The fast and furious ways of Steve and Juju

2013-12-22 14:00

“Yes, look, this must be the most attention ever for a speeding violation,” Steve Hofmeyr joked on Twitter after being caught speeding on Thursday night.

He also suggested that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, who was trapped on the same night elsewhere in Gauteng, was given steeper bail because he was “a flight risk”.

That’s because singer Hofmeyr was trapped at 169km/h, while Malema was bust at 215km/h (the speed at which an aircraft can take off).

However, forensic experts do not share Hofmeyr’s sense of humour, particularly as the December road death toll this week climbed to 600. Speeding is often a factor in crashes.

Konrad Lötter, a forensic engineer who investigates road accidents, says 60km/h is the speed at which car crashes already start “getting serious”.

“If the speed exceeds 90km/h, you can be sure people are going to die,” he said.

And at Hofmeyr and Malema’s reported speeds?

“You are not able to control a vehicle at that speed,” Lötter said.

Stan Bezuidenhout, an accident reconstruction specialist, did a few calculations.

At the speed that Hofmeyr was reportedly going (169km/h), a car travels 47 metres per second.

If you assume your Perception Reaction Time (PRT) – the time it takes you to observe something in the road ahead of you and to apply the brakes – is between one and a half and two and a half seconds, then 250m (the average person can’t even see that far) is too little time to swerve out of the way.

Lötter says this is an “oversimplification”, because your PRT is actually well below two seconds.

At an estimated PRT of two and a half seconds, Hofmeyr’s car would have travelled between 70.4m and 117.4m (about 23 times the car’s length) before he could even have applied the brakes.

It would have taken between 131.8m and 172.4m (35 car lengths) before his vehicle would have come to a stop – a total of 289.8m.

At the speed that Malema was allegedly travelling, a car travels 60m per second, so 350m would therefore have been too little for him to swerve out of the way for a pedestrian.

His vehicle would have travelled between 89.7m and 149.5m (30 car lengths) before he could have braked and between 213.3m and 278.9m (55 car lengths) to come to a stop – 430m in total.

“Speed is not a cause; it’s a result,” Lötter says.

“If you drive that fast, it’s because you decided to drive that fast.”

Bezuidenhout says there isn’t even a vehicle on South African roads that can withstand a collision at 150km/h or faster.

Both Malema and Hofmeyr, meanwhile, have apologised for their fast and furious ways.

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