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

Memorandum by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (RTS 14)


  PACTS welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into road traffic speed.

  PACTS is an associate all-party group and registered charity advising and informing Members of Parliament on road, rail and air safety issues. It brings together technical expertise from the public, private, academic and professional sectors to promote research based solutions to identified transport safety problems. Its objective is to promote transport safety legislation to protect human life.

  Road crashes are the eighth largest cause of death in the world. By 2020, they will be the third largest. The DTLR estimate that the economic value of preventing injury crashes during 2000 would have been £12,170 million in 2000 prices and values (DTLR, 2001b). This figure includes lost output, medical and ambulance costs and human costs. When the total costs of police work, insurance and damage to property are added for all crashes, including damage-only, this figure swells to £16,959 million.

  Speed management is central to road safety. Speed is the biggest single contributory factor in road crashes. In 2000 alone speed contributed to over 1,100 deaths and over 12,600 serious injuries in Britain (DTLR, 2001c).

  Reducing the speeds of the fastest drivers would yield greatest benefits in reducing death and injury on the roads (Taylor et al, 2000). Not only is the likelihood of being involved in a crash increased with faster speeds, but the severity of the injuries sustained by both those people inside and outside a vehicle also increases with speed. At 35 mph you are twice as likely to kill someone as you are at 30 mph (DTLR, 1999). Already 90 per cent of pedestrians hit by a car travelling at 30 mph will be seriously injured. Nearly half of them will be killed (DTLR, 2000). The change from mainly survivable injuries to mainly fatal injuries takes place at speeds of between about 30 and 40 mph, (Ashton, 1981).

  Speeding is endemic. The majority of drivers and riders regularly break the speed limit. In 2000 66 per cent of car drivers exceeded the 30 mph limit in urban areas (DTLR, 2001d). According to self-reporting, 85 per cent of respondents admitted to exceeding the speed limit on occasion, and there was general agreement that "everyone did it" (Silcock et at, 2000).

  1.  Below is a list of recommendations for action by Government in order to tackle the problem of speeding road traffic.

  Speed management should be approached strategically, in the context of wider objectives (emissions, economy, social inclusion etc). Speed management requires active partnership between national government, highway authorities, the police and all types of road users. This should be formulated into a national speed management strategy.

  Across the various Departments, the Government has many different targets and strategies and it will require commitment to ensure that speed management is carried forward as a priority amongst these. Practitioners will require guidance on how to manage any conflicting policy demands. Joined-up thinking must be robust to ensure that the speed management strategy is not allowed to falter due to short-term backlashes and changes in the political environment.

  Partnership is vital to successful schemes: the police, local communities and Local Authorities must be consulted in the decision-making process. All relevant agencies and practitioners should feel that the policies they are required to implement are feasible and likely to succeed. Clear guidelines, and appropriate legal, financial and human resources must back up policy recommendations. The best value review process should also seek to support staff carrying through policies with constructive advice and fair evaluation.

  2.  Compliance with the speed limit should be made as easy as possible to achieve. Information to the driver or rider regarding both the speed limit and the speed at which they are travelling must be made absolutely clear.

  Vehicle manufacturers should design the speedometer to indicate more clearly and accurately when the vehicle is travelling at 30 mph. Speedometers should not read as high as they do currently. Even if the car is capable of travelling at 120 mph, it is unhelpful for the speedometer to show 120 on its dial. Research should be commissioned to identify how speedometers may be designed to enhance safety, for example the benefits of digital versus dial displays and the positioning of the speedometer within the car.

  Signage, including use of road paint as well as appropriate repeater signs, should be improved so that riders and drivers are better informed and the speed limit is clear. There is currently widespread confusion relating to the maximum speed limit on single-carriageway roads, for example, and the "national speed limit applies" sign has been very widely criticised. Road users must feel that speed limits have been applied consistently across areas. There should be improved information available to road users as an interim stage, in the move towards self-explaining roads.

  3.  The Home Secretary must retain road safety as a core objective for the Police Service. The proposed National Policing Plan must include traffic policing. Road safety professionals should be invited to join the National Policing Forum. The Standards Unit must identify best practice for traffic policing. A suitable methodology for measuring the effectiveness of traffic policing must be developed.

  Effective speed management includes an element of enforcement. PACTS' report on road traffic law (PACTS, 1999) concluded that the law has an effect on two levels. First, it defines acceptable standards of behaviour on the road and in doing so provides guidance for all road users. Secondly, penalties provide a deterrent for those who refuse to comply with the standards written into the law. Thus, the enforcement (or failure so to do) of road traffic law send a clear message both to the law breaker and to society at large that offences on the road are a matter of concern to society. Better enforcement of road traffic law is a key theme of the government's own road safety strategy, Tomorrow's Roads—safer for everyone. Reducing speed-related crashes through the use of safety cameras has been highlighted by government as a significant contribution to cutting road casualties. Those areas of the country involved in the netting off pilot projects have established encouraging joint ways of working to ensure that, at local level, all statutory agencies are committed to casualty reduction.

  It is, therefore, very worrying that the recent Home Office White Paper on police reform, Policing a New Century: a blueprint for reform, fails to mention traffic policing as an area of activity. It may be that this is an oversight by government. However, PACTS would urge the Select Committee to give a clear message to the Home Office that enforcement of road traffic law is an important aspect of policy activity. Without this, it is likely, as was the case in the Netherlands in the 1980s, road casualties in the United Kingdom will begin to increase and the 10 year reduction target set in 2000 will not be met.

  4.  The concept of "self-explaining roads" should be developed into meaningful guidelines for practitioners.

  Self-explaining roads have been suggested as the next step in the design of a safe road environment. The intention is that road design and layout should always provide consistent and correct information on the type of road, and this in turn will encourage drivers and riders to adjust their behaviour and speed accordingly (Kaptein et al, 1998). It would be useful to have more research into what aspects of the road environment have the most influence on chosen speed. A pilot study to help identify good practice guidelines for the development of self-explaining roads would be very valuable for road safety practitioners.

  5.  The conclusions of the Government's review of the Rural Road Hierarchy for Speed Management should be implemented in partnership with the highway authorities. An equivalent review should be undertaken for the urban road network. This would establish a national framework for determining appropriate vehicle speeds on all roads, defined by function and quality.

  A national road hierarchy, which links the road network sensibly with speed limits, covering both rural and urban roads, should be adopted. A strategic approach to the management of safety on rural roads should be developed following the proposals in the IHT's guidelines for rural safety management (IHT, 1999). Crashes which occur on rural roads are more likely to result in death and serious injury than those on urban roads. 1,806 people were killed on rural roads during 2000, and 13,511 people were seriously injured. However, 70 per cent of all injury crashes occur in urban areas, and serious and slight crashes are still far more numerous, in absolute terms. In urban areas during last year 1,414 people were killed, 23,243 people were seriously injured and 197,074 people suffered slight injuries. The Rural Road Hierarchy Review should therefore be extended to cover urban roads and should be integrated with the urban safety management strategy developed in 1990 (IHT, 1990) and trialed in the Gloucester Safer City Project.

  The hierarchy should provide both flexibility and consistency. A new national road hierarchy, with any associated changes in speed limits, will require adequate publicity to ensure the new system is successfully communicated to the road using public. Although the aim is for the hierarchy to be largely self-enforcing, with the limit being made obvious to road users and acceptable to them, some enforcement effort should be available to ensure that the new speed limits are observed. Even with a new framework, liaison should take place between neighbouring Authorities regarding cross-boundary roads, to ensure consistency. The new framework should ideally be developed in good time to be taken into account in the planning of the next round of Local Transport Plans, to avoid significant delays to "changes on the ground".

  The hierarchy must be functional, in the sense that the current function and the desired future function of the road should determine its tier within the hierarchy. The Government Review indicates that a simple protocol should be developed for assigning roads within the hierarchy. Particular attention should be given within this protocol to those roads that serve a variety of road users. The hierarchy must balance the needs of all road users and where there is a conflict of needs, priority should be given to the vulnerable road user. For example, through routes that are also lined with residential developments, should respect the needs of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users living along these roads. If such conflict of needs is not resolved in favour of the vulnerable road user, then policies to tackle social exclusion within road safety will remain mere rhetoric.

  6.  A rural equivalent to the "Gloucester Safer City Project" would help to identify where changes in speed would offer most benefits in the rural environment, and would provide experience of how these traffic speeds can be achieved.

  A strategic approach is required for the management of safety on rural roads, and an area-wide, monitored project of this sort would help progress the guidelines produced by the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT, 1999). These guidelines indicate that the management of rural safety requires a whole route approach to be adopted on the more motorised inter-urban links to ensure a consistency of road features. On roads with more mixed use, a separate strategy is required which will develop more compatible use by all road users. For the lower Class C and Unclassified roads, an area based approach is required. Traffic calming measures should be applied on the approaches to small towns and villages, as well as within the settlements to maintain the slower speeds. Vehicle-activated signs should be used where appropriate, and particularly to slow speeds at junctions. Provisions should be made for safe waking and cycling between settlements that are only short distances apart. Taylor et al (2000) have recently identified that rural roads with very low speeds have the most to gain in accident reduction per 1 mph change in mean speed; they also concluded that on rural roads the accident frequency is directly related to the proportion of drivers exceeding the limit.

  A rural equivalent to the "Gloucester Safer City Project" would help to identify where changes in speed would offer most benefits and would provide experience of how these traffic speeds can be achieved. Early results from the Gloucester Safer City project indicate that serious injuries and deaths are down in the area by 38 per cent compared to the baseline average for 1991-95, adult pedestrian casualties fell by 22 per cent and child pedestrian casualties fell by 13 per cent (DTLR, 2001e). While these provisional results should be read with caution since the casualty figures are small and not statistically significant, a similar rural trial project might also be used to develop the "self-explaining road" and other initiatives in an area-wide monitored project.

  7.  The Government should use the forthcoming Safety Bill to develop a simpler method of making speed limit orders, to give consistency within the speed management strategy.

  A variety of policy measures over recent years have given Local Authorities greater control over speed management in their areas. The Transport Act 2000 gave Authorities the power to designate any road a quiet lane or home zone with a speed limit of 10 mph; the Local Government and Rating Act 1997 enabled parish and town councils to contribute to traffic calming measures; while the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 gave the Police and Local Authorities the right to prioritise road safety work in their area. All these measures are constructive for casualty reduction work, and a simplified procedure for making speed limit orders would facilitate this work even further.

  8.  Manufacturers should be required to advertise vehicles responsibly, and without reference to speeding. In particular, vehicles should be better adapted to being driven at slower speeds. The justification for the manufacture of vehicles which can greatly exceed the national speed limit should be carefully considered.

  According to the relevant Transport Statistics Bulletin (DTLR, 2001d), during 2000 55 per cent of cars exceeded the 70 mph limit on motorways (54 per cent of motorcycles and 39 per cent of Light Goods Vehicles). Seventeen per cent of drivers travelled at over 80 mph. There is a tension between the speeds at which vehicles can travel and the roads which they are using. When the maximum legal speed limit in the UK is 70 mph, there is no justification for producing vehicles with top speeds up to twice the legal limit. In the survey by Silcock et al into "What Limits Speed?" many respondents cited ever more powerful and comfortable cars as influencing their choice of speed. High standards of in-car comfort with low levels of noise and vibration contribute to the likelihood of drivers becoming isolated from the accompanying sensations that travelling fast in vehicles used to bring. This may mislead drivers into believing that they are travelling more slowly than is actually the case.

  9.  Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) has been predicted to bring enormous benefits in casualty reduction. It should be further funded and researched. A national digital road map with speed limits should be provided, to enable voluntary fitment.

  With externally activated speed limiters, speed limits would become entirely self-enforcing. Research into External Vehicle Speed Control was carried out between 1997-2000, and the current ISA research commenced in January 2001. This project assessed the safety benefits, the acceptability, the behaviour of drivers and any side-effects. Initial trials have shown people to be more positive about ISA once they have driven the pilot car.

  Fitting 60 per cent of the vehicle fleet with a mandatory-use, dynamic speed limit system of ISA would create the optimum casualty savings. This could result in a 59 per cent reduction in fatal crashes and a 36 per cent reduction in crashes of all severities. It is difficult to estimate costs since the price of technology will fall with time, however, cost-benefit analysis suggests the benefits outweigh the costs by up to sixteen times. Trials are already taking place in other European countries, with 6000 ISA-fitted vehicles tested in Sweden and 20 tested in the Netherlands. The DTLR hopes to place 20 ISA passenger cars on the road for a trial in the UK, by mid-2002. This should be expanded into field trials involving fleet vehicles which should be monitored. An informed public debate is desirable. The UK is active in European discussions on ISA, and ought to be more prominent in carrying out the essential trials.

  10.  The Government should continue to publicise widely the risks of speed. A successful communication strategy is vital to changing road users' behaviour. The key to successful publicity is to get the target group to identify themselves with the problem, and to present advice on how they may contribute to a lasting solution. Educational programmes for schoolchildren can encourage them to think critically about how road danger arises, leading to "education for change".

  The development of a responsible attitude to speed should be encouraged in schools and focused on during driver training. Educational programmes for schoolchildren can go beyond traditional messages about coping with danger to encourage children to think critically about how road danger arises, an approach sometimes called "education for change". The continuum of risk and danger of inappropriate speed must be better communicated to the road using public. "Cues" should be provided to help people appreciate the risks and to encourage them to moderate their behaviour accordingly.

  Publicity campaigns have an important role in changing public attitudes to enforcement of traffic law. The key to success is to get the target group to identify themselves with the problem, and to present advice on how they may contribute to the solution. The study by Silcock et al (2000) found that drivers and riders tend to distance themselves from the problem of speeding and to blame others. Typically, there is a tendency for drivers to create a dichotomy in their mind between "dangerous speeding drivers" and "skilled and moderate speeding drivers". Not surprisingly, the majority placed themselves in the latter category. This effect is compounded by the fact that most drivers overestimate their driving competence. In this survey, the great majority of drivers rated their own driving abilities as average or above. Carefully targeted publicity must challenge these assumptions.

  11.  The position of the national press in relation to speed should move towards that of local newspapers, which more often reflect the requests by local residents for speeding traffic to be slowed down. A programme of education should be aimed at the media with regard to the dangers of speeding.

  The image of driving is strongly influenced by the media. There has been a lack of well-informed debate on the issue of speeding in the national press. As a result, PACTS recommends the DTLR should provide some kind of "rapid rebuttal unit" to counter the barrage of criticism, myths and allegations which have recently emerged in relation to the issue. A central research point to which to refer critics would be useful. The DTLR should also develop a national campaign to "pledge not to speed", perhaps building on Brake's "Pledge to drive safely" campaign, to raise the profile of the problem.

  Local papers are often more supportive of road safety concerns than the national press. Campaigns to reduce speeding should therefore attempt to harness the support of the local media and residents when and where this is evident, and work "from the bottom up" to encourage speeding to be considered as unacceptable as drink-driving. A MORI poll of 2,000 drivers' opinions of speed cameras, for instance, revealed that seven out of 10 drivers already accept that well-placed cameras are a useful way of reducing crashes and saving lives, while 80 per cent of drivers do not believe that cameras are an infringement on people's civil liberties (Brake, 2001). Indeed, the number of requests received from the public for cameras to be introduced in their area substantially exceeds the number of complaints about their operation. A review by the Association of Chief Police Officers revealed that when audits asked local people about road safety, 86 per cent of the partnership areas rated it as an issue of concern to rank alongside burglaries and muggings.

  12.  The cost recovery system for traffic safety cameras should be promptly rolled-out on a fully national basis. Money netted-off from the cameras should be available to fund wider road safety work in the area where it is raised. All speed fine notices should convey the dangers of speeding and advice on how to slow down.

  The DTLR's first year report of the cost recovery system for traffic safety cameras identifies the great success of this initiative, and the system should be promptly rolled-out on a fully national basis. On average there were 47 per cent fewer people killed and seriously injured at the camera sites, and the initiative has been particularly successful in reducing casualties among children and pedestrians. On average the percentage of drivers exceeding the speed limit at pilot camera sites reduced from 55 per cent to 16 per cent (DTLR, 2001f). Speeding by more than 15 mph over the limit at camera sites has virtually been eliminated. In Northamptonshire alone, 105 fewer people were killed and seriously injured on the county's roads during the first year of the pilot, than in the previous year.

  The system should be subjected to regular evaluation and strict operational criteria to ensure road casualty savings. Money netted-off from the cameras should be available to fund other road safety work in the area, wider than other camera schemes, to include education, training and publicity, and also traffic calming engineering measures. To maintain public confidence, Local Authorities should publish how and where the fine income from "netting-off" is being used to reduce road crashes. All fine notices, including those which are entirely computer generated, should be adapted to include an educational message to help convey the dangers of speeding and advice on how to slow down. The police should aim to reduce trigger speeds on cameras as soon as is feasible. Local Authorities and police forces should also analyse the profile of the group exceeding the speed limit in order to target future programmes of activity. PACTS also believes that the increased use of cameras should not lead to a reduction of direct police enforcement activity. Traffic police officers must continue to exercise the discretion of opting for prosecution rather than a fixed penalty, particularly in the context of breaking the speed limit in an urban area.

  13.  The conclusions of the Home Office review of Road Traffic Penalties should be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity.

  There is widespread belief that the police allow a fair degree of tolerance on top of the legal speed limit (Silcock, 2000). In the survey discussion group, the fines were considered low and ineffective by the participants, who thought that the addition of community service or driver improvement schemes would have more of an impact. Disqualification is the most potent incentive for change and acts as a significant deterrent to many drivers. It is vital that the "special reasons not to disqualify" are exercised consistently. PACTS would urge the Home Office to review the practice of the courts in this area and to encourage clearer guidance to magistrates to ensure that this discretion is not abused, particularly by serial offenders. If research suggests that many of those driving unlicensed have been disqualified from driving for totting up speeding offences but do not view this as a serious offence, then the greater use of disqualification as a penalty will have limited effect. Under such circumstances, temporary forfeiture of the vehicle may be a more effective punishment.

  PACTS is unconvinced by the proposal to revalue the penalty points system. If currently many drivers believe that they have a certain number of "graces" before disqualification, an increase of maximum penalty points to 20 from the present 12 may make that perception even stronger. If the Government intends to press ahead with the revaluation, it will need to undertake extensive advertising and public information campaigns to ensure that drivers understand that this is a stiffening and not a weakening of the status quo. The pattern of road traffic law and enforcement is contingent upon by the legal process and the police service. As long as these two take road traffic law and enforcement seriously, the proposals contained in the Review, if implemented, will be successful. One key role for the Home Office will be to use all the means at its disposal to ensure that implementation is consistent across police forces and the courts.

  14.  Local Authorities should measure the distribution of speeds about the average as part of their routine monitoring, to enable targeted intervention.

  While there is a strong link between the likelihood of a crash occurring and the speed at which drivers and riders travel, this relationship is not simple. It is necessary to consider the mean speed, the spread of speed about the mean, and extreme speeds, (Taylor et al, 2000). To allow more effective targeting for accident reduction, the routine speed monitoring used by Authorities in the formulation of speed management strategies needs to include measures of the distribution of speeds about the average.

  15.  Further research on the issue of speed and crashes should be undertaken.

  Further research is required to investigate the effect of speed on incidents in different driving conditions (dry/wet weather) and at different times of the day, as well as for different accident types (severity, road user types, etc). It is also necessary to know more about the effect of measures implemented to modify speeding, on the characteristics of the speed distribution.


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