Opinion > Speed limits for restricted licence holders 

I'd like to challenge thinking on whether or not a P–plater should be restricted to a lower speed limit than full licence drivers. The issues are that of car control, and how a speed limit actually benefits road safety. Let's start with the latter.

A speed limit works in two ways: a) it restricts speed to a limit at which it is considered dangerous to exceed and b) it keeps traffic together, at more or less the same speed. Whether or not doing over 100kph is dangerous for you (a highly regarded racing driver, driving your Ferrari on an empty road in fine conditions) is of course a point of argument in itself. For now, try to ignore this part of the equation and concentrate on the 'minimal difference' aspect. When vehicles are travelling in close proximity, and their speeds are almost the same, there is more time to react to any issue. If someone travelling 5kph faster changes lanes unexpectedly, you have a lot more time to react than if the difference were 40kph.

I'm going to go out on a limb now and say that this is the MAJOR benefit of speed limits and that it doesn't matter greatly whether the limit is 90 or 100, 70 or 80, so long as traffic is moving en–masse.

This now brings us to the question of a 90kph limit for Learners and red P–platers and 100 for those on green Ps. I'd have to agree that in the case of learners, car control is of greater concern, but let's consider the P–platers first. Why are we forcing them to be the odd ones out in the flow of traffic? They become the brunt of abuse, however unreasonable it may be, and are constantly devoid of the major protection that a speed limit brings. You think not? Try travelling in a tiny car with red Ps, and being monstered by a huge truck wanting to do 100. The 40 tonne monster behind wants to get by and the driver is impatient because he's already running late. How can this benefit anyone? How can anyone think this is safe?

So, why is the restriction there? Well, it can only be because we don't yet trust a new driver to do the higher speeds. Surely not – they've done 120 hours of training to get their licence and they still can't control a car at more than 90kph? Then who gave them a licence in the first place? Does anyone seriously think that it's safer to have EVERY P–plater travelling at a speed different to the prevailing traffic flow, just in case one of them is incompetent enough to not handle the higher speed?

My suggestion is to abandon the artificial limits for P–platers and let them drive along with the rest of us. We'll all be better off!

But what about the L–platers?

I knew you'd ask! Yes, the issue of being able to control a car at speed is of far more concern here, so let's consider what would happen if we removed the restriction and let L–platers drive at the normal speed limit.

  • Remember that they MUST have a fully licensed driver sitting alongside them. Such a person should never allow them to venture into high–speed traffic if they were not ready for it, just as they shouldn't go into peak–hour traffic, or any other situation demanding good skills, until they have mastered lesser exercises. Maybe we should teach the teachers a little more!
  • The learner would be able to travel along with the traffic and not be a mobile chicane.  Just think for a second about the attitude of a policeman to someone doing 80 in a 60 zone. Now tell me why it's dangerous there, but supposedly perfectly safe for someone to be doing 90 and another driver doing 110 on the same piece of road, especially considering one is a learner!
  • Learners with no restrictions could be taught how to behave in motorway traffic, something that is impossible when they are stuck in the slow lane with everyone changing lanes and abusing them.
  • Would we have more high–speed crashes? I really doubt it, given that learners are, statistically, the safest of all road users. Their instructors should be warning them of danger, so two pairs of eyes are working. Learners tend to obey the three–second 'rule' much more than other drivers and are far less likely to become impatient and aggressive.