At various points in the past, I’ve followed some of the car forums on the web, and/or bought the magazines. I’ve mostly enjoyed them, but eventually I’ve found them all winding me up intensely. Why? Speed cameras.

Unless you’re exposed to the steaming screeds, it’s hard to understand just how much vitriol speed cameras engender in the motoring enthusiast. The merest mention, and correspondents will immediately turn bright red in the face as they go way off the deep end, leading to a corresponding backlash from people adopting the infuriatingly pious moral high-ground, followed by sniping and snapping and… eventually, somebody trots out some minor variation on the line:

“Speed doesn’t kill. Bad driving kills.”

And this, dear reader, is what drives me up the wall. It’s one of those delightfully terse phrases that people appear willing to accept without question, and yet the argument it presents seems to me entirely fallacious.

Speed doesn’t kill. Bad driving doesn’t kill. What kills is hitting people with a car.

Both excessive speed and bad driving will increase the risk of hitting somebody, and excessive speed will also increase the risk of death following an impact. Risk does not imply causality, sure, but it’s a good predictor.

I wonder if it’s time to introduce a new subject in schools, that combines rhetoric with elementary logic and – now here’s radical – basic statistics. Surely it would serve society if a greater proportion of it could identify fallacious arguments, construct valid statements, and understand the concepts of supporting evidence and proof of falsehood. There’s a lot being said about how Science should be ‘the fourth R’, but I’m starting to think that it should be Argument. For most people, the scientific method is more useful than science itself.

3 thoughts on “Speeding”

  1. I’m inclined to agree with you. In fact, I could get quite curmudgeonly about how the notion of proof has been steadily eliminated from the curriculum; instead, kids today are taught how to be programmed by computers. But I could also get quite enthusiastic about a subject with core textbooks by Darrell Huff and Raymond Smullyan.
    I’m also inclined to place more than technical significance on the essentially technical result by Curry and Howard to the effect that Logic and Programming are (in some senses) quite alike. Teaching kids to program gives them a very tangible understanding of holes in reasoning: the wrong stuff happens.

  2. What pisses me off is phrases like ‘speed was a contributory factor in n% of accidents’.
    *Breathing* is a contributory factor in 100% accidents. HIgh speeds aren’t the problem; it’s *relative* speeds that cause trouble, and *inappropriate* velocities. The latter can be driving too fast for the conditions, as well as driving too damn’ slow.

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