Police over-estimate speed as crash cause

A specially trained police unit needs to investigate motorcycle crashes as general duties police too easily blame speed, a rider group suggests.

The Motorcycle Council of NSW (MCCNSW) says proper crash investigation would reveal the real causes of motorcycle crashes and help prevent further accidents and deaths.

The call for specially trained police comes in the MCCNSW’s latest “position paper” and follows papers calling for rewards for rider training and bigger fines for mobile phone misuse.

Spokesman Peter Ivanoff says NSW Road authorities claim that speed is the biggest killer on our roads, blamed for 40% of all crashes.

Speed cause ‘low’

He says speed is blamed in “every single road crash” yet it is “rarely the actual cause of a road crash”.

Peter points to a 1997 British Transport Laboratory study that found excessive speed was to blame in less than 8% of crashes and a 2005 US study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Technical University put the figure at less than 7%. (*See below for more study details.)

“More importantly, (the US study) showed that in almost 80% of these adverse incidents it involved driver inattention within three seconds, prior to the incident,” Peter says.

Who probes crashesNSW Police helmet bluetooth - helmet camera road rage helmet cameras speed

In NSW and most other states, general crash investigation reports are prepared by general duties police, who are not trained specialist crash investigators. 

“The current investigations are flawed as the purpose and extent of any investigation of a crash is designed to facilitate traffic offence prosecutions and in the case of serious traffic crashes, the possibility of criminal offences,” Peter says.

“These police reports ensure an accurate outline of what happened in a crash, but often fail to discover why the crash happened.

“Consequently, little or no reliable crash cause data is gleaned from police attendance at road crashes.

“Police report data is then interpreted with algorithms to determine speed as a factor in the crash. These algorithms significantly over-estimate the role speed plays in all vehicle crashes, and in particular, motorcycle crashes.”

Peter says the UK uses specially selected and educated police to conduct road crash investigation who do not initiate prosecutions for traffic offences, but focus on the crash cause only.

“The MCCNSW proposes that NSW Police continue to prosecute traffic offenders involved in road crashes and road safety authorities implement proper road crash investigation for the key purpose of understanding true crash causation,” Peter says.

MCCNSW position paper on speed also proposes the following to improve road crash reporting:

  • In the short-term, lobby to have algorithms that determine speed as a cause in motorcycle crashed changed to better reflect the crash characteristics of motorcycles; and
  • In the long-term, all road crashes to be investigated by specially selected and trained police who can determine why a crash occurred.

*UK and US studiesVictory police motorcycles speed

  • In 1997, the British Transport Laboratory undertook a project called TRL323 to better standardise reporting of road crashes throughout the UK. Using this new reporting, they re-examined road crashes in eight policing jurisdictions in the UK and found that less than 8% of all road crashes involved exceeding speed limits as a causal factor. It clearly identified driver ‘inattention’ as the biggest causal factor in road crashes. 
  • In 2005, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with Virginia Technical University, conducted a long-term “Naturalistic Driving Study”, involving more than 42,000 hours of captured in-car footage from 100 participant cars and 241 drivers. The results showed that excessive speed was a causal factor in just 7% of ‘adverse incidents’ recorded.