What is a Safe Speed

by Stuart Livesey

Speed sign
I was just wandering around Motormouth, an interesting Australian automotive website and I was attracted by the results of one of the polls they ran a few weeks ago. The question was:

What speed do you think it is reasonable to travel at in a 60km zone in good conditions?

And the answers were pretty much what you would expect. Some thought that 60km/h was a reasonable speed, a few more thought that travelling somewhere between 55km/h and 59km/h was ok and something less than 25% of respondents thought that it was ok to travel at anything up to 65km/h.

But what do the final arbiters of what is a safe speed and the courts think is a safe speed? The answer may not be what you were expecting.

Many years ago I spent a lot of time in the New South Wales District and Supreme Courts, it was part of my job to be there and, at times, it was quite an interesting place to be. One of the Court cases that I was present for was an appeal in the Bathurst District Court that arose out of a guilty finding in a motor vehicle accident that had occurred on one of the widest streets in Bathurst.

At that time Bentinck Street in Bathurst was very very wide and it was tarred from kerb to kerb. Early one morning in the late 1970s an ordinary motorist was driving down Bentinck Street when he was involved in an accident with another vehicle.

It was one of those weird accidents were the road conditions were excellent, visibility was good and there were only two vehicles on the road at the time.

As I recall both drivers were charged but the one who was appealing his conviction was originally charged with something like “driving in a dangerous manner” and the dangerous manner of his driving hinged on the speed that he was travelling at.

He’d been convicted in the lower court and felt rather hardly done by so he appealed. The grounds of his appeal was that he was driving at the speed limit (60km/h) in excellent conditions (a matter not contested by the police) so how could that possibly be construed as dangerous.

To make a long story a little shorter, he lost the appeal and the Judge’s reasoning was that the speed limit had no relevance to the case at all. The fact of the matter was that the driver had collided with another vehicle so, no matter what speed he was doing, it was dangerous in the circumstances.

So do you always travel at a safe speed?

What is a Safe Speed
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