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

Memorandum by Direct Line (RTS 30)


  Direct Line welcomes the Committee's decision to undertake an inquiry into the nature and effects of illegal and inappropriate road traffic speed in the UK.

  As the UK's largest private motor insurer Direct Line has a strong interest in understanding the reasons why motorists abuse speed limits through illegal and inappropriate speed, and those measures which should be adopted to promote safer driving and enable the motoring public to remain within the law.

  Direct Line regularly conducts research on a sample of UK motorists on a wide range of motoring issues including driver perceptions on speed and road safety. We also work closely with Brake, the independent road safety group, notably through our sponsorship of Road Safety Week.

  This submission builds on Direct Line's commitment to safe motoring. Our attention is concentrated on two key areas—the need to review speed limits and the application of new technologies—which combined could lead to much needed improvements in enforcement of speed limits, and in creating greater respect and understanding of speed limits amongst motorists.


1.  Introduction

  1.1  Speed is a contributory factor in about one third of all collisions making it the biggest single contributor to casualties on the UK's roads. In 2000, that equated to 1,100 deaths and 12,600 serious injuries.[49] According to Government figures speed is now responsible for twice as many deaths on our roads as drink driving. [50]

  1.2  It has been argued that higher speeds result in more collisions with an increase in the number of injuries as well as greater injury severity. Speed policy has traditionally developed in a way that places great emphasis on the important link between reducing traffic speed and increased road safety. Direct Line supports this approach, though it must be balanced with other considerations. The current arrangements could do much more to facilitate Britain's motoring public to stay within the law: speed limits, road design and classification, and new technologies can all contribute towards this goal.

  1.3  The UK enjoys a good road safety record relative to other European countries, however, we all recognise the need for further improvements. Better speed management has become a major policy priority. Direct Line welcomes this development with our endorsement of the Government's review of speed policy and its targets for casualty reduction under the 10 year transport strategy.

  1.4  Speed limits are widely disregarded. Research conducted for Direct Line by MORI revealed that over half of all drivers admit to illegally speeding on residential and country lanes. This rises to over three quarters of motorists on motorways.[51] As long as the public perception is that speed limits are wrong or set in an inconsistent manner this will make it particularly difficult to change attitudes to speeding through education and awareness campaigns. Inappropriate speed limits are often ignored and make drivers less willing to comply with the system generally.

  1.5  The ultimate goal for any speed management policy must be for drivers to take responsibility for their own actions and abide by speed limits. It is paramount that the UK adopts a policy towards road speed that encourages good practice. Altering speed limits will not work in isolation. Traffic calming and new technologies must play a vital role if we are to bring about a more effective speed policy which successfully reduces accident rates without unduly penalising the motoring public.

  1.6  Direct Line favours a number of proposals that could help to bring about a more effective system of speed management.

    —  Appropriate Speed: a thorough review of national speed limits.

    —  New technologies: speed cameras and speed limiters.

2.  Appropriate Speed: A review of national speed policy

  2.1  Direct Line supports a comprehensive review of speed on all UK roads with all local highway authorities developing effective local speed management strategies, taking into account national guidelines and local conditions.

  2.2  At present highway authorities have the power to set limits between 20mph and 70mph depending on the nature and function of the road. Most urban roads adhere to the 30mph speed limit. The DTLR document New Directions in Speed Management: A Review of Policy, published in March 2000, argued that the national speed limit "has the merit of simplicity: if there are street lights and no signs to the contrary, then the speed limit is 30mph".

  2.3  The Government cites simplicity is a major benefit of a national speed limit ie in theory it is applied to all roads of a particular type. At present it must be recognised that there is much confusion amongst Britain's motoring public. Direct Line believes the current confusion arises as a result of the arbitrary manner in which those variations are applied. The approach to varying speed limits often differs between roads of a similar type, as well as from one local highway authority to another. This piecemeal approach can only add to the sense of inconsistency felt by many of the UK's diving public.

  2.4  If we are to uphold the "merit of simplicity", Direct Line recommends that the power to apply variations in the national speed limit should be used in a more consistent manner. There should be clearly observable criteria for those variations to ensure that motorists have confidence that limits are not set arbitrarily by local highways authorities. Criteria should include those roads, particularly those near schools or hospitals, where vulnerable pedestrians are present in greatest numbers. Such roads should be clearly marked with driver knowledge improved through awareness campaigns.

  2.5  The national guidelines should provide a clear framework giving motorists greater confidence that any variations in speed limits are logical. The DTLR should revise the existing guidance on setting local limits to help achieve appropriate, consistent standards across the country that reflect, as far as possible the needs of all road users.

  2.6  Direct Line does not advocate lowering the 30mph limit per se despite the fact that most injuries occur on urban roads.[52] Direct Line agrees with the DTLR document New Directions in Speed Management in concluding that it is not sensible to make blanket changes to the national speed limit. Blanket changes could produce unnecessary reductions in speed. In many cases the resulting speed limits may make less sense than those already in place. This would further diminish respect for the law and leave a far greater number of motorists open to prosecution without resulting in any tangible improvements in road safety.

  2.7  The higher proportion of injuries in urban areas is perhaps inevitable given the mixed use of urban roads between motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. However, there is still much the UK can do to reduce current accident rates. The reclassification of roads under the Home Zones scheme with the application of 20mph speed limits, backed up by engineering measures such as chicanes and road humps, has proved highly successful in reducing average traffic speeds and improving road safety. The use of measures such as traffic calming, and the varying of the 30mph speed limit could be further extended.

  2.8  On rural roads where driver fatalities are more likely to occur,[53] the 60mph limit for single carriageways seems highly inappropriate. Direct Line supports a reduction in the maximum speed permitted. A lower limit could be determined through DTLR consultation.

  2.9  The current 70mph speed limit for motorways should also come under review. Motorways enjoy a significantly better safety record than other road categories.[54] This has encouraged a view among motorists that speeding is more socially acceptable on motorways than on other roads. 64 per cent believe it is acceptable to speed on motorways, compared to 12 per cent on country lanes and 8 per cent in a 30mph zone.[55] A higher 80mph speed limit may be more logical given the combination of public opinion and the safe nature of motorways, with the segregation of vehicles travelling in different directions and the most vulnerable road users excluded.

  2.10  An 80mph limit would need to be accompanied with the existing practice of reducing speed limits in accordance with safety considerations such as the weather conditions, the level of congestion and road works. This approach has already been adopted on sections of the M25 to improve safety and traffic flow.

  2.11  Direct Line believes the government should review its policies relating to the viability of "unsigned" limits.

  2.12  Direct Line welcomes the DTLR's decision to look at road design issues. We agree that there are real benefits in designing roads that clearly indicate by their appearance the speeds that are appropriate. We call on the Government to examine closely the issue of road signage as part of this review.

  2.13  New research clearly illustrates that motorists' lack of awareness is a major issue when motorists are using illegal speed levels. Amongst the most common reasons for speeding cited by motorists, 41 per cent claimed that they did not realise they were speeding and a further 13 per cent claimed they had forgotten or did not know what the speed limit was.[56] Direct Line believes the absence of repeater signs could be having a direct impact on the level of speed-related motoring offences.

  2.14  The supposed simplicity of the current system has been put forward as an argument against the use of repeater signs, which are not currently permitted on 30mph roads. Direct Line takes the view that given the already confused state of many motorists as to what is the correct speed limit to adhere to, repeater signs would greatly assist the motorist in making them aware of the speed limit they should observe. We would also call on the Government to look at design issues relating to the repeater signs with a recommendation that they be larger and clearer than those used at present.

3.  New technologies: speed cameras, speed limiters, engineering

  3.1  New technologies clearly offer new opportunities in speed management. The range of speed management measures currently in place is very effective in reducing speed on certain types of road. Direct Line believes there is scope for applying such measures more widely, where their benefits outweigh any disadvantages.

  3.2  Direct Line supports the Government's commitment to a country-wide roll-out of speed camera projects.

  3.3  Speed cameras could make a major contribution to the Government's Road Safety Strategy. Motorists themselves believe quite strongly that speed cameras have an impact on saving lives 69 per cent supporting the view that speed cameras play a role in reducing the number of accidents on the UK's roads. Speed cameras are particularly effective at reducing vehicle speeds. 88 per cent of motorists said that speed cameras give them a greater awareness of how fast they are driving.[57] Where speed cameras are present, 75 per cent of motorists respond by keeping as close to the set limit as possible.

  3.4  Direct Line calls upon police and local authorities to extend the use of enforcement cameras to geographical areas where they would have the greatest impact on casualty reduction. This would see increased usage of speed cameras on urban roads with heavy pedestrian numbers, in particular near schools and those roads that have been identified as accident black spots. This could have a large impact on child road safety with children accounting for 37 per cent of pedestrian casualties overall and 41 per cent of pedestrian casualties in urban areas.[58] The measure also enjoys widespread support amongst the motoring public. 68 per cent said they would favour more speed cameras located around schools. A similar number (64 per cent) favour cameras being used more extensively at accident black spots.[59]

  3.5  The effectiveness of speed cameras has been blunted by the operation costs. Our research shows that British motorists are getting away with speeding despite being caught by speed cameras. Two-thirds of those motorists caught on speed cameras received no follow up from the authorities.[60] If motorists are going to fully understand the severity of speeding and its consequences; there is a pressing need to improve the follow-up procedure for those who are caught on camera. Motorists must retain the perception that speeding violations are a serious matter and that they will be punished if they transgress the law where enforcement cameras are in operation.

  3.6  Direct Line would like to see the technologies for speed limiters developed further

  3.7  Speed limiters are already fitted to some vehicles and can be applied in a number of ways. It is possible to restrict the maximum speed of the vehicle or make drivers more aware of the speed limit being enforced. Systems that place actual limits on how fast a vehicle can travel could seriously undermine the drivers' judgement and may prove to be too restrictive. Direct Line would like to see systems developed which could increase the motorists' awareness of the limits in place through new in-car technologies. Not only would such a system prevent speeding, it would also allow variable speed limits in bad weather or at night, and lower limits at hazards like junctions and bends.

  3.8  Concerns regarding the acceptability of such equipment to the motoring public must be examined. Our research revealed only 43 per cent of the motoring public favour speed limiters being fitted to all cars retrospectively.[61]

  3.9  Direct Line would like to see any development in technology supported with adequate data protection covering the scope and purpose of any information made available as a result of new technologies. Direct Line takes the view that any information should serve the sole purpose of facilitating the motorist to uphold the law.


  4.1  A successful speed policy must command the respect of the driving public. To achieve this objective Direct Line calls for:

    —  A comprehensive review of UK speed limits, together with greater use of variable limits based on the prevailing road and traffic condition.

    —  Improvements in road design. The need for adequate signage should form an important part of the review.

    —  Increased investment in speed enforcement technologies. The targeted use of speed cameras should be extended to cover locations where improved road safety is a pressing concern.

    —  The use of in-car technology to raise driver awareness of speed limits.

Mark Twigg

Public Affairs Manager

January 2001

49   DTLR figures, House of Commons Hansard, 26 June 2001. Back

50   DTLR figures, press release, 3 December 2001. Back

51   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

52   Of 325,212 incidents on the UK's roads in 1999, 223,025 (two-thirds) were on roads in built up areas. Source: DETR 2000. Back

53   11,289 car drivers and passengers are killed or seriously injured on roads in non-built-up areas. This represents over half the total. Source: DTLR 2000. Back

54   DETR, New Directions in Speed Management, 2000. Back

55   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

56   Brake "Slow Down" Report, January 2002. Back

57   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

58   DETR, New Directions in Speed Management, 2000. Back

59   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

60   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

61   MORI-Direct Line Motoring Report, July 2001. Back

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