system of finance generation. Who in their right mind would disband such a lucurative operation? (That also goes for parking.) Just where would they recover the finaces if it wasn't for the driver?
Reg Oliver Derbyshire

Agree (13) | Disagree (7)

Silverstone this weekend, Perez and Maldanardo, bump both at similar speeds, both walk away. Remember Senna? He hit a stationary barrier at speed and died.

The point is that it's speed differential that matters. By raising the upper limit to 80 when the lower 'limit' is tied to 56 - the speed of trucks - then there is a greater speed range and consequently a greater opportunity for serious collisions.

And what's this alleged saving to the economic argument all about? Firstly, what happened to 'set off in good time'? Who would benefit by getting somewhere faster? Other than some less than competent banker! And secondly, I do believe the authorities close motorways for fatalities; a likely outcome from driving faster. So who benefits then?

Damon's idea of slowing all traffic to a roughly similar speed range has got my vote.
Mike Hallam, Ilkeston

Agree (9) | Disagree (10)

I despair when I see people disliking Reg Oliver's description of a speed camera contributing to a hazardous situation. It is a matter of record that people have died in incidents triggered by cameras and it is equally the case that there is no evidence that cameras have or could prevent crashes or casualties. I LIKE what Reg said, I DISLIKE the ongoing belief in the effectiveness of hazard cameras by road safety professionals.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (16) | Disagree (16)

An addition to my previous quote. Yesterday we were travelling on a good stretch of the A623 which has been reduced to 50MPH and is good to travel above the new posted limit. However, the police (and road safety experts) now have a camera parked at a part of the road that one would see as being safe above the limit and is parked every Sunday when HGVs are less in volume and higher than the posted limit could be used safely. As we approached this site a HGV was at the front with one vehicle plus ours at the rear when a Volvo was overtaking all vehicles but noticed the camera vehicle at the last moment and pulled in. This could have caused a serious RTC. This alienates me in no uncertain way and the sooner they are scrapped the better. My wife and my life was put at risk due to these unacceptable operations of so called road safety.
Reg Oliver, Derbyshire

Agree (15) | Disagree (11)

I remember the 50MPH restriction some years back when there was a fuel crisis. I thought it created nightmare situations on the motorways. High speeds are safe if the road and weather conditions are right. Too many drivers seem to maintain the maximum permitted speed even when conditions are poor. Surely that's the issue.
Peter Roffey

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Here is another who classes all drivers as on one level of competence. I also observe poor driving by some, but who detects these drivers? With little or no policing of the roads they become ever more dangerous for others and yet we can afford the luxury of someone sitting behind a camera and generating revenue for C/Cs. As my father of 34 years’ police service used to quote, "One has to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff" which can never be done with the vast neglect of road policing. I drive for economy and also exceed some speed limits although not the NSL. I have only driven for nearly 60 years together with 30 years in HGV maintenance so have only "a little knowledge" in this area which I consider to be adequate for safe driving. When I see some drivers exiting their vehicles at the doctors I wonder just how they control their vehicle(s) as some have two walking sticks and can hardly move.
Reg Oliver

Agree (10) | Disagree (5)

As a former Police Class 1 driver and instructor at a Police driving school I have long maintained that the average driver fails to look far enough ahead. The argument that cars are faster, safer, have better brakes, etc., is wrong when used in support of higher speed limits as most drivers still only look at the tail lights of the vehicle in front of them. The best brakes in the world are of no use if they are not applied, as I believe is the case in about one third of German autobahn fatal crashes.

Lower speeds cause a lot less damage when crashes inevitably occur, and as long as the average driver remains useless I support Damon Hill.
David, Suffolk

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There is no scientific basis for Damom's comments. Around 80% of responsible drivers have very low invovlement in causing crashes - there is only around a 35% chance they will cause a crash where somone is injured in their lifetime. And the crash rates on motorways are lower again - around 20%-30% of the average rate per 100 M km. So there is no issue with 80 mph speed limits on large sections of UK motorways - and many people already travel at close to that speed.
John Lambert, Australia

Agree (15) | Disagree (12)

What utter nonsense! The chance of accidental death in the next hour when in hospital is between 200 and 500 timee greater than on the M1 at 70-80mph. In fact those figures are about 8 years old, so now is 300 and 700 times!

The cost of slowing down traffic by 1mph across the country is between £2bn and £5bn pa in GDP - how many lives would that cost through less government spending on health care?

Yet again we see here the curse and the cult of "celebrity" - people who are well known being given the attention they do not deserve. Another example? Yes Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols on Question Time this week. Why????????

Do me a favour, please do not waste your time and ours reporting this sort of drivel!
Idris Francis Petersfield

Agree (17) | Disagree (21)

It’s only one man’s opinion and he is entitled to that, however right wrong he may be. But do we need to put much faith in it? I think not.

In his first paragraph he gets at least two out of three right, or maybe not. He says that the roads are dangerous, not so, that is a generalisation. It is what we drivers do on the roads that is dangerous. The roads themselves are not.

And we drive too fast, and yes some do but not all, remember the 85% rule without knowing what they do. A bit of Pontius Pilot there I think. To close, yes I would agree with that one but didn’t he drive nose to tail at 200 mph on a racetrack? That bears absolutely no comparison to the roads in general.

But the only reason they drive at 55 mph in the States isn’t because of the human danger element, it’s simply because of their economics. An engine is more efficient at that speed, consuming less fuel.
rob Craven Lancs

Agree (10) | Disagree (5)

Extraordinary reaction from Mr Piechocki. He paints a rosy picture of life on UK roads. There was me thinking the estimated 10,000 collisions on UK roads everyday was down to unsafe/careless driving. There must be another reason then – so what is it? By the way, any reason to think Damon Hill doesn’t drive on the same roads as the rest of us? The difference is, he probably notices more of what’s going on around him!
Hugh Jones South Wirral, Cheshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (10)

Like most aspects of road safety there are arguments for and against Mr Hill's comments. But I note with horror the use of the expression "more slowly than is natural" in the comments. The coming month will be a clear demonstration of the natural capabilities of the human being. Anything beyond this is by definition not natural. There is no natural speed at which all humans drive best, but if there were it would not be expressable in relative terms. Similarly there is no right to proceed at one's chosen speed and tolerate no hindrance, the public highway is there for everyone who choses to use it lawfully. As long as we have drivers who base their actions on these premises we have a problem, not a solution.
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (15) | Disagree (4)

God Bless, Damon. You have reached the ripe old age of 50'ish, possibly going through the male menopause and must be questioning your own mortality. You have survived a life of high speeds and calculated risks. You have driven all those exotic fast cars in many dangerous situations the like of which Mr Average would never encounter. Now must be time to reflect and relax. Damon you state "drive at a sensible pace". Well Damon, ours is going to be a different pace than yours because we are all used to driving on public roads surrounded by some complete idiots at times. We are used to driving on poorly maintained roads, confusing signage, bad lighting, poorly laid out junctions and traffic actually coming the other way. This is why we adjust our speed accordingly. We use speed limits as a guide and drive according to the conditions at the time, if safe we drive at the maximum allowed (some of us exceed that maximum and cause no ill effects) if not safe we reduce our speed. Damon if you want to drive at 55mph then do so it's your choice, but please let others who have the skills and mindset to cope with higher speeds.
Michael Piechocki, retired Police Class 1 driver, Surrey

Agree (23) | Disagree (11)

Damon Hill’s ‘evidence’ for what he says is the evidence of his own eyes, not a report or some statistics. When addressing the problem of traffic collisions, those involved in road safety and traffic engineering have come to rely too much on statistics, analysis, reports, ‘findings’, etc. and should take more note of what is actually happening out there on the public roads i.e. the real world - not casualty statistics on a computer screen.

I think Damon Hill is absolutely right in what he says and I applaud him for saying so and I hope with his public profile and credentials, any observations on this subject should be taken seriously. Damon Hill is probably one of the few drivers out there who really do have a natural affinity for driving and a natural ability to control a vehicle safely at any speed and is probably more qualified than most to make judgements about other drivers’ shortcomings. Too many motorists overestimate their own abilities behind the wheel due to arrogance or ignorance.
Hugh Jones, South Wirral, Cheshire

Agree (14) | Disagree (15)

Does Damon have any evidence for his comments, or does he just believe that other drivers can't possibily be as good as he is?
Dave Finney - Slough

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With mental discipline, one can concentrate at any speed. People underestimate the complexity of driving and do not approach the task appropriately.

Most of the time people get away with poor driving leading to the behaviour continuing.

I think "normal" drivers have the abiltiy to drive safely at more than 55mph so I'll have to disagree with Damon!
Dr James Whalen, Wolverhampton

Agree (24) | Disagree (8)

"What happens when people drive on the roads is that they don’t concentrate, they just think about something else"

Damon, that is what happens when you are forced to drive more slowly than is natural, too slow to keep the driver stimulated. We need to return to 85%ile speed limits, genrally found to lead to the safest roads.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (18) | Disagree (24)