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The theory dependence of interpretation

April 26th, 2006 · No Comments · Eduspaces

Heard on Radio 4 (UK) this morning: Motorists who have 4 points on their licenses for being caught by speed cameras are 50% more likely to have been involved in an accident than motorists with no points for speeding. The ‘clear message’ of this according to a road safety organisation is it is irrefutable evidence that speed causes accidents.

Wrong. This is a prior theory (or wishful thinking) imposing a preferred but illegitimate interpretation on ‘the evidence’. Given that most people that get caught by speed cameras didn’t see them it is entirely possible that getting caught by speed cameras and being involved in accidents are both related to poor observational skills. In other words, fast drivers caught by speed cameras are exactly that, a sample of all possible fast drivers self-selected by their lack of observation. It is entirely likely that many drivers who speed (maybe even the majority) do not have accidents and are not caught by speed cameras because their observational skills protect them from both.

I would like to argue that it is inappropriate speed by non-observant drivers that causes accidents, not speed per se. Or, speed kills but mostly in particular circumstances.

If correct, what are the policy implications of this? Who knows, but training in observation may be part of the answer. For instance, the training for the Advanced Motorcycling Test, conducted according to the police rider’s system, places great emphasis on observation and riding to a constantly updated ‘riding plan’. Having had the benefit of following a number of fast experienced police motorcyclists it is clear that the fastest rider from A to B is the one whose observation allows the maintenance of optimum speed at all times, not the one that reaches the higher mph (and ends up with the hottest brakes and whitest hair and possible doesn’t arrive at B at all). As a matter of interest research by insurance companies and road safety organisations shows that motorcyclists are significantly less likely to be involved in car accidents than non-motorcycling drivers, and advanced motorcyclists even less so.

Perhaps every motorist should be obliged to undertake advanced motorcycling training, although this might introduce an unacceptable Darwinian element into driving instruction.


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