Memorandum by Bath & North East Somerset
Council (RTS 32)
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
The role of illegal and inappropriate speed
is well established in respect of its influence on the frequency
and severity of crashes. The contribution that speed has upon
the quality of life is well understood.
Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) is
a local authority with both urban centres and rural villages.
The majority of requests and enquiries from the public received
by the Traffic & Safety team relate to problems caused by
speeding traffic, both in urban and rural areas. In many cases,
these requests relate to sites with a low or non-existent "accident"
record. This makes it difficult to justify expenditure on these
schemes on the basis of traditional "rate of return"
criteria. However, the sheer volume of such requests suggests
that speed is perceived as a significant problem, while the lack
of casualties implies that people deal with the danger by avoiding
certain locations or journeys.
The restriction of the independent mobility
of children and elderly people due to traffic danger has enormous
implications for the health and development of both groups. The
stress experienced by those living in areas exposed to speeding
traffic, together with the impact on social cohesion from roads
which sever the community, are likely to have a negative impact
upon the quality of life.
Urban design needs to be predicated on the principal
that the safest access for all road users is essential. As the
least protected of road users pedestrians, cyclists and public
transport users need to receive priority. Therefore safe access
on foot needs to be ensured in the design of amenities and road
design needs to reflect this by reducing the capacity for motor
vehicles to endanger other road users. As research shows that
traffic speeds above 20 mph pose a significant risk of severe
injury or death to vulnerable road users in collision with motor
vehicles, then a 20 mph limit should be the norm in mixed use
and residential areas. Roads need to be designed to eliminate
the possibility of faster traffic.
On the same principle, the Home Zone concept
needs to become established as a standard for new residential
There is a considerable amount of consistent
research about the consequences of speed on crash frequency and
severity. Less is available on the "quality of life"
impact as discussed above.
There has been useful research on the causes
of excess speed, (including useful recent research from the AA
Foundation). While such research looks at aspects of road design
and the attributes of various driver types (by age, gender, etc)
which are correlated with anti social driver behaviour, there
is a lack of analysis of the background cultural assumptions which
legitimise aggressive or irresponsible driving. As these assumptions
go deep, including the cultural meanings attached to various aspects
of driver behaviour, and are transmitted and reinforced through
everyday experience of the media (films, TV, newspapers, advertising,
etc), any analysis that leaves such factors out of account will
be less effective as a guide to remedial action.
is the clearest indication of the social unacceptability of speeding.
However, enforcement is hampered by lack of public support (eg
the perception that police should be catching "real criminals")
and a perceived leniency in terms of sentencing by the courts.
In this light, the use of "Driver Improvement Programmes"
for convicted offenders has been shown to be helpful in raising
awareness that speeding is not a trivial or victimless offence.
Unfortunately, the soft line taken recently
on speed camera signing and location has not been helpful. The
lack of emphasis on traffic policing in the recent White Paper
on policing has also sent out the wrong message.
Road redesign and traffic calmingthere
is an unhelpful legacy here in as much as road design in the past
has often encouraged speeding by making life easier for the driver
(longer sight lines, removal of "aggressive" objects,
roads designed to high speed specifications in areas where limits
apply, etc). The recent emphasis on, for example, self enforcing
20 mph zones is helpful, but traffic calming can be a very expensive
option. Recent increases in funding have been helpful, but the
"rate of return" criteria can be a limiting influence,
making it difficult to justify spending where fear of traffic,
rather than a casualty record, is being addressed.
Road reclassificationThe AA Report
(cited above) shows that, for many drivers, a perception of inconsistency
in speed limits undermines their credibility and therefore the
degree of compliance. A robust system of road classification could
help in this regard, related to the range of uses of a particular
road or street. Residential roads would therefore normally have
a 20 mph speed limit, for example, on the clear principle that
higher speeds would pose an unacceptable threat to vulnerable
Pedestrian barrierssuch devices,
while offering some protection for pedestrians send out the wrong
signal. In a situation where vulnerable road users are threatened
by motor vehicles, it seems absurd to place the restriction on
the vulnerable, especially when we want to encourage more people
to walk. A better policy would be to address the source of danger.
Technologythe fact that a large
proportion of drivers admit to regularly ignoring speed limits
suggests that they feel themselves to be the best judges of what
constitutes "appropriate speed". The correlation between
speed and collisions shows this judgement to be flawed. Technology
which takes the choice of whether to comply with limits away from
the driver is both available and potentially very useful. Either
through the use of roadside transponders or satellite technology,
variable speed limiters on vehicles are probably the most likely
means of eliminating excess speed as a social problem. They would
need to be more sophisticated to eliminate the problem of inappropriate
speed, but there is no reason in principle why this could not
Educationthis is the key to the
effectiveness of all the other approaches. Unless public perception
about the impact on speeding is changed, lack of public support
is likely to undermine strategies based on speed cameras, new
speed limits, traffic calming and new technology.
There is an apparent paradox here. Whilst a
majority of drivers regularly break speed limits and there is
considerable opposition from motorists and the media to the use
of speed cameras and enforcement in general, the problem of traffic
speed features highly in surveys of the public, particularly in
the context of Crime and Disorder surveys or Safer Routes to School
What this suggests is that people perceive speed
differently depending upon whether they identify themselves as
a driver, a resident or a parent. In the B&NES area, this
has become evident as we have worked more closely with the police
to target areas for speed enforcement in response to resident's
concerns. When police have carried out enforcement activity they
usually find the majority of offenders are local residents. In
other words, these communities are looking for the local authority
to solve problems they are creating themselves.
In response to this phenomenon, we recently
piloted an approach whereby, in exchange for providing speed reduction
measures the community was required to disseminate information
about the impact of speeding, both in general and within the locality.
Residents were also asked to sign a "no speeding pledge".
We are still trialling this approach to see if it has any longer
In general, education is the most appropriate
means of challenging the cultural values and peer pressures which
make speeding such a normal and accepted part of driver behaviour.
Are relevant bodies taking the right action?
Local Authoritiesthere is a tendency
to address speeding as a problem only where there is a proven
speed related casualty record. This means that investment in remedial
measures can be easily prioritised and justified. But is also
shows the weakness of a casualty reduction approach, If our objective
is to make roads safer for everyone, then remedial action can
free up previously suppressed travel demands, encourage the greater
use of sustainable modes and enable groups such as children and
the elderly to have more equal access to amenities.
An approach which targets road danger at source
is likely to have a much broader impact and to address many policy
objectives simultaneously. It would also address sites where speeding
was perceived as a problem for local residents but there is no
casualty record because people avoid it.
Speed management strategies are a very useful
means for local authorities to examine their approach to speeding
problems and to develop a more consistent approach. The most effective
strategies would be those which involve the wider community, including
drivers, in its development and which disseminate the content
and rationale as widely as possible.
DTLRrecent policy developments
such as Safer Routes to School, 20 mph zones and Home Zones have
greatly increased the range of measures that local authorities
can take to address speeding problems. However, the continuing
emphasis on rates of return can still be an impediment as discussed
Police/Home Office/Courtsit is
important that there is consistency on the part of the various
agencies of the state in respect of speeding. Whilst there is
welcome emphasis on speed in the DTLR Road Safety Strategy, the
watering down of the approach to speed cameras, together with
the low profile given to traffic policing in recent policy statements,
send mixed signals. Similarly, the lenient attitude in the courts
towards speeding offences, even where these result in injury to
third parties, serves to undermine the road safety strategy.
Motor Manufacturerswhilst there
has been a move in recent years to increase the crashworthiness
of vehicles through in-car safety aids, this has proved to be
a mixed blessing as it protects drivers against some of the consequences
of their own folly. These innovations do nothing to decrease the
risk to vulnerable road users and may even encourage drivers to
drive faster (as in "it's OK, I've got ABS"), therefore
increasing the risk to those outside the vehicle.
Variable speed limits and perhaps black box
technology to establish driver behaviour in the lead up to a crash,
would help ameliorate the negative effects of in-car safety measures.
Above all, if we are serious about speed, why
are manufacturers allowed to produce vehicles with top speed and
acceleration performances far above the level needed to carry
out their function?
National Press/TVThe recent largely
negative response on the part of the press to speed cameras demonstrates
the danger of not challenging the consensus. The newspapers believe
themselves to be representing the common sense assumptions of
their readers. This relates to the point made earlier about the
need to address the widespread cultural consensus, which requires
the political will to persuade, and if necessary take on, the
AdvertisersWhilst references to
speed as an overt selling point for vehicles has declined in recent
years, it is often still there in a more subtle form. References
to speed are generally subsumed under references to performance.
In some cases, such as with Volvo fairly recently, clear references
to speed still emerge. The problem is not helped by the process
whereby complaints against adverts can only be acted upon once
the campaign is underway and the damage has already been done.