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Friday 2nd January 2004.

Wrong Gear

New research suggests that 74% of drivers in built-up areas may be breaking the speed limit by mistake, simply because they're in the wrong gear.

The survey was commissioned by this programme in conjunction with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). It was carried out by Mori in December. Three quarters of the drivers questioned admitted that when they're driving in a 30 mile an hour zone they sometimes or often inadvertently creep above the speed limit.

More than 6 in 10 of the drivers questioned in the survey said that they'd choose fourth or fifth gear in a 30 zone. The Institute of Advanced Motorists, who run courses in advanced driving skills, say many of these drivers will be needlessly picking up speeding tickets because they are driving in the wrong gear.

The institute say the optimum gear for most cars in urban areas is third. They say modern cars are so powerful that driving in higher gears tends to pull the speed up without drivers realising it.

Drivers have traditionally been taught to shift through the gears as quickly as possible to maximise fuel efficiency. A senior Ford engineer told the BBC this advice should still apply, as modern cars were comfortable in fourth or fifth at 30 miles an hour.  But the society of motor manufacturers and traders supported the view that third gear offered more control, more flexibility and greater possibility of keeping to the speed limit.

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