Opinion: Zero tolerance makes highway travel unsafe

Zero tolerance makes for unsafe travel opinion

I regularly drive from my home base in the ’Gong down the Hume Highway to Melbourne. Over the years this trip has become easier and easier, though it has also become more and more boring.

Sure, wide dual-carriageway freeways are a more efficient and safer way of moving lots of traffic around than old two-lane highways, but Australia’s draconian speeding laws make freeway driving one of the most tiresome and boring pursuits a motorist could ever face. The other day 4X4 Australia deputy editor Justin Walker and I had to do the run down the dreaded Doom to Melbourne.

Justin was kind enough to pick me up at sparrow’s fart in Wollongong and, after a 30-minute run along Picton Road, we found ourselves heading south down the Hume Highway. Wanting the journey to finish before it had even begun, we thought we’d better push the envelope, so to speak, so I cracked open the ‘Speedometer’ app on my iPhone and set the cruise control to around nine per cent over the posted limit.

After all, there’s a rumour of a 10 per cent tolerance in NSW and we thought we’d take full advantage of it. While this ‘10 per cent tolerance’ has never been confirmed by the NSW police, a speedo error of 10 per cent used to be written into the Australian Design Rules well before GPS technology could provide a more accurate way for the average punter to confirm their velocity.

We saw a couple of cops on the run down to the Victorian border and, despite our possibly dodgy interpretation of what speed is acceptable to the boys (and girls) in blue in NSW, they left us alone to carry on our merry way.

Other than speed-limited trucks, I reckon more than 50 per cent of the traffic on the Hume Highway that day agreed with our synopsis of just how fast you can go without being pulled over – some were a little more pessimistic while others were far more optimistic, and we spotted a couple of vehicles that must have been barreling along at a dollar thirty or more. Despite the speed discrepancy between vehicles, or perhaps because of it, everyone seemed to happily travel along the freeway in safety and without incident.

More 4x4 Australia opinions

Then we reached the Victorian border. It’s well-known that in Victoria the police have zero tolerance for speeding drivers, even if they’re only a smidge over the limit, by just one or two kilometres per hour. So, once we crossed the Mighty Murray we backed the Disco 5km/h off and set our speed at the posted limit, again using the GPS in the phone to more accurately measure velocity (as an aside, the Disco’s speedo was optimistic by around six per cent).

Everyone around us, also aware of the zero-tolerance attitude south of the border, did likewise, resulting in what I refer as the Victorian Shuffle.

The Victorian Shuffle is where all the cars, buses and trucks on the freeway are travelling at almost exactly the same speed. Of course, there will be tiny variations in speed between vehicles, which will result in some of them trying to pass others.

The trouble is that trying to pass another vehicle when you’re only travelling 1km/h faster can take a very, very long time and, as a result, you can end up with groups of vehicles all travelling in close packs at very similar but slightly different speeds. In other words, the Victorian Shuffle, where everyone is scared of exceeding the speed limit by even the tiniest amount, results in vehicles travelling in close proximity for longer periods of time.

Obviously, the closer and longer vehicles are to each other, the greater chance of an accident, either through the lack of physical distance between vehicles or pent-up driver frustration. Yep, the Victorian Shuffle sucks, and it’s about time the powers that be reintroduced a bit of tolerance when it comes to speeding in Victoria.

Not too much, of course, because as we’ve all been told “Speed Kills”, but just enough to put some separation between vehicles once again. And, at the very least, the coppers down south should be able to use their discretion when it comes to booking drivers for speeding.

Get the latest info on all things 4X4 Australia by signing up to our newsletter.