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

Memorandum by the RAC Foundation (RTS 06)



  The RAC Foundation for Motoring was formed in January 1999, following the demutualisation, demerger and sale of RAC Motoring Services, to research and campaign on a wide variety of issues of general interest to six million RAC Motoring Services members and to responsible motorists generally.

  The Foundation has developed close links with central and local Government Departments, national organisations such as RoSPA and the media, as well as providing representation on a number of advisory committees and working groups. Since our inauguration, the RAC Foundation has conducted high profile media campaigns on numerous issues including vehicle and road user safety, vehicle security, motoring taxation and the deteriorating condition of UK roads.

  The RAC Foundation position on road traffic speed can be summarised as follows:

    The RAC Foundation wholeheartedly supports Government road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets and recognises the importance of road user education, highway infrastructure engineering and enforcement targeted upon the most dangerous driving practices, vulnerable road user groups and those roads whose design, construction, or use renders them most prone to collisions. We recognise that excess and inappropriate speed are potentially dangerous and support the use of speed cameras within a broadly based enforcement strategy.


  "Excess" and "inappropriate" speed are undoubtedly two of many factors contributing to collisions and to the severity of casualties. As the speed of a vehicle rises, the time available to the driver to respond to hazards or emergencies reduces and braking distance increases. The speed of impact is directly related to the extent of damage and injury caused. DTLR, ACPO and those with an interest in road user safety routinely attribute speed as a cause of 30 per cent of road accidents [sic].

  However any discussion on the problem of speed will take place against a background of a lack of information in three key areas:

  (i)  There are few official statistics and no published national data showing the number of collisions and casualties where excess speed is a cause. "Road Accidents Great Britain: 2000 The Casualty Report", the annual compendium of road casualty data, published by National Statistics and DTLR contains no data relating to excess speed as a cause of road casualties.

  Such statistical data as does exist does not necessarily support the 30 per cent claim. For example the annual "West Midlands Road Accident Review", based upon Road Traffic Accident data gathered by West Midlands and surrounding Police forces and local authorities, records that of 10,640 traffic accidents in the year 2000, 163 (less than 2 per cent) were caused by "excessive speed for the conditions".

  (ii)  References to speed and enforcement strategies blur the distinction between two wholly different problems, "excess" and "inappropriate" speed.

  Excess speed, as the title suggests, is speed in excess of the posted speed limit. It is always illegal, but does not always constitute a present danger. For example, travelling at 71 mph on an empty motorway in good road, traffic and weather conditions in a modern car.

  Inappropriate speed describes speed which is not—or not necessarily—in excess of the speed limit, but which is too fast for the prevailing road, traffic and weather conditions. Travelling at 60 mph on the same motorway in poor weather, visibility, or slippery road conditions would be recognised by all as wholly inappropriate and dangerous, but which breaches no speed limit.

  (iii)  Declining standards of carriageway infrastructure maintenance, worn out road surfaces, poor lighting and signing may well render speeds within the posted speed limit dangerously inappropriate, without drivers necessarily being aware of the hazard.

  The simple fact is that whilst research into the effects of speed has been conducted, national statistics derived from data within police reports of collisions are less readily available, or not available at all.

  Whilst the RAC Foundation recognises the crucial importance of national and local road safety strategies and targets, we are concerned, even baffled, at the apparent lack of hard data to inform or support road user safety and enforcement strategies. High quality information about how, where and why collisions occur is presumably essential to enable road safety projects to compete for central and local government and police resources with other equally important and often better and more persuasively documented problems and thereafter to enable scarce and expensive resources to be targeted effectively on the most dangerous forms of driving and most vulnerable road user groups. For example strategies to detect or deter "excess speed" are unlikely to have any significant impact on "inappropriate speed".


  The RAC Foundation welcomes the change in emphasis from "speed limit enforcement" with its all too familiar negative and confrontational connotations, to speed management that suggests a more comprehensive and strategic approach to managing and reducing speeds involving education, engineering and enforcement, rather than simply detecting and penalising those who exceed the speed limit in the hope that this activity will act as a deterrent.

  We believe that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive speed management strategy including education, engineering and enforcement.


  The RAC Foundation has carried on the campaigning work of RAC Motoring Services to include responsible road use within the senior school curriculum, preferably within mainstream subjects. At present responsible road use tends to be taught in two stages; teaching Year 1 and 2 pupils to cross the road safely and at Year 6 providing cycle training for some pupils at least. Thereafter little formal education in responsible road use takes place within the senior school curriculum. In due course, young people apply for a Driving Licence. However their main priority at this stage is to acquire sufficient skills and knowledge to pass the Theory and Practical tests.

  We believe that incorporating responsible road use into mainstream subjects would encourage young people to consider their responsibility as road users both for their own safety and that of others. For example within maths and science subjects speed could be considered in terms of its relationship with velocity and kinetic energy. Pupils would learn not only that speed is potentially dangerous, but also why. Thereafter, their understanding of the problem should make them more receptive to anti-speed campaigns when they are of driving age.

  The RAC Foundation believes that education also encompasses both road safety and product advertising, as well as factual media and print coverage of motoring issues. We feel that the emphasis of DTLR campaigning upon television, whilst understandable, fails to reach the driver at the most crucial time ie behind the wheel of the car and that more emphasis should be placed upon targeting people when the message will be most effective, rather than simply relying on powerful TV images to create a lasting impression.

  Whilst a number of car manufacturers continue to depict speed or the impression of speed in their advertising, safety and "lifestyle" concepts are increasingly favoured. The RAC Foundation welcomes this trend and hopes that manufacturers will be encouraged to continue it. Similarly the motoring media appear to be adopting a more mature approach to their work. Economy, comfort and safety related performance are all given a high priority and whilst speed and handling performance are still tested, the reporting leaves the recipient in no doubt that these tests take place off the roads and on private property, often on racing circuits.


  The RAC Foundation believes that the engineering objective should be to design roads that are self-explaining where speed limits are sufficiently self-evident as to require minimal enforcement. Whilst this may appear unrealistic, a number of highway authorities are experimenting with relatively low cost schemes to reduce vehicle speeds. Norfolk County Council for example, has installed a number of inter-active signs, activated by the speed of approaching vehicles and which either reinforce the posted speed limit eg "Slow 30 mph", or which slow vehicle speeds to below the posted speed limit on the approach to hazards such as cross-roads and bends. They have also experimented by removing the white centre line along the carriageway and using different colours and textures of road surface to reinforce the change to a "village environment".

  In the short term, speeds might be better managed by the use of clearer and additional speed limit signs. The RAC Foundation has received numerous complaints from motorists about the absence, or lack of cleaning and maintenance of all speed limit signs, especially 30 mph signing in built up areas with street lights. In many cases local authorities have argued that since the Built Up Area speed limit applies to areas with 30 mph signs, or with street lights and no other sign displayed, they have no legal obligation to erect signs warning of a 30 mph speed limit. The situation is not helped where "street light" limits are not signed but are enforced by speed cameras. The RAC Foundation believes that all speed limits must be properly and clearly signed with smaller repeater signs at frequent intervals.

  We also believe that better road maintenance would result in a surface giving more tyre adhesion, improved stability as well as stopping distance and would reduce the number of instances where drivers travelling within the posted speed limit are unwittingly travelling at a dangerously inappropriate speed for the road conditions. Improved carriageway maintenance would not only benefit four, or more, wheel vehicle users. It would significantly improve the safety of cyclists and motorcyclists and might encourage more people onto two wheels, powered or otherwise.

  Within the urban scene, improved street lighting would improve the vision and visibility of all road users. Whilst not necessarily increasing vehicle speeds, better lighting would allow drivers a clearer view of pedestrians and cyclists reducing the possibility that speeds within the speed limit are too high for the poor lighting conditions. It would also afford pedestrians and cyclists a clearer view of approaching traffic than that provided by two bright moving points of light.


  Whilst the RAC Foundation recognises the importance of enforcement within an integrated road safety, or speed management strategy, contact with police and highway authority officers suggests that enforcement policy and decisions are jealously guarded by the Police service and that road and road user safety strategies are tailored to accommodate the views and participation of police. Senior police officers are frequently quoted as recognising that their input alone will not solve persistent problems. This clearly applies to road and road user safety and the RAC Foundation would wish to see police representatives taking an equal part in developing safety strategies, with enforcement complementing rather than dictating education and engineering aspects of them.

  Remaining on the subject of speed enforcement, e-mails, letters and telephone calls to the RAC Foundation suggest that there is a growing level of cynicism among motorists of all groups that central and local Government road safety strategy and Police enforcement activity has become disproportionately concentrated upon excess speed, almost to the exclusion of other pro-active measures.

  Unfavourable comparison is invariably made between the obvious enthusiasm shown to detect those who exceed the speed limit, with the apparent lack of police activity to deter dangerous, careless and inconsiderate driving, examples of which are all too apparent to those who regularly use the roads.

  This view is at least partially supported by Home Office statistics dealing with motoring offences in England and Wales during 1999, which indicate that after parking irregularities and driving documents offences, speeding was the most numerous offence dealt with. In fact, the one million plus speeding offences equalled the total number of offences in all the other groups of moving motoring offences.

  Since the RAC Foundation for Motoring is frequently perceived as being critical of speed cameras, it is perhaps appropriate to reiterate our general policy of support for the use of speed cameras, as part of a comprehensive enforcement strategy targeting the most dangerous drivers, the most dangerous sections of road and the most vulnerable road users.

  However, we have two separate, but related concerns about the spread of speed cameras.

  (i)  The exponential growth in numbers of speed cameras during the past decade, has been accompanied by a significant reduction in numbers of Police traffic officers and that this in turn seems to have led to concentration on narrowly defined enforcement strategies, such as "excess speed", to which camera enforcement is suited, rather than the broad based pro-active detection and deterrence of all forms of reckless, dangerous and careless driving.

  To put it bluntly, it appears that speed cameras, which initially formed a small but valuable part of enforcement strategies, have become increasingly important and may come to determine national and local strategies, if they have not done so already.

  Our concern is reinforced by Home Office statistics showing that speed camera detected offences grew from just under 207,000 in 1995 to just under 499,000 in 1999 and by statements in the national press by an ACPO spokesperson suggesting that almost one million offences were detected in 2000 and predicting that this figure would rise to three million in the coming years.

  (ii)  That despite official assurances to the contrary, there is a widespread and growing perception among motorists and sections of the media—even those who support the wider use of speed cameras—that the concentration on speed limit enforcement and speed camera deployment is as, or more, motivated by their revenue raising capacity as by considerations of road user safety.

  This perception has been reinforced during the past 12 months by the Government introduction of the "netting off" or hypothecation procedure whereby approved police forces and local authorities are allowed to keep some or all of the proceeds of camera enforcement of excess speed, together with statements from individual senior police officers estimating the number of motorists expected to be prosecuted for speeding and the sums of money raised as a result. Whilst the RAC Foundation accepts that this view may not be correct and that the Police do or should not make a profit from camera operations, the fact is that the "netting off" scheme does give Police and local authorities a financial stake in speed camera operations in their area which lends credibility to motorists' cynicism.


  The Foundation believes that cameras will be more effective if well signed and concentrated only at accident blackspots and traffic lights. A full review of speed limits and a more intelligent and flexible approach would also help enforcement. 80 miles an hour on a clear day, driving at a safe distance from the car in front in a modern car is quite safe. Whereas 20 mph outside a school with children crossing the road is probably too fast. That does not mean that 80 mph should apply in all weather conditions or that 20 mph should be the limit at 3 am outside a school. Flexible speed limits would help intelligent policing, would be more respected by the public and would enhance road safety.

E V King

Executive Director

RAC Foundation for Motoring

2 January 2002

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