Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Green Speed (RTS 03)


  These representations are made by GreenSpeed which campaigns for lower speed limits; those compatible with the objectives of reducing the adverse environmental and social impacts of the private motor car. GreenSpeed stickers are available to attach to the rear of the car as a signal to the driver following that the car is being driven at responsible speeds;—20 mph in residential areas and—55 mph out of town. These comments concentrate on the need and justification for a 55 mph national speed limit as the Committee are likely to receive many representations on the imperative of lower speeds in urban areas on grounds of safety.


  1.1  The committee will be aware and will no doubt be starting their enquiry from an examination or the DETR publication (March 2000) New Directions in Speed Management—A Review of Policy. This report was the culmination of a wide ranging review of speed policy and, as the Committee may regard this as authoritative evidence based research, it maybe useful to identify where the findings should not be regarded as reliable. In particular, the comments made in these representations should demonstrate that the review does not adequately justify retention of the current speed limits.

  1.2  It is fundamental to the Government's (and most lobbyists') view of speed that it has been regarded as an issue of safety with very little weight given to environmental impacts. The Review was conducted for the Directorate of Road Safety and the Environment but, the consideration given to the issue of speed in the case of motorways and dual carriageways is dealt with in a few paragraphs 161 to 165. The only analysis of the effects of reducing the national speed limit to 55 mph produces the diametrically opposed findings that:

    —  lower speeds could have an adverse economic effect through increased journey times,

    —  but that lower speeds reduce journey times through smoothing the flow in potentially congested conditions.

  1.3  On this totally inadequate evidence, the conclusion reached (paragraph 165) is that, in free-flowing conditions, the current speed limits strike the right balance between competing priorities.

  1.4  The Review refers to the work of Hillman and Plowden (Speed control and transport policy: PSI 1996). This publication is the product of the most rigorous research carried out on the various effects of speed, and concluded that the national speed limit of 55 mph strikes the right balance. This work should be compulsory reading for the Committee.

  1.5  The Committee will also receive representations from the Commission for Integrated Transport whose latest report has found our motorways to be the most congested in Europe. Before moving on to comment on other aspects of the 2001 DETR speed review, the findings of the CIT raise the obvious question as to what extent congestion is actually caused by speed. It is perverse to say that in free flow conditions 70 mph is the appropriate limit if that speed is a main contributor to the congestion, where only very much lower speeds then become physically possible.

  1.6  An investigation into the psychology of car use (Guntram, U (1993) The McKinsey Quarterly No 2, pp 153-169) indicates that travelling has become an end in itself and therefore, the accoutrements of this activity have to make this a satisfying experience in itself. The in car environment is far superior to most means of public transport. Cars could be made to be ". . . very light, slow, short range, and capable of being powered by one battery set (which) can be driven on regenerative energy that need not be taken from a power plant". However, the dispersion of car component manufacture across the globe means that whole new cars (different to the model which has changed so little in nearly 100 years) is very difficult to conceive. If the committee recognise the obvious advantages of lower speed limits they should not underestimate the resistance to such a change.

  1.7  These representations will seek to explain the ways in which the 70 mph limit (even assuming a reasonable level of compliance) contributes to the unacceptable use and state of the motorway and trunk road system while creating serious problems for an integrated transport system making best use of bus, train, walking and cycling.


  2.1  Under paragraph 36 the report says that an individual driver is "much more likely to be involved in an accident" going at 10-15 per cent above the average speed around them. On trunk roads the speed limit for HGVs is 50 mph and if this is observed, greenspeeders would be safe when going at 55 mph. However this is between 21 and 28 per cent slower than the traffic observing the 70 mph speed limit. Although the "average speed" is clearly somewhere between 50 and 70 mph it is clear that those travelling at 70 mph and more (as unfortunately is very often the case) are endangering those who have to (eg HGVs) or choose to (greenspeeders), travel at lower speeds. By maintaining higher speed limits the Govenrment are actually creating dangerous driving conditions for both those choosing to drive at socially and environmentally responsible speeds and those who continue to do the opposite. The fact that those wishing to drive at socially and environmentally responsible speeds cannot do so without causing danger to themselves and others, and that there is a not altogether irrational pressure to drive faster, is one compelling reason why official rather than voluntary speed restraint is preferable so that the maximum and average speeds are brought down.

  2.2  The graphs show that the CO2 emissions increase by about 20 per cent as a car slows from 30 mph to 20 mph and increase by about 20 per cent as speeds increase from 55 mph from 70 mph (consumption goes up by the square of the speed so the faster the vehicle the worse the consumption and emissions). The report seems to oblivious to the effect that current speed limits have had on vehicle design (ignoring the quite irrational capability of most cars to exceed 100 mph) and that these graphs show the performance of the current generation of vehicles and the graph would look different at both ends if cars were designed to do a lower maximum speed.

  2.3  Paragraph 54 says that speed may increase choice. Clearly not everybody has the choice to travel at high speeds and there are other ways of increasing choice (reducing the car's competitive advantage over public transport) for more people than allowing the privileged few to seek to satisfy their desires over a wider area.

  2.4  Publicity has recently been given to clamping, auctioning and scrapping of cars found without a road tax disc or insurance. The same should apply to the equally, if not more serious offence of speeding. Initial clamping for say, one hour, would rather extend the journey time which the speeder was trying to save. A visit to the police station to interrupt a journey could act as a very effective deterrent. Payment of the fine could release the car. Depending on how fast the car was going it could be clamped overnight, confiscated (as would any lethal weapon) or sold. These would be more effective deterrents than points on the licence.

  2.5  The Report does not deal with the effect of speed on motor car technology, eg the improvements to efficiency and the competitiveness of alternative fuels (the Committee should note that speed limits have also been omitted as a variable from the current DTLR review on alternative fuels) which would be possible with a lower maximum speed limit, ie 55 mph instead of 70 mph. Although the reduction in the competitive advantage currently enjoyed by the car over bike, bus and train is mentioned through the description of the measures taken at Graz in Austria, there is no follow-up to this impressive example. The Select Committee is the ideal body to examine and understand the point that, the speed and speed limits affecting the use of the private motor car is absolutely crucial to the concept of an integrated transport policy. A car designed for a top speed of 55 mph would, incidentally, be less difficult to drive at both 30 and 20 mph in urban areas, and would be less noisy and less polluting.

  2.6  Lower speeds can reduce congestion which can have the result of reducing rather than increasing journey times (paragraph 113 suggests an increase in journey times while paragraph 163 admits the opposite may be true). Even if the problems of congestion were solved (by more road building?!) the reduced time cost of road transport which could only then be possible (see CIT report 2001), could reduce or delay the use of either more environmentally friendly modes, or the move towards shorter journeys to save the time currently lost to congestion.

  2.7  Not only would urban traffic flow more easily at lower speeds with less congestion and pollution but there could be some modal shift to bike and bus with a consequent reduction in pollutants. The suggestion in the report that 20 mph may be more polluting than 30 mph (paragraphs 47 and 118) relies on the existence of "free flow", which is actually more achievable at lower speeds, and overlooks the contribution that higher speeds make towards congestion and the prevention of free flow. Common sense and experience shows that it is easier to enter roundabouts and main roads where that traffic is doing a steady slow speed. Further, it is only the current generation of vehicles which we know are designed for excessive speeds which are more polluting at 20 mph than 30 mph.

  2.8  The motorist lobby is winning the battle of the speed cameras. As soon as all become painted yellow so as to be unmissable to the motorist, it would seem to be inevitable that speeds will increase elsewhere. We have all been in a decelerating line of traffic which accelerates when past the camera. Sudden braking at a camera could cause a danger but only to illegally speeding traffic. Low (20 mph) speed limits need to be reinforced by the smart bump that is now undergoing trials, which compresses if a vehicle is obeying the speed limit, or with less conspicuous cameras. The current system of bumps and inconspicuous cameras causes stop-start driving which is inefficient and noisy and militates against smooth and efficient driving.

  2.9  The answer to the issue at paragraph 125; the pressing need for compliance with existing speed limits in the absence of traffic calming, is the engineering of the car and not the street. The car designed for no more than 55 mph does not require the same level of calming as the 100 mph car, which is the current norm.

  2.10  It is implausible that the cost of advertising the lowering of the national speed limit on single carriageway roads is a relevant factor (paragraph 141) for this once and for all change which would increase road safety and reduce the number and severity of accidents. Apologists for the current pattern of speed limits should see this as an acknowledgement of the weakness of their case. Overtaking on straight stretches of these roads can be as dangerous as on junctions and bends. Overtaking is a result of wide differences of preferred speeds and would be unnecessary if all traffic observed or was close to a lower speed limit. Observance would be more likely in machines designed without the ability/power to drive at twice the maximum speed limit.

  2.11  Again, the problems on rural roads (paragraph 142) would be greatly helped through re-engineering the capability of the car. Lowering the national speed limit would provide the incentive to change the technology and make the car more acceptable on rural roads and urban areas. Allowing local authorities to lower speed limits overcomes none of the reservations expressed in the report and looks like the abrogation of responsibility by national government, not to mention the transfer of the costs and blame.

  2.12  While the speed limit remains at 70 mph the technology will allow 100 mph (and more!) and the level of non-compliance will continue. With a well-enforced limit of 55 mph, introduced say in 2006, the technology would change significantly. There is no mention in the report that a decrease in speed would provide a much needed reduction in emissions (the same argument used in the report against lower speeds in urban areas). The journey time argument cannot be made out in the medium and long term and there could be a warning to the manufacturers and the car buying public about the reduction of the national speed limit. Given the known advantages of a reduced speed limit, it is entirely unclear what the justification is for the statement in 165 that there is a balance between priorities. The Plowden/Hillman research is referred to as "Reference" as if it has been taken into account, when its findings have been completely ignored.

  2.13  The fuel price "crisis" of 2000 clearly showed that HMG had some difficulty in justifying high prices at the pumps. It was very puzzling and disappointing that the only argument deployed was the need to maintain income to pay for public services. The imperative of reducing CO2 through reduced use of the internal combustion engine would brook no argument from the hauliers, farmers or motorists.

  2.14  The report seems to be concerned about the cost of changes to the regulations. There would be virtually no cost involved in the introduction of a 55 mph maximum speed limit as there are currently no signs showing 70 mph.

  2.15  The point made at para 194 must be right and the lenient position regarding speeding drivers is an invitation to speed until caught three times. With cameras becoming more easily seen, speeding could become more common.

  2.16  The evidence in the report does not support the conclusion at para 213 to maintain 70 mph as the national speed limit. The report says that the benefits attributed to the higher speed limits (both 30 mph and 70 mph) only accrue in conditions of free-flow without realising that it is high speed which militates against free-flow. The finding that lower speeds can improve free-flow seems to have been forgotten as is rectifying the balance of the competitive advantage enjoyed by the car. The economic effects of a reduced national speed limit are extremely complex and extend well beyond the desire of the current drivers and hauliers to maintain their estimated current journey times. For a Government report on a transport issue published in 2000 it is extraordinary that there is no section or indeed reference to "sustainability". Putting this into the balancing exercise could result in very different conclusions which do not seem quite so attractive to the road lobby.

  2.17  When looking into the "long term" (paras 244 and 245) there is still no mention of "sustainability", no mention of changes in technology or that, without fundamental changes, traffic will continue to grow and defeat the Kyoto commitments. If the long term extends to 15 years, and some people keep their cars for that length of time and longer, the oil supply position could become very different. When fuel economy (again, no mention in the report) becomes a priority, the Government will again have to review the issue of speed control as this is one of the main ways in which step improvements are possible, and reducing the national speed limit would be one of the obvious incentives.

  2.18  Not everything in the report is bad and there are references to work which needs to be done in some of the less well researched areas. However, the review is typical of research which excludes important and possibly inconvenient variables, in this case the national speed limit and the maximum designed vehicle speed.

  2.19  There are models of car ownership and use used by the DETR and it would be very interesting to see how these would predict modal shift and changes to journey patterns/length relating to the change to the national speed limit. It would be very interesting to see what the models predict would be the result of keeping the maximum speed for coaches and buses at 65 mph (having the use of the fast lanes on dual carriageways). We trust that it will not be too long before the result of this additional work will be available for Government and public scrutiny. Given the comprehensive work done by Hillman and Plowden which is referred to in the References it is difficult to see the evidence which has been relied on to support such different conclusions. The Government's catchphrase has been "evidence-based research" and it is all there in Hillman and Plowden, which contrasts starkly with the political dimension evident and made quite explicit in the Speed Review.


  3.1  Prof Phil Goodwin has shown that the Government's transport plan just will not meet its own objectives. This is borne out by the recent report from the CIT. In fact in many areas the position will become or be made worse. Until the full effects of car speed are factored into the issue of integration, and sustainability is brought up the agenda, the Government's transport planning will be bound to fail.

  3.2  The advantages of a lower national speed limit are mostly logical and intuitive. The only, possibly, counter intuitive benefit would be the improved average speeds and journey times achievable by lower speeds due to the reduced congestion and free-flow. This is not unlike the 20 per cent fuel saving from completing a journey at 55 mph rather than 70 mph, even if the journey time is increased by 20 per cent.

  3.3  GreenSpeed is interested in the reduction of the urban speed limit to 20 mph for both reasons of safety and the competitive advantage weighing back towards the cyclist and pedestrian. However, the improvement to the liveability of urban and village streets and rural roads will be boosted from the technological changes to the car when it is designed to travel at no more than 55 mph (with similarly reduced acceleration).

  3.4  In the debate about "carrot and stick"; whether the public transport system must be improved to attract drivers out of their cars or whether taxes/charges and traffic/parking regulations should be relied on, it should be understood that the first is impossible without a dose of the latter. When looking at the possible "sticks", a lower national speed limit (and 20 mph the norm in urban areas) comes recommended for the following reasons:

    —  At virtually no cost, convert the vicious cycle of degradation into a virtuous circle of improvements.

    —  At a stroke, the bus (could retain a 65 mph limit and have use of bus lanes on dual carriageways) and train, become more competitive and profitable (the bums on seats/paying passengers answer to the problem of integrated transport).

    —  The "car" forced to evolve into a machine more suitable to low speeds, greater economy and shorter distances.

    —  Walking and cycling is less dangerous, more pleasant and not so much slower.

    —  Advantages to health through more cycling and walking and less death and injury on the roads with associated cost to our overstretched health service.

    —  Massive improvements to transport without investment in infrastructure; no building of roads (three lanes designed for 70 mph could be divided into four for 55 mph) or railways. There may be a need for more rolling stock and buses, paid for out of use.

    —  Significant reduction in fuel consumption (even or especially from current generation of cars), proportionately lower emissions (including CO2) and in noise pollution.

  3.5  Given that the experts and the public can see little or no prospect of resolving our transport crises the advantages of lowering the national speed limit should not be rejected without far more rigorous examination than was shown by the DETR in 2000.

9 December 2001

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