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

Memorandum by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RTS 16)



  People who drive or ride too fast for the prevailing road and traffic conditions cause, or contribute to, one third of road crashes, resulting in deaths of over 1,000 people each year. Drivers and riders exceeding the speed limit are more likely to be involved in crashes and their higher speed means that those crashes are likely to cause more severe injuries, either to themselves or to other road users.

  The term inappropriate speed encompasses both "excessive speed", when the speed limit is exceeded (sometimes by wide margins) but also driving or riding within the speed limit when this is too fast for the particular conditions at the time (for example, in poor weather, poor visibility or high pedestrian activity).

  In addition to being a problem on its own, inappropriate speed also magnifies other driver errors, such as driving too close or driving when fatigued or distracted, multiplying the chances of these types of driver behaviour causing an accident. Inappropriate speed removes the driver's safety margin.


Higher Speeds Cause More Accidents[27]

  Higher speeds mean that drivers have less time to identify and react to what is happening around them, and it takes longer for the vehicle to stop.

  Speed is a contributory factor in about one third of all road collisions. This means that in the year 2000, around 72,000 reported road accidents were due at least in part to someone driving or riding too fast. These accidents caused:

    —  the deaths of about 1,100 people;

    —  serious injuries to about 12,700 people;

    —  slight injuries to about 900,000 people.

  If average speeds reduced by 1 mph, the accident rate would fall by 5 per cent. This varies slightly according to road type, so that a 1 mph reduction in average speed would reduce accident frequency by about:

  6 per cent on urban main roads and residential roads with low average speeds.

  4 per cent on medium speed urban roads and lower speed rural main roads.

  3 per cent on the higher speed urban roads and rural single carriageway main roads.

  If an individual drives more than 10-15 per cent above the average speed of the traffic around them, they are much more likely to be involved in an accident.

  Drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions. They are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close.

Higher Speeds Cause More Serious Injuries

  Impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, and so they lead to more serious injuries to those involved. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30 mph.

  The probability of serious injury to a person wearing a seat belt in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20 mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater.

  In collisions involving pedestrians and cars or car-derived vans, 85 per cent of fatalities occurred at impact speeds below 40 mph, 45 per cent occurred at less than 30 mph and 5 per cent at speeds below 20 mph.

  About 40 per cent of pedestrians who are stuck at speeds below 20 mph sustain non-minor injuries. At speeds up to 30 mph 90 per cent of pedestrians suffer non-minor injuries. Pedestrians hit at speeds below 30 mph receive mainly survivable injuries, but this changes to mainly fatal injuries at speeds of between about 30 and 40 mph.

  Hit by a car at 40 mph, nine out of ten pedestrians will be killed.

  Hit by a car at 30 mph, about half of pedestrians will be killed.

  Hit by a car at 20 mph, nine out of ten pedestrians will survive.

What is the Extent of Speeding?

  The DTLR 2001 Speed Survey[28] showed that

    —  More than half of all cars on motorways and dual carriageways exceed the speed limit.

    —  66 per cent of cars exceed the 30 mph limit in urban areas.

    —  on 40 mph roads, 25 per cent of drivers' speed.

    —  Motorcyclists are the most likely to be speeding on 40 mph urban roads.

    —  On urban 30 mph roads, 54 per cent of two-axle LGVs exceed the speed limit.

  Most drivers will admit to speeding sometimes, but surveys29, [29], [30], [31],[32] have identified those groups who are most likely to do so:

    —  car drivers from high-income households;

    —  high-mileage drivers of newer, large cars;

    —  company car drivers;

    —  drivers who drive as part of their work;

    —  young, novice drivers;

    —  male drivers.

  Drivers often justify speeding on the basis that they are "ordinary, safe speeding drivers" and that speed limits are unrealistic. A survey by the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research29 concluded that "speeding is not seen as a crime",—"serious speeding is accepted as dangerous, moderate speeding is not". The report also highlighted that most drivers believe that it is the "boy racer" and "company car driver" that are the problem rather than themselves.

How Can Speed Related Accidents be Reduced?


  Education is absolutely vital in trying to change attitudes towards speeding. Those who drink and drive are seen as behaving in a dangerous, anti-social and selfish manner with little regard for the safety of other people. However, those who speed are not regarded by the public or the media in this way (unless they grossly exceed the speed limit). Therefore, it is essential that the dangers caused by driving at inappropriate speeds are clearly explained and demonstrated (in the way that has been done for drink-driving) to work towards a general public acceptance and ownership of the problem of illegal and inappropriate speed.

  It will be far easier to persuade people to drive at safer speeds if they understand and accept that driving too fast significantly increases the chances of being involved in an accident, and significantly increases the chances of that accident being serious or fatal.

  Government publicity campaigns have highlighted the dangers of driving too fast for many years, and should continue to do so, with the support of all the other agencies and organisations involved in promoting road safety. The Government's Think Campaign and the Scottish Executive's "Foolsspeed" campaign are strongly supported by RoSPA.

  Unfortunately, road safety education and publicity are often undermined in the mass media. Motor manufacturers, and their advertising companies, continue to emphasise the speed and power of their vehicles. Television motoring programmes continue to promote the thrill of speed, placing undue emphasis on performance at speed, often showing cars being raced (albeit not on the public highway). Television dramas often show characters driving at speed when speeding is not essential to the plot or the characterisation.

  Motor manufacturers, national press, TV and advertisers should not glamorise speed as exciting and exhilarating nor as "normal" behaviour. The Advertising Standards Authority has taken action on a number of occasions against car advertisements that promote speed, and this is very welcome. The ASA and other broadcast regulatory bodies could usefully review and strengthen their guidance in this respect.


  Speeding is a symptom of a more general poor attitude towards driving. One of the weaknesses of the UK's driver licensing system is that once the driving test has been passed, the driver is licensed, virtually for life, with no requirement and very little incentive to develop his/her driving skills any further. Drivers can voluntarily take further training, such as Pass Plus or courses offered by driver training providers such as RoSPA, but there is little incentive for individual drivers to do so. Only 3 per cent of drivers take any further driving instruction after passing their test33. Therefore, there is a need to develop new ways of encouraging drivers to continue to develop their driving skills after the test.

  Research has shown that drivers can be trained in hazard perception skills, which will reduce their accident risk. The Hazard Perception Test to be introduced during 2002 is probably the most significant change to the Driving Test for decades and is warmly welcomed by RoSPA.

  Graduated Licensing Systems offer opportunities to provide phased driving experience for new drivers during the period when they are most at risk of being involved in an accident, and of reducing their exposure to the factors that are most dangerous to them (including speed, alcohol, night driving and carrying passengers). Systems vary across the world, and it is not clear what form would be most feasible and effective in Britain. There are already elements in place, such as the New Drivers Act, and other elements (Log Books and Pass Plus) which could form part of such a system. However, research is needed to assess the feasibility and benefit of graduated licensing in Britain, and its optimal form.

  Driver improvement courses are proving effective in reducing the likelihood of re-offending[33], and more recently Speed Awareness courses are being developed by Local Authorities and Police Forces. If evaluation shows that these courses reduce the likelihood of speeding offenders speeding again, consideration should be given to developing a national `speed offender' driver course in a similar way to the driver improvement schemes that are now available nationally.


  Drivers' choice of speed is partly dependent on the characteristics of the road on which they are driving. Therefore, it is important that road design clearly gives drivers the right messages about the maximum safe speed. It is important that speed limits are appropriate for the nature of the road on which they are posted, otherwise drivers are less likely to respect them and it may reinforce the argument used by some motorists that they are unfairly penalised. The government's review of road hierarchy will hopefully provide new guidance on setting appropriate speed limits, so that motorists do not feel that the limits they are asked to obey are unrealistic. This should be completed as soon as possible.

  Safer roads benefit all road users, but especially those who are most vulnerable: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, children and the elderly.

  Speed management is central to road safety. A number of local authorities have already introduced comprehensive speed management strategies that have been successful in reducing casualties and average speeds. Good practice in this field should be highlighted and disseminated.

  The "IHT Urban Safety Management Guidelines" identify the need for holistic approaches to safety-related infrastructure improvements, and provide evidence of effectiveness and good practice, as do the "IHT Rural Safety Management Guidelines", the DTLR "Good Practice Guidelines" and RoSPA's "Road Safety Engineering" manual.

  Traffic calming schemes remain one of the most effective methods of reducing vehicle speeds in urban areas, and are particularly effective at reducing child pedestrian casualties. 20 mph zones have proven particularly effective in reducing accidents involving child pedestrians and cyclists. RoSPA also supports the introduction and expansion of Home Zones and Quiet Lanes.

  Motorists often claim that it is sometimes difficult to know what the speed limit is on a particular stretch of road. The Government should consider how they can best ensure that the speed limit is always clearly and consistently marked. Greater use of speed limit repeater signs and road markings should be considered. Some drivers are confused about the meaning of the national speed limit sign (white circle with diagonal black bar) which means different speed limits on different types of road. This sign should be phased out and replaced with the actual speed limit signs.


  Road policing is essential. The Home Office should set road policing as a key objective for police forces and ensure that resources are in place to deliver on this objective.

Speed Cameras

  There has been mixed reaction to speed cameras, which have received much media coverage recently following the netting off scheme which allows some of the fine revenue to pay for the costs of camera enforcement activities. But, accident data clearly shows that they are effective. The first speed cameras in the UK were installed in West London in 1992. In the first three years of operation, at the camera sites they reduced the number of people killed by 70 per cent and the number seriously injured by 27 per cent[34]. A study in 1996 found that speed cameras reduced casualties by about 28 per cent[35]. On average, at the camera sites in the Netting-off pilot scheme, 47 per cent (about 109 people) fewer people were killed and seriously injured and there were 35 per cent fewer crashes.[36]


  Motor manufacturers could play a much more prominent role in reducing the number of people killed and injured in speed-related road accidents. Manufacturers continue to produce cars and motorcycles that are capable of achieving speeds of 160 mph and more. RoSPA believes that the European Commission, national governments and the motor industry should work together to develop restrictions on the top speeds and power of new cars and motorcycles.

  Modern cars provide a smooth, quiet drive, even at very high speeds, and therefore drivers are often insulated from any real sensation of the speed at which they are travelling. The vehicle's power means that it is very easy to creep above the speed limit. Indeed, drivers often cite this as a reason for speeding. Manufacturers should consider how they can design cars so that drivers have more awareness and receive better information about their actual speed. For example, the design of the speedometer is often very unhelpful. On many speedometers, the dial shows 20mph and 40mph, but not 30mph or 70mph. Placing 30mph in the 12 o'clock position on the speedometer dial might raise drivers' awareness of their speed, particularly on urban roads.

Intelligent Speed Adaptation

  Intelligent Speed Limiters perhaps offer the best opportunity for vehicle technology to influence driving behaviour. These involve external devices on the roadside which communicate with a corresponding device on passing vehicles and can either alert the driver to voluntarily reduce their speed (Driver Select System) or physically prevent the vehicle from exceeding the speed limit on the particular road (Mandatory System). Trials by Leeds University and the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA)[37], found that the Mandatory System successful reduced excessive speed, particularly in areas where drivers are renowned for being poor at adapting their speed, for example in rural villages. However, drivers tended to disengage the voluntary system when the surrounding traffic was speeding, and preferred to be able to turn the system off when they felt vulnerable or under pressure from other drivers.

  The development of Intelligent Speed Adaptation offers very significant opportunities for influencing drivers' choice of speed. Further research is needed to assess whether taking vehicle control away from drivers would have any adverse affects, but the development and implementation of this technology should be strongly encouraged.

Safer Car Fronts

  As already noted, higher speeds means more severe injuries, especially to pedestrians. It is estimated that safer car fronts would save about 2,000 lives and 18,000 serious injuries annually on EU roads, and could reduce serious and fatal pedestrian injuries in Britain by 20 per cent. It is extremely unfortunate that the European Commission has recently decided to accept a Negotiated Agreement proposed by the motor industry, which is much less stringent than a mandatory European Directive based on the four crash tests developed by the European Enhanced Vehicle Safety Committee Working Group 17 (EECV WG 17).


  Company car drivers and others who drive for work are more likely to speed. RoSPA has been campaigning since 1996 for employers to adopt the Management of Occupational Road Risk (MORR) and address the risks created when their employees use the road as part of their work as part of their health and safety at work procedures. The Work-Related Road Safety Task Group[38] has recently confirmed that at-work drivers are involved in between 25-33 per cent of road accidents and has made several recommendations to help ensure that employers manage the safety of their employees whilst at work on the road. RoSPA believes that the government and HSC should allocate appropriate resources to enable the report's recommendations to be implemented.

  Employers should identify high-risk drivers and high-risk journeys and set schedules that are generous enough to ensure that drivers are not time-pressured into speeding. They should make it clear that they expect all employees to comply with posted speed limits when driving in the course of their work and that failure to do so will be regarded as a serious matter. They should consider the speed performance of their company vehicles, assess driver competence and provide appropriate driver training. RoSPA is developing a "Company Vehicle Speed Code" to provide advice to employers (copy at Appendix A).


  There is no doubt that driving at an inappropriate speed is one of the most serious road safety problems on Britain's roads, and causes death and injury to thousands of people each year. Unfortunately, the danger caused by speeding drivers has not yet been accepted by the public in the same way as the danger caused by drink-drivers.

  A co-ordinated speed management strategy must include education, training and publicity, highway engineering and design, vehicle engineering and enforcement measures. Employers in particular have a potentially powerful role to play in influencing employee driver attitudes and behaviour. But ultimately, the public as a whole needs to be persuaded that driving at inappropriate speeds is not a minor, technical offence that everyone commits, but a serious, dangerous and anti-social activity in which the speeding driver places his/her own convenience above the safety and well-being of other people.

January 2002

27   "New Directions in Speed Management-A Review of Policy", DETR, 2000. Back

28   "Vehicle Speeds in Great Britain 2000, DTLR. Back

29   Stradling, "Young Driver Attitudes", DETR Speed Review Seminar Proceedings, 1999. Back

30   Webster and Wells: The Characteristics of Speeders: TRL 440. Back

31   Silcock et al: What Limits Speed? Factors that affect how fast we drive: AA FRSR. Back

32   Forsyth: Cohort Study of Learner and Novice Drivers: TRL 372. Back

33   Burgess and Webley: Evaluating the Effectiveness of the United Kingdom's National Driver Improvement Scheme: DTLR: 2000. Back

34   West London Speed Camera Demonstration Project: Highways Agency 1997. Back

35   Cost Benefit Analysis of Traffic Light and Speed Cameras: Police Research Group: 1995. Back

36   "Cost Recovery System for Traffic Safety Cameras, First Year Report", DTLR, 2001. Back

37   Carsten et al, "User Trials with Intelligent Speed Limiters", DETR, Behavioural Research in Road Safety, Tenth Seminar, 2000. Back

38   Work Related Road Safety Task Group, "Reducing At-work Road Traffic Incidents", HSE 2001. Back

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