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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 7 (February 1, 1932.)


The frequency of accident by road is due in greatest measure to a desire for speed without due consideration for safety. The question arises, “Why the hurry?” What do all these careless speedsters do with the time saved by pace when they reach journey's end? Are they like the boy with the toboggan, who rides down hill at full speed just to return to the top and “do it again?” Are they financiers who have to attend a meeting at which their presence and brilliancy is needed to solve some intricate business conundrum and turn Motion picturesy into real triumph? Must they scour the country at breakneck speed to the danger of their own and others' lives to manage this? Are they doctors called for an emergency operation, where minutes mean the difference between a patient saved Or lost? Arc they artists or architects who, if not at easel or drawing table by a given time, will lose the urge to produce a soul-inspiring painting or a world-beating building design? Are they poets or writers who find in speed, with an accompaniment of deadly risk, the seeds from which will grow a modern epic of stirring grandeur or a drama of sphere-shaking power?

No. The records of accidents reveal that those who go beyond the dictates of commonsense in speed are in almost all cases really unimportant people who never did anything to get their names in the papers, or otherwise distinguish themselves until receiving brief reference in a road casualty column. Like the easily-overlooked Mrs. ‘Awkins, who “'ad nothink, said nothink, did nothink—till she died,” their only chance of achieving prominence is by taking leave of life in some sudden manner sufficiently spectacular for the press to notice—and the easiest of these ways is by road accident.

It was the declared aim of President Wilson to make the world safe for democracy by helping to reduce war hazards—but the hazards of peace are possibly greater, and they are enormously increased through unheeding hurry on the roadways of city and country alike. Speed, of course, is, like light and space, a matter of relativity. The fifty miles or so an hour which is perfectly safe on straight railway lines, where signal protection guarantees a clear track and right of road ahead, and at the same time ensures ample margin of clearance in the rear, is an invitation to disaster in automobile travel on a winding road, with a flimsy car, or where traffic is at all thick or cross-road vision is obscured. The safety of air travel lies less in speed limitations than in dependable ability to “keep going” at a reasonable elevation, the thinness of traffic and the three-dimensional page 6 steering-ways making collision between air-craft extremely unlikely.

Amongst railroads there has been, perhaps, rather too much effort to establish speed records and institute extremely fast services. Competition for business has, of course, accounted for much of this, but high speeds are costly to maintain, and it is doubtful whether the advertising value of this, taking into consideration the convenience—or otherwise—of passengers, makes the effort economically sound. There is, in every method of transport, a speed which is the best for that service, taking all essential factors into consideration, and it is that speed which should be aimed at. A little cool thought applied over a wide area, an analysis of the desire for speed—which in most instances is merely a form of nervous intoxication—a frequent reiteration of the question “Why the hurry?” and an examination of the answer (with special reference to the purpose for which travel is undertaken), should do much to curb the desire for excessive speeds and to decrease the mounting scale of travel casualties. It is pleasing to observe yet once again, with special reference to this point, that the railways of this country have added another year of Christmas and New Year transport to their record without occasioning one fatality amongst their passengers.