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

Memorandum by Transport 2000 (RTS 08)



  Transport 2000 is an environmental group which campaigns for sustainable transport policies, including improvements to alternatives to the car (walking, cycling and public transport) and measures to restrain the growth of traffic. Our interest in speed policy is twofold. First, we are concerned at the extent to which high traffic speeds have led to an epidemic of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, many times greater than the number of deaths and injuries caused by other means of transport. Second, we believe the dominance of speeding traffic deters people from walking or cycling for short trips, and leads to loss of independence for the most vulnerable in society, particularly older people, disabled people and children, and increased car dependency. This is a problem in both urban and rural areas.

  We co-ordinate the Streets for People network for more than 300 residents groups who are concerned about local traffic problems. Streets for People provides advice and information about a range of issues but one of the most frequently raised concerns is speeding traffic. We also set up the Safe Streets Coalition, which brought together national organisations representing the interests of children, older people, disabled people, women and road safety groups to argue for lower speeds, at the time of the Government's road safety strategy and speed policy review. We are founder members of the Slower Speeds Initiative. With the Children's Play Council, we led the successful campaign for the introduction of low-speed home zones in the UK. Finally, in 2000 we took legal action to challenge speed enforcement guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which effectively raised speed limits set by Parliament. Although our action was successful in that it led ACPO to rewrite its guidelines, we believe the situation remains unsatisfactory.


  There is now plenty of evidence that higher speeds lead to increased risk of crashes, and more serious injuries when a crash occurs. A report by TRL for DTLR concluded that for every 1 mph reduction in average speed, crashes are reduced by between 2 and 7 per cent, depending on the type of road.[14] At higher vehicle speeds, the chances of surviving a crash decline dramatically: a pedestrian hit by a car stands a 95 per cent chance of surviving if the car is travelling at 20 mph, but this falls to 55 per cent if the car is travelling at 30 mph, and is only 15 per cent at 40 mph. Even driving at a few miles per hour above the 30 mph limit greatly increases a vehicle's stopping distance and the likely severity of a crash. Where speeds have been cut to 20 mph (for example as part of area-wide traffic calming schemes), average casualty reductions are 60 per cent, and child pedestrian casualty reductions are even greater at 70 per cent.[15] we therefore believe there is a strong argument for maximum speeds of 20 mph in built-up areas where there are large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, including vulnerable road users such as older people and children. We believe such limits should be applied on busy multi-functional main roads as well as on quiet residential roads, and expand on this below.


  There is also evidence that traffic speeds have a negative effect on people's quality of life. For example, the Joint Mobility Unit has reported that 60 per cent of older blind people do not get out alone, partly because of fear of traffic. A survey by MORI in Hertfordshire found that 79 per cent of people regarded dangerous driving and speeding as a problem in their neighbourhood.[16] In Shropshire, a survey of parish councils found that 58 per cent of parishes felt that speeding traffic was a problem most of the time, and 87 per cent of parishes had sought action from the county council or police. In half of all cases, no action had resulted. Research in three areas of Leeds found that 84 per cent of parents felt the roads were not safe for their children, with the main single problem (cited by between 39 per cent and 60 per cent) being traffic speeds. Parents fear of traffic led to children being escorted to school, which in turn limited the opportunities for mothers to enter paid employment.[17]

  Drivers sometimes assume that it does not matter how fast you drive so long as you do not crash. But this fails to take into account the problems for other people even if no-one is hurt: walking and cycling are less pleasant; noise levels are much greater; it is harder for pedestrians (especially older or disabled pedestrians) to cross the road; and cycling feels more hazardous. It is also commonly believed that traffic speeds on main roads do not matter as much as those on residential roads because "people do not live on main roads". But in fact many people do live, work and shop on main roads. Because they are unpleasant places to be, people who can afford to do so move away, and it is people on low incomes who are left to suffer the danger, noise and intimidation caused by high volumes of speeding traffic.



  Seven out of ten drivers in urban areas break the speed limit. Although average speed on congested urban roads may be little more than 10 mph, peak speeds are often well over the 30 mph limit. A key problem therefore is the inability of the police to enforce existing limits. On urban main roads, we would like to see much greater use of fixed and mobile speed cameras. While we welcomed the introduction of the "netting off" scheme to fund greater enforcement, we are concerned that the current rules on the installation and use of speed cameras are unnecessarily restrictive, and that the threshold speeds at which cameras are activated are too high. Our specific concerns are as follows:

    —  Government guidance says that local authority/police safety camera partnerships may only install speed cameras at sites where there is a proven casualty record. The Home Office has said that if particular cameras do not contribute to casualty reduction they must be moved to a more appropriate location or removed altogether. We also understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines for fixed camera locations require that there should have been five or more fatal or serious collisions in the previous three years in order for a fixed speed camera to be installed. In practice this means that communities which are concerned about speeding traffic will not be able to get a speed camera installed until there have been several deaths or serious injuries. On roads where high speeds cause intimidation and deter pedestrians and cyclists, no action may be possible.

    —  The requirement that all speed cameras in areas covered by safety camera partnerships must be signed and painted bright yellow seems to us akin to telling burglars that they will only be arrested in areas where signs announce the presence of police patrols. Elsewhere, motorists (or burglars) will be free to break the law.

    —  We understand many police forces currently set the threshold speed at which cameras are activated some 10-15 mph above the actual speed limit. This arises partly from a concern to catch the worst speeders, and a belief that if the threshold were set at, or marginally above, the actual limit, the police and legal system would be overwhelmed. However, we believe that once speed cameras have been introduced the thresholds should be progressively lowered over a period of, say, six months, to the point where they are just one or two miles per hour above the posted speed limit. We have seen no evidence that police forces are adopting such an approach. Failure to do this, especially in circumstances where motorists are aware that the threshold are well above the posted speed limit, effectively means that police forces are taking it upon themselves to raise the speed limit set by Parliament.


  We also believe the design of some urban main roads encourages drivers to treat them as racetracks, even where they pass through areas where people live and shop. This is a particular problem on one-way roads. Transport for London recently found that pedestrian casualty rates on the one-way main roads are double the level on other main roads.[18] One possible reason for this is the tendency for traffic speeds to be higher on such roads: indeed many of them were purposely designed in the 1960s to speed the flow of traffic. As well as posing a road safety risk, such high-speed urban roads are intimidating to pedestrians and cyclists, and damaging to the local economy as small shopkeepers find it difficult to attract trade in such a hostile environment. We would like to see highway authorities reintroducing two-way flow on such roads, and designing them to producer calmer, steadier traffic flow. We do not believe that physical separation of pedestrians and traffic is likely to solve this problem: pedestrian guard rails prevent people crossing the road where they may wish to do so, forcing unnecessary detours, and are in any case widely ignored.


  At present the usual speed limit on urban main roads is 30 mph, or in some cases 40 mph. We believe there is a strong case for urban speed limits to be reduced to 20 mph wherever main roads are also residential roads, local shopping streets, or pass close to parks, playgrounds or other destinations to which people may wish to walk or cycle. The reason for this is twofold: both that speeds of 20 mph are much less likely to lead to death or serious injury where there is a collision, and that the resulting calmer, steadier traffic flow would create a more pleasant street environment, encouraging people to walk and cycle.

  The city of Graz in Austria introduced a 20 mph (30 kph) limit on all roads apart from a few "priority roads" in 1992. During the first year after introduction of the lower limits, serious injuries fell by 24 per cent and pedestrian casualties fell by 17 per cent.[19] Experience in other European cities has been similar. A recent report on European best practice for the Commission for Integrated Transport found that "there are currently no 20 mph zones in Britain on the scale of those introduced in the [continental] case study areas".[20] It contrasts Hull, one of the most traffic-calmed UK cities with 20 mph zones covering about 20 per cent of the city, with Munich, where 80 per cent of the city has speed limits of 20 mph; Stuttgart, where 20 mph limits make up 85 per cent of the road network; and Graz, where they make up 76 per cent.

  We would like to see the UK learning from this experience. We believe the Government should support a major programme of 20 mph limits on all urban main roads in areas with high flows of pedestrians and cyclists, and near schools and parks, and monitor the effects of road casualties and use of the street.

  On residential roads, we would like to see far greater use of traffic-calmed 20 mph zones, and home zones with still lower speeds. Traffic-calmed 20 mph zones are highly effective at reducing casualties, and commonly pay for themselves, in terms of casualties avoided, in under 12 months. However, research suggests 20 mph zones do not of themselves increase social interaction in the street. In the Netherlands, Germany and other countries, home zones have transformed the way residents use the space outside their front doors, as a social space for playing, sitting or chatting to neighbours. We believe widespread introduction of home zones in the UK could improve quality of life, and help create more cohesive communities in which children had more freedom and vulnerable members of society were better cared for. Transport 2000 organised a study tour of Dutch and German home zones in 1999, and one of the comments we frequently heard from home zone residents during the tour was that home zones were "good places for elderly people, because their neighbours would look out for them". The Dutch rule on traffic speeds in home zones is that they should be no greater than a fast walking pace, which in practice is taken to mean just under 10 mph. The first home zones now being introduced in the UK seem likely to achieve similar design speeds: the Northmoor Manchester home zone, which is the first of the Government's pilot home zones to be completed, has average speeds of 9.8 mph. Such speeds are achieved by a combination of traffic calming, staggered parking to break up driver's sight lines and good design. However, we are concerned that some local authorities may design home zones with higher traffic speeds. We believe Government should only allow use of the term "home zone" and the planned home zone traffic sign where average post-design traffic speeds are below 10 mph.


  We support the Government's proposal in its road safety strategy for a normal speed limit of 30 mph in all villages, although we would go further and argue that close to shops, schools and parks, speed limits of 20 mph would be more appropriate. We also agree with the road safety strategy's conclusion that on some rural single carriageway roads and country lanes, vehicle speeds of 60 mph are too fast. We would like to see lower limits which match the function of the road, and in particular which recognise the need for pedestrians and cyclists to feel safe.


  There have recently been suggestions in the press that the Government may be considering raising the speed limit on uncongested sections of motorway to 80 mph. We would oppose such a move, both because we are concerned at its possible safety implications and because higher speeds will result in increased carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to climate change.


  We believe that technology, and in particular the use of speed limiters, offers great potential for effective speed management and could save many lives. Research on Intelligent Speed Adaptation by Leeds Institute of Transport Studies suggests that mandatory use of speed limiters could cut road deaths by up to 59 per cent.[21] We believe the Government should press for all vehicles sold in Europe to be fitted with speed limiters, initially for voluntary use. Once a sufficient proportion of the vehicle fleet is fitted with limiters, we believe their use should be mandatory. We also suggest that the Government could encourage the voluntary fitting of speed limiters through reductions in vehicle excise duty.


  Some motoring groups argue that policies such as those described above are unnecessarily restrictive, and that society should instead be educating drivers to make better judgements about what speed is safe under the particular road conditions. While we recognise the importance of better education and awareness raising, we are sceptical that education alone will have any discernible effect on speed and road safety. We do, however, believe that education about the effects of speeding could help increase the public acceptability of tougher enforcement. In the State of Victoria, Australia, public opinion was initially hostile to increased speed enforcement, but this attitude changed to support once it became apparent that the Victoria speed enforcement experiment was saving many lives. Part of the reason for the shift in public attitudes may have been the clear evidence of lives saved, but is also seems likely that Victoria's hard-hitting advertising campaigns played an important role.

Are the relevant bodies taking the right actions?

  We believe the Government should continue to take action to cut speeds, and have strongly supported the recent roll-out of the "netting off" arrangements for wider use of speed cameras, although as we explain above we have concerns about the restrictions placed on their use. However, we have been dismayed at the extent to which the Home Office appears to have sought to delay or limit this policy, and at the public comments by some senior police officers suggesting that greater use of speed cameras is "anti-motorist". For example, the police officer responsible for the Metropolitan Police's operational traffic policy was quoted as saying: "We are not going to have speed cameras sprouting up all over London. We have more important things to do and we risk alienating the vast majority of London's law-abiding motorists".[22] We believe that the expression of views such as this by some police forces is counter-productive to building public support for better speed enforcement.

  We are also concerned at the police's approach of setting enforcement thresholds well in excess of the speed limit. Guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers suggest that motorists driving over the 30 mph speed limit should not be issued with a fixed penalty notice unless they are driving faster than 35 mph. In a 60 mph limit, the guidelines suggest a fixed penalty should not be issued unless the motorist exceeds 68 mph. Following a legal challenge by Transport 2000 in 2000, ACPO modified the guidance to say that individual police officers should have discretion to issue a fixed penalty below these thresholds, particularly in circumstances where very small exceedances of the speed limit might be dangerous, such as near a school. However, in practice we doubt this discretion to charge motorists below the enforcement thresholds is much exercised. The effect is that the police have modified upwards the speed limits set by Parliament, from 30 mph to 35 mph; 40 mph to 46 mph, and so on. This is particularly disturbing on roads with a 30 mph limit, where an increase in vehicle speeds from 30 mph to 35 mph can make the difference between life and death: a pedestrian hit at 30 mph is twice as likely to survive as one hit at 35 mph.

  As discussed above, the Government and local authorities have so far failed to implement traffic calming and 20 mph speed limits to the extent seen elsewhere in Europe. We believe this is partly due to a failure of imagination, and nervousness at public reaction to 20 mph limits on main roads, but also because insufficient funding has been made available. While a few local authorities, such as Hull, have implemented extensive 20 mph zones, others have made relatively little progress and in some cases are overwhelmed by community demand for lower speed limits which they have no hope of meeting. For example, Stoke on Trent City Council estimated to us that they receive four or five new requests for traffic calming every week (that is, about 260 per year). A more rural authority, Northamptonshire County Council, estimated they received 150 requests for traffic calming between 1993 and 1995. We understand they have since stopped recording requests. With this level of community demand, the current scheme-by-scheme response seems to us utterly inadequate, and we believe Government and local authorities need to look at ways of scaling up the delivery of 20 mph zones to something closer to the continental pattern.

Have motor manufacturers, the media and advertisers shown an appropriate attitude to speed?

  We have long been concerned at the extent to which advertising promotes the thrill of fast driving, and the motor industry's practice of designing and selling cars which are capable of speeds greatly in excess of the speed limit. More recently, we have been particularly dismayed by the negative influence of certain parts of the media on road safety policy. The tabloid press and some individual motoring correspondents have waged a vigorous campaign for reduced speed enforcement on the grounds that compliance with the law constitutes an unacceptable constraint on motorists' freedom. Most recently, campaigning by some tabloid newspapers led to Ministers' decision that all speed cameras should be painted a highly visible yellow, and, even more worryingly, that cameras should only be permitted in places where crashes have already occurred. Tabloid press coverage has also created a climate in which it is more difficult for the Government to reduce speed limits, and in some cases has constrained the ability of local authorities to introduce traffic calming. However, we note that local media coverage is generally very supportive of speed enforcement and traffic calming, and indeed local newspapers often play an important part in campaigns for action to cut speeds outside schools and in similar locations. We do not believe that the pro-speed views expressed by tabloid newspapers are representative of views in society as a whole, but we are concerned that their repetition may make them widespread. We believe that the often one-sided coverage of this issue is highly irresponsible, and we do not believe Ministers should be swayed by it.


  We would like the Government to develop guidelines that enabled local authorities to set appropriate speed limits as part of speed management strategies.

  The current approach of local authorities to the setting of speed limits is unsatisfactory. The limit is determined largely by the speed at which motorists are driving, so that, for example, a wide straight road may have a limit of 50 mph even where it passes a school if the local authority and police judge that lower speed limits would to be complied with. Requests from residents or lower limits are frequently met with the response that a lower limit cannot be introduced because the current 85th percentile speed is too high.

  Such a rationale for setting speed limits fails to take account of the needs of road users other than motorists. Guidelines (for both urban and rural areas) should provide a framework for local authorities to set limits taking full account of road safety and quality of life. We note that some motoring groups have argued that "unnecessarily" low speed limits bring the law into disrepute and lead drivers to ignore otherwise reasonable limits. But in fact we believe the problem of inappropriately high speed limits is much more significant. These encourage drivers to travel at speeds that are intimidating and dangerous to pedestrian and cyclists. A framework for setting speed limits should ensure the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are considered first. This would mean that any road with shops, a school, people's homes, or a park, or any other destination to which people might reasonably wish to walk or cycle, had a "default" speed limit of 20 mph, with a higher limit only being introduced where it could be clearly justified. On roads predominantly used by through traffic, limits of between 30 mph and 50 mph might be appropriate, but design guidelines should ensure adequate provision was still made for cyclists and pedestrians.

Transport 2000

January 2002

14   Taylor, M, Lynam D, and Baruya, A. The effects of drivers' speed on the frequency of road accidents, TRL report 421,2000. Back

15   Encouraging walking: advice to local authorities, DETR 2000. Back

16   The 10 year transport plan and social exclusion: a briefing from the Safe Streets Coalition, 2000. Back

17   Rachael Dixey, Leeds Metropolitan University "Research from Leeds shows the problem of speed" article for Slower Speeds Initiative newsletter. Back

18   personal communication from Transport for London, based on surveys of one-way and two-way roads. Back

19   General 30 kph speed limit in the city of Graz, Honig and Sammer, undated. Back

20   Study of European best practice in the delivery of integrated transport. Report on stage 3: transferability. Commission for Integrated Transport 2001. Back

21   ISA-debunking some of the popular myths, Traffic Engineering and Control February 2001. Back

22   Superintendent Paul Clulow, quoted in "Yard revolt on speed cameras", Evening Standard, 20 August 2001. Back

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