Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
120. Various local authorities have taken to
putting up an odd collection of assorted signs to highlight 30
mph limits which may be green fluorescent signs on lamp posts
and big signs by the roadside reminding motorists. Is there any
suggestion that, where authorities have taken individual action,
it has had an impact on speed limits?
(Dr Kimber) There is a difficulty here because anything
that looks odd or different will produce some sort of behavioural
reaction, and it does not necessarily follow that if you adopted
that generally it would produce the same behavioural reaction.
Local initiatives of that sort are studied from time to time and
usually they have a local impact, but it is not clear how that
could necessarily be rolled out. What I think is mainly missing
is a sense of clarity and coherence in terms of the type of road,
its function and the speed limit that attaches to it.
121. On the subject of speed cameras concerns
have been raised with me that the current rules require the siting
of speed cameras to take place after a serious incident rather
than before. Can you give me your assessment based on the work
that you have done of whether you believe that that policy is
(Mr Lynam) : There are two ways in which speed cameras
can be used: one is to focus on sites which are high risk, and
the focus there, if it is a localised site, is one where you need
to demonstrate to the motorist that it is high risk and you need
to get a rapid change of speed at that site. There is a broader
issue in the question which is how you use cameras and enforcement
generally as part of the broader policy alongside publicity and
education to demonstrate to people that not only are you simply
putting up speed limits and making statements about educationyou
are trying to get across riskbut you are also enforcing
that, and that was the combination that went together in the typical
drink driving example that is often quoted, though we recognise
in the speed example it is a lot more difficult. So those two
are slightly different. There is a third complication which is
that many of the individual high risk sites are not now localised,
small sites but extended along lengths of road, and in that case
you are needing to affect the drivers and get them to recognise
the higher risk along the length of road. It is important then
that mobile camera operation comes into play rather than fixed
122. Dr Carsten, I assume that if you do not
agree you will make your views clear.
(Dr Carsten) Yes.
123. Could I ask all the witnesses their view
on the proposition that if the legal speed limit is increased
from, shall we say, 30-35 mph and 70-80 mph, the median speed
travelled by motorists will be considerably higher than that?
(Professor Allsop) I think all the experience is yes.
We have a general culturethough this may be changing somewhat
through speed camerasthat there is a tolerance in enforcement.
We are all allowed a little margin for error and, of course, it
would not be in the interests of good relationships between the
police and the motorists if there were unduly officious enforcement
for very small amounts of excess speed and, therefore, I think,
certainly until cameras began to be used in urban areas, there
was a very widespread feeling that you were all right up to about
ten mph over the limitthat is, 30 mph really meant you
could be in the 30s but not in the 40sand, similarly, right
up to 70 mph and 80 mph on motorways. Although you may achieve,
over a considerable period, a change in this culture, I do not
think it would be quick and, therefore, at least in the short
term, the tendency will be for the speed distribution to move
upwards when a limit is raised.
124. That was my next question. Does it necessarily
follow that, if the legal speed on motorways with a 70 mph limit
is raised to 80 mph, because we heard evidence from Mr Dawson
that that is the case, everybody would be doing 90 mph and so
on? Is there evidence to suggest that would necessarily happen?
(Dr Carsten) I think there is evidence from other
countries that that is the case because I think other countries
with higher speed limits have similar numbers, as Richard indicated,
in excess of the speed limit. So it is almost inevitable that
people will adopt the same margin and speeds will creep up.
125. Can I ask about attitudes and changing
public perceptions, which has been I think a theme through all
our evidence this morning? I have two particular questions: what,
if any, is the correlation between our propensity to break the
speed limit and to speed and the motor car industry that puts
adverts on our television of motor vehicles that will do 0-60
in five seconds and where we all drive in wide open spaces in
the middle of deserts?
(Dr Carsten) Concerning correlation, we have done
research that shows that speeding is correlated with other kinds
of negative driving behaviours, which I think is the important
point. The car industry obviously creates this illusion of freedom.
Unfortunately the people who are prone to very excessive speeding
are the same ones who are prone to very close following, red light
violation and to other forms of road law infraction, so it is
not the case that speeding is risk-free, as the car industry likes
to portray it. It is accompanied by a whole host of other negative
126. I understand that but I am seeking to get
your expert opinion. In terms of public attitude, we need to consider
how we make speeding a social evil like drinking and driving is
now and I am trying to get your view as to whether you believe
that the industry has a responsibility here, as well as producing
safe cars and so on, in terms of public perception?
(Professor Allsop) You ask about belief: my belief
is there can hardly not be a connection, but I have to admit that
I do not have hard evidence.
127. Lastly, on road designs and particularly
home zones which some of us have seen in the Netherlands, it appears
there is a difference in view between those that think there is
more scope for home zones in the UK to be introduced and the TRL
who, I think, are not so keen.
What is your view about that sort of concept, as well as better
(Professor Allsop) My view about that
is that you have to look at what the area is like that you have
in mind for a home zone to begin with. If it has a general nature
in terms of wideness and narrowness of streets and the purposes
the streets are serving that would lend itself at reasonable cost
to changing, and it is a question of changing the physical surroundings
at reasonable cost to produce a different behaviour, if there
is a reasonable prospect of doing that and if the local people
want it or at least are acquiescent in it, and especially, of
course, if there are children or more frail, older people using
these streets, then all this argues in favour of it being a candidate
for a home zone that will be effective at reasonable cost. On
the other hand, there are other kinds of residential development
where it is probably over-ambitious, at least in the present state
of attitudes to choice of speed, to go straight to a home zone
and where, first of all, strict enforcement aided by limited engineering
change of 30 mph may be a first step: a 20 mph zone, then, a second
step. As I understand it, there is a large demand up and down
the country now for residents wanting their areas converted to
20 mph zones, and I think we should build on this by getting ahead
with it. Of course, let us try home zones and see how quickly
people are ready to have those on a larger scale but, to begin
with, we must be relatively careful with selected cases, I think.
128. Much of the evidence we have had this morning
seems to be saying that it is important we get motorists on our
side in terms of speed limits being appropriate for particular
roads and environments and where motorists can see the rationale
behind why speed limits are different for different sections of
road. Is that fair?
(Professor Allsop) Yes, I think so, and that goes
back to the idea of the self-explaining road. The self-explaining
road is an ideal that, as you drive along, from various cues about
road markings, the width of the road, the planting, the general
layout, you should feel like driving at what we have decided is
about the appropriate speed for that road. Of course, that is
a very long way away but there are many things we can do step
by step to move towards it. To go back to the repeater sign question,
the difficulties of moving quickly to extensive use of 30 mph
repeaters were correctly put forward by Dr Kimber but the further
we get towards most of the road system seeming logical to the
motorist, the more of a role the repeater signs may have. In the
exceptional cases where we cannot achieve the right change in
appearance but where we know, on safety grounds, that the low
limit is justified, there then may be a well-defined role for
129. Taking you on to a different area, perhaps
we are beginning to win the arguments there and there is a recognition
from the majority of motorists that speed over 30 mph in a 30
mph limit can kill; it is dangerous; but people who take that
view and who would try very hard to stick to a 30 mph limit would
happily get on a motorway and exceed the 70 mph limit and feel
they are absolutely doing nothing wrong; they are not going to
get caught; it is safe and, what is more, they start to fix their
own safety limit. Some feel 80 mph is safe, some feel 90 mph,
some 95 mph. We are nowhere near winning that battle at all, are
(Dr Kimber) I think that is true in the literal sense.
The main point, though, is that the risk per mile driven on motorways
is substantially less than it is on any other type of road and,
therefore, whilst risk increases with speed on motorways, we believe
the imperative for containing speed is very much stronger on other
types of road.
(Dr Carsten) I think we do know exactly what you have
outlinednamely, that the variability between the speed
in different parts of the traffic stream going up means motorways
become more unsafe. Quite a lot of research literature shows that.
What we also know is that, if we top off the very extreme of a
speed limit, and cut people off from driving at 90 mph or driving
at 100 mph or whatever, we can get the average motorist on that
road to his or her destination faster than by smoothing out the
traffic flow. So driving more slowly, rather contrary to what
the average person in the street might believe, will get you to
your destination faster.
130. But in terms of getting recognition that
speed limits are what they are and are going to be enforced and
people are going to comply with them, would it not be better on
motorways and better accepted if the limit was taken up to 80
mph and then enforcedso that 85 mph was not acceptable
and neither was 90 mphand on the argument put to us before
about most accidents on motorways being car-to-car and not involving
pedestrians being hit, 80 would be as safe today as 50 or 60 was
with the lower safety of cars when the 70 mph limit was first
(Dr Carsten) Briefly, we have heavy goods vehicles
and coaches which are speed-governed on motorways: that means
we would increase the variance between those vehicles, so are
you suggesting we should also increase, which would be contrary
to European regulations, the national speed limit for HGVs? Otherwise
we would have a situation where we would have lots of slow-moving
HGVs and lots of very fast-moving cars, which is extremely undesirable.
(Mr Lynam) The question is why should people obey
the 80 mph limit and why should that be more appropriate rather
than the 70 mph limit now? The risk with the 70 mph limit now
is affected very much not by the fact that it is a large open
road which you can speed on but by driving behaviour, and there
is a very high risk in a situation where you are travelling at
70 mph and you have other cars around you at very close distances,
so the key to that is changing driving behaviour standards on
those roads if you want to accept that they can be driven on at
a higher speed.
(Professor Allsop) Briefly, I think I would be quite
temptedI am not promisingto buy your argument if
I could see a way in which we could say to motorists, "Right,
from next week the limit is going to be 80 mph and that is going
to be enforced", but the trouble is, in the motorway system,
unless we went in for very extensive technology and gained public
acceptance for very large numbers in the first instance of camera
detections followed through, I do not really see a prospect of
enforcement on motorways other than for the really blatant speeders
who police can pull over. I do not think that is going to change
quickly and, until it changes, despite the contradiction between
perhaps allowing ourselves to be not too uncomfortable with 80
mph for 70 mph on motorways and wanting to do away with the 40
mph for 30 mph in urban areas, despite the apparent illogicality
of that, that is more practical to live with than trying to do
what you suggest.
131. I just wanted to come back on what David
Lynam was saying about change in driver attitude. We all know
that the most casualties are caused by the fastest drivers, if
you look at the statistics, so I ask all of you, or any one of
you, how are we going to persuade these fast drivers to drive
slower because they are the ones causing the fatalities and the
casualties? How are we going to do it?
(Mr Lynam) I will answer in two ways. First of all,
at the moment it is not only just the fastest drivers who are
speeding: the speeding issue is much broader than that. There
is a general issue about changing attitudes to speeding. In terms
of the means of doing it, as we said earlier, it has to be a combination
of education, people understanding the risk, coupled with enforcement
and with understanding which sort of behaviours contribute to
the higher risk. In that sort of situation it is not just the
information on whether speed itself has more or less risk associated
with it but whether the other driving behaviour has more or less
risk associated with it. In terms of enforcement, if you can start
movingas was done with drink drivingthe general
attitudes of the population to be more positive, then you are
in a far easier position to isolate the minority and deal with
them in a different way. Again, taking the alcohol example, there
is now different legislation for high risk offenders and people
who persistently offend at high level; that is the way the general
trend in regulation has moved in response to that ability to change
132. Quickly, briefly, on motorway speed, has
any research been done by any of you into what speed the average
motorist feels comfortable at in current circumstances, because
there is this hypothetical motorist doing ten miles more than
you give them but lots will not because they are not comfortable
at driving more than 70 mph?
(Dr Kimber) There has been research on the determinants
of drivers' choice of speed, and those determinants seem mainly
to do with the general road environment. There is no doubt that,
over the years, the development in vehicles towards quieter vehicles
and so on has encouraged people to drive fast.
Dr Pugh: But have you asked the average British
motorist what speed they feel comfortable at on a motorway and
what speed they would not go to anyway, if they had an option?
133. It does not sound very scientific!
(Mr Lynam) I do not think there is a single answer
simply because it depends on the conditions of the motorway.
134. I am talking about standard, good, driving
conditions, with no major problems. No fog.
(Mr Lynam) I am not talking about weather conditions;
I am talking about traffic. If there are goods vehicles in the
inner lane, people feel uncomfortable with that and they feel
they want to move to the outer lane.
Dr Pugh: I am talking about in ideal circumstances.
It is a reasonable question. We have to ask what limit people
will not go naturally over.
135. I think we can take it you have not found
those parameters yet?
(Mr Lynam) No.
136. What is the bigger problem? Is the issue
that the research that you have already done is not being applied,
or do we need any more research at all?
(Dr Carsten) I am a career researcher, you might say,
so I would always answer that we need more research, but I would
also say that we do know much about the scope of the problem.
For example, on the question that came up earlier about what percentage
of accidents involve excess of speed and what the relationships
are there, I think we know the answer to that, in spite of what
the RAC Foundation said. Our answer to that is 20 per cent of
injury accidents are related to drivers exceeding the posted speed
limit, so one can use the evidence in the research and put it
together to piece out an answer. We know a lot about this problem.
There are specific problems and issues that we need further work
on: one of them is how best to design the self-explaining roads
that Richard mentioned; another is, for example, what would be
the best speed limits to use if we move to a system where speed
limits change with the traffic conditions, with the road conditions
and so on, and how you would propagate those into the vehicle,
so there is plenty of research to be done but on the fundamentals
I think we know the answer.
137. Where does the problem lie, then? You have
done research. The lessons seem to be very clear from what you
have submitted to us and what you have said to us this morning,
but something stops that being used to make a change. Is it that
the policy-makers do not know, or that they have conflicting points
(Professor Allsop) I think that in relation to the
engineering of the road to approximate more closely to the self-explaining
road, to get more speed reduction, more speed limits, the sheer
size and detailed nature of the job is a very considerable problem.
We not only need more budgetand there has been, of course,
more budget for work on local roads of this kindbut we
also need quite a lot more trained people who are appointed and
given the time to do the job, because it does mean looking at
roads in considerable detail, and it means talking to local communities
in considerable detail, like in Suffolk. In Suffolk they have
systematically done their villages, with the use of 40 mph limits
on approaches to villages and 30 mph limits in villages. They
divided the county into 13 areas. They went round one area at
a time. They took the line "You drive slowly through my village
and I'll drive slowly through yours" and they got the people
alongside them. They treated all villages in the county in that
way. They saved 20 per cent of the injury accidents in the treated
villages, but that needed a very concerted, planned effort and
it needed several people allocated for several years to do it.
We need a consistent effort throughout our highways authorities
to do that kind of thing.
(Dr Kimber) Perhaps I could add to that, Chairman.
I think the main point really is that we have a great deal of
evidence in terms of the generic effects of speed on accidents.
We also know a great deal about the role of different road types
and how it breaks down between different drivers and so on, but
the road system and the drivers on it are very complex systems,
and in order to get sufficient understanding to be able to take
this knowledge forward and get it into full application then we
need to know a lot more about the particulars of some of these
systems and how they work. There is a great deal of work there,
and the application is something on which Government is moving
forward. Our view is that there is a lot to be gained by their
moving forward in a very concerted way on it.
138. Is the Government doing enough?
(Dr Kimber) There are always limits.
139. But are they doing enough? You are doing
all this work, yet you do not seem to be getting the results commensurate
with the nature of the work you are doing. Is that the Government's
(Dr Kimber) No, not at all. I do not think it is the
case either. Casualties have fallen very markedly over recent
years. We have understood a lot about different causes of accidents.
We see speed as a very major cause of accidents.
1 Note by Dr Kimber: TRL in fact strongly supports
the concept of Home Zones. Home Zones aim to change the functional
use of road space between motor vehicles and other road users,
with the wider needs of residents, especially children, in mind.
However, experience from abroad indicates that their application
is limited to streets with low levels of through traffic which
are the destination for traffic in the area Back