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We Brits have always had a respectful fascination with speed. Indeed every motorway up and down the land is festooned with the spectacularly vivid warning  that ‘speed kills!’ Although this is not always technically, factually, statistically or even grammatically correct, we get the picture! The first motor vehicle fatality in England was in Crystal Palace in 1896, when a woman who walked in front of a car was run over. The vehicle was travelling at 4 mph! It is however a fact that drivers who drive at speeds inappropriate to the manoeuvres that they are undertaking, sometimes kill, or are sometimes themselves killed. The first recorded motor vehicle fatality, in what was then Great Britain, was in 1869 when a woman was thrown from a steam car that was going too fast around a bend!

The  country with the highest national speed limit in the world is Poland (87 mph). Germany has a national speed limit of 81 mph, but on some parts of the Autobahn there are no speed limits. The Isle of Man, which is not part of the UK, but is a Crown Dependency, also does not have a national speed limit. Incidentally, Germany like the UK (especially on the M25) is a great fan of computer-based variable speed limits. Canada has the lowest motorway speed limits in the world. Typically these are anywhere between 43 mph and 68 mph. The American States’ speed limits vary between 56 mph and 80 mph. The French national speed limit is between 68 mph and 80 mph. Ireland’s national speed limit is 74 mph.

The first speeding ticket, for exceeding a speed limit, in England was issued in 1861, when someone drove faster than 10 mph! It certainly wasn’t the last speeding ticket to be issued! Indeed around 2 million speeding offences are committed annually, in the UK. Surely the warning signs should say ‘kill your speed or risk a fine!’ Not as dramatic, but definitely more truthful!

On a serious note, excessive speed on our roads is a menace that is not to be taken lightly. Since 2010 there have been approximately 1,800 road deaths in Britain every year. In 2004 the figure was nearly 3,500, so there has been a significant improvement, no doubt in part due to the advent of speed awareness courses, which are sometimes offered in place of points to first or infrequent offenders.

Apart from risk of death, excessive speed can lead to loss of liberty. In the worst cases, speeders can be charged with dangerous driving (maximum sentence 2 years imprisonment). The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years, and the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving is 5 years. Maybe if this was publicised more, perhaps by warning signs, people would drive more carefully.

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