Whilst no-one should condone irresponsible driving, and driving at a speed which is higher than the road conditions safely allow is clearly irresponsible, the current approach to setting speed limits, their enforcement and the resulting penalties imposed for breach is over-simplistic and over-punitive.
1) The problem with road speed limits is that they can only ever be set as a subjective guideline. i.e. What might be a relatively safe speed on a particular road on a summer's evening in clear, dry conditions may be wholly unsuitable on a snowy winter's morning during rush hour.
2) Further, there are many examples of road speed limits being reduced arbitrarily where there have been no obvious changes to the surrounding road conditions. Why is this allowed?
3) Making breach of any speed limit a criminal offence, with the associated fines or court appearance, insurance premium impact and emotional worry involved, seems unreasonably disproportionate to what is essentially a victimless crime. (Note that speeding in itself is victimless but accidents resulting from excessive, unsafe speeds are not).
4) Current enforcement of speed limits is laughably apathetic. Given that we now have the roadside technology to validate the average speed of most journeys, we could theoretically enforce limits with zero tolerance. However, this would no doubt be rather unpopular and seen as infringement of civil liberties. Currently, whether you get caught speeding is mostly down to (bad) luck and it's a chance that most of the public seem willing to take at most times. This makes a nonsense of the "limits" that have been set.
5) The arguments that lower speeds, enforceable through lower limits, mean lower risk are facile. Everyone understands that if we all drove at two miles per hour (preferably with a man walking in front with a red flag), then there'd be fewer accidents, injuries and deaths. However, no-one seems to think that enforcing a two mile per hour limit is a great idea. Why? Because drivers accept a certain level of risk every time they take to the road – setting and enforcing an arbitrary speed limit, which is largely ignored, does little to reduce this risk level.
6) The fact is that the vast majority of the Great British public do not obey the set speed limit. Rather, they use common sense and experience to determine what is a safe speed given constantly changing road parameters. Given that the government's job is to reflect the will of the people, then why is the majority being ignored?
7) What other British law is there (and I'm sure someone can think of one?) which constantly varies depending on your geographical location and point in time? If a driver is concentrating on an oncoming tractor, and fails to notice the speed limit changing from 40mph to 30mph due to temporary roadworks, is it fair that they can subsequently be charged with breaking the law?
So, my suggestion is to change the law and convert speed limits to speed guidelines where travelling at a higher speed than the guideline is no longer a criminal offence. We should refocus current "enforcement" efforts on educating drivers to travel with a higher level of personal responsibility and treating excessive speed as an aggravating factor in any dangerous driving charge.
Why is this idea important?
This idea saves bureaucratic and judicial time and money, whilst providing a fairer system for all and reflecting the current (albeit governmentally unpalatable) reality.
It also empowers people to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions – this is what a "Big Society" is all about, right? 🙂