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


Memorandum by RoadPeace (RTS 35)

THE NATURE AND EFFECTS OF ILLEGAL AND INAPPROPRIATE ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED IN THE UK

1.  INTRODUCTION

1.1  RoadPeace

  With speed identified as the leading contributory factor in road crashes, RoadPeace welcomes the Transport Committee's Inquiry on Speed. Established in 1992, RoadPeace is the national charity for road traffic victims in the UK and exists to provide emotional and practical support to road victims (including a helpline service), to raise awareness of road danger and to highlight and present evidence of the consequences of road death and injury on families and society. Road crashes are the leading cause of premature death and acquired disability. RoadPeace members include many who are bereaved or injured as a result of road crashes, as well as those who are concerned about road danger, and are dedicated to preventing future tragedy on the road.

1.2  RoadPeace and Speed

  RoadPeace first targeted the problem of speed in its 1996 publication "Tough on Speed". RoadPeace is a founder member of the Slower Speeds Initiative (SSI) and has recently produced a briefing sheet on Speed and Safety Cameras.

  RoadPeace has also begun collaborating with the Cochrane Group, an international health research consortium dedicated to evidence based interventions, on the effectiveness of safety cameras. RoadPeace is also contributing to the British Medical Journal May 2002 issue on Road Trauma with an article on the impacts of speed, written by a bereaved father.

2.  ROLE OF SPEED

2.1  Crash Causation

  With the restriction on response length, it is not possible, nor practical, to summarise all speed related research. RoadPeace would just like to note the recent articles that have summarised the TRL research on speed. Earlier speed impact estimates have been revised, with recent research concluding that a 1mph reduction in mean speed can produce a reduction in injury collision frequency of between 2-7 per cent with averages of 10 per cent on urban roads. (Taylor, 2001).

Under-estimating speed as contributory factory

  Taylor also noted how other crashes, such as "following too closely", while not specifically or primarily caused by speed, will be influenced by the vehicle speed.

  At present, speed has been identified as a contributing factor in one-third of fatal crashes and in approximately 15 per cent of injury collisions surveyed. The contributory factors are identified at the initial reporting stage and while fatal crashes will be reported by a specialist collision investigator, all non life threatening crashes (the vast majority of injury crashes) will be reported by general police with very little training in contributory factor identification. The limited training was summarised in TRL Report 323 "A New System for recording contributory factors in road accidents". Contributory factors, including speed, are thus being identified not only by those with little training, but also before the investigation is even completed.

2.2  Casualty causation

  Casualty severity is even more sensitive to speed than is crash frequency, and it is argued here that preventing casualties, even in crashes not caused by speed but where the casualty severity has been aggravated by excessive speed, should be the true objective.

  The statistics from DETR's Kill Your Speed campaign clearly demonstrate the sensitivity of impact speed on survival rates. While this campaign has targeted only pedestrians, car occupants are also susceptible since the probability of a serious injury to a belted car occupant in a front seat at an impact speed of 30mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40mph it is over five times greater (Hobbes and Mills, 1984).

2.2.1  Under-estimating road traffic casualties

  The Government has estimated that "excessive and inappropriate speed helps to kill around 1,200 people and to injure over 100,000 more" (DETR, March 2000). These casualty estimates are based on police records and not hospital statistics. Hospital studies have consistently shown the number of road traffic casualties to be two to three times higher than reported in the official, ie police based statistics (See RoadPeace's "Under-reporting of road traffic casualties or why we shouldn't use police data to measure a public health crisis", 2001).

  A recent TRL report comparing STATS 19 data with the Trauma Advisory and Research Network data reported that only 61 per cent of road traffic casualties who had been in hospital for a minimum of three days were included in STATS 19 data (For Greater London, it was 51 per cent). The Police are not medically trained to differentiate between a serious and a slight injury and they have been found to be twice as likely to under-estimate the severity of a road injury than over-estimate it (Simpson, 1996). Police statistics are no longer seen as the most accurate source of data on other victims, ie those of domestic violence or rape. Based on hospital estimates, the true number of people being injured by excessive speed is more likely to exceed 200,000 if not 300,000.

2.3  Socio-economic impact

  The value of preventing road crashes is currently estimated at over £16 billion (DTLR, 2001) with the majority of injury crash costs represented by human costs, ie to avoid the pain, grief and suffering. Families bear the brunt of caring for road casualties. Headway, the national charity for head injured, estimates that on average ten family members are affected by every serious head injured casualty, the vast majority of which are caused by road traffic collisions (Headway website).

  Government research found that half of all public sector road safety expenditure is on hospitals and ambulances (DETR, 1997). With seriously injured staying in hospital on average over 11 days, the opportunity cost to the already overstretched NHS and other patients is believed to be immense.

Box 1: The high cost of speeding motorists (The Guardian, 3 September 2001)

  Just before Christmas last year our 16 year-old daughter was knocked down by a speeding motorist estimated to have been driving at between 49 and 63mph in a 30mph zone. Her injuries were horrific. All over Christmas and the New Year period she lay unconscious in the local intensive care unit, her life in the balance. Against all odds she survived (Driven to Death, 30 August).

  The costs in both human and financial terms have been incalculable; it does not take much imagination to estimate the physical and psychological effects on our daughter. Plus the effects on our family and our friends, not knowing whether she'd make it through to the next day. And on her friends and other onlookers who witnessed the accident.

  Add to this the cost of her continued recovery, including a total of nine weeks in hospital, numerous outpatient appointments, seven operations so far, scans and drugs; one course of antibiotics alone cost some £5,000. Then there's the police investigation, the ongoing procedures in both the criminal and civil courts, the costs of providing invigilators when she had to sit her GCSEs from her hospital bed, the cost in terms of her father and I having to take extended leave from work. The list could go on.

  As is often the case in such situations, there have been positives. The treatment she received at the local NHS hospital has been superb. The strength of will and determination of our daughter has astonished us and, despite everything, she managed to get sufficient A-C grades to take her onto the next step of her education.

  If drivers will not take responsibility for the potentially lethal weapons they drive, then taking measures that might compel them to do so, such as the widespread installation of speed cameras, must be welcomed. Speeding is a crime and if those who speed are caught and have to pay the financial penalties, then so be it. The costs to us all of not using the available technology to prevent speeding will be far, far higher. The civil liberties arguments are spurious; if someone is speeding and seen by a police officer, why should it be any different if they are "seen" by a camera? Pauline Jordan, Brighton ([email protected])

2.4  Social exclusion and poor at risk

  "Road crashes are the leading cause of death and acquired disability of children. Many more children are killed on the roads than are murdered. Low income families are also more at risk since children from poorer areas are up to six times more likely to be injured in a road accident" (Care on the Road, April 2001). These families will also be less prepared to cope with the consequences of any injury, with little savings or private medical insurance coverage likely. DETR research also found Asian children in the UK to be involved in up to twice as many pedestrian collisions as average (Advanced Driving, Summer 2001).

2.5  Quality of Life

  While an increasing number of people know someone, or of someone, having been killed or seriously injured in a road crash, including through illegal or inappropriate speed, the risk of this tragedy would have a much wider effect if parents did not curtail their children's leisure activity and transport mode choices in order to keep their children safe. Few families, if any, will be able to say that fear of road danger has not restricted their options and reduced their quality of life.

2.6  Extent of Speeding

  Despite the serious consequences, speeding is endemic, as has been shown by Government's research into speeding:

    —  two-thirds of drivers exceed the 30mph speed limit on urban roads and 25 per cent exceed the 40mph speed limit.

    —  on motorways, 55 per cent exceed the 70mph speed limit with 13 per cent travelling faster than 80mph.

    —  on dual carriageways, 90 per cent of articulated HGVs exceeded their 50mph limit and on single carriageways, 76 per cent exceeded their 40mph limit (Vehicle Speeds in Great Britain: 2000).

  On 30mph roads, where minor increases in speed have major impacts on casualty severity, the survey found approximately one-third of cars on 30mph roads were travelling above 35mph. As speeding was worse during off peak hours there is concern that congestion, rather than personal choice, is discouraging/preventing further speeding. These findings show that speeding is not clustered at hot spots but is endemic in society and will need more than isolated interventions for any real improvement in risk reduction to occur.

3.  CURENT UK RESPONSE

3.1  Co-ordinated Approach (or Lack of)

  The Government's road safety strategy, Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone, included a chapter on safer speeds. Despite speed being identified as the single largest contributory factor in road traffic crashes, despite acknowledgement that casualty severity is sensitive to speeds under 40mph and also under 30mph and despite widespread evidence of speeding, the strategy refrained from recommending lowering the 30 mph urban speed limit norm.

  Throughout Government, speeding is still not seen as the killer it is. A Daily Telegraph article (17 November 2000) quoted one minister as saying "people don't think of themselves as criminals if they are caught speeding. The courts should not be wasting their time on things like that". Despite more people being killed or injured by excessive speed, it is not considered as dangerous as the less frequent drink driving offence.

  Government's approach to speed is quite different to that of other public health threats, or even threats to property. While safety cameras are now restricted to well-publicised locations with a speed related crash history, no such criteria are imposed on CCTV cameras or the use of under-cover police officers. Even more serious is the restriction of safety cameras to locations with a speed related history, instead of a speed related risk. Safety cameras have the ability to be self-financing and should not be restricted to the traditional hazardous location identification process, where multiple injury crashes have to occur before investment can be justified.

  Property protection appears to be a much higher priority than injury prevention. Regarding other health threats, the Government adopted a very pro-active approach to the foot and mouth disease, instead of responding only after repeated cases of foot and mouth were found.

  The Government is now compensating BSE victims on the basis that more could have been done to prevent these deaths. The same position should hold for casualties from road traffic crashes, but at present the government offers no compensation at all to bereaved families from speed related road deaths, nor has RoadPeace received any funding so far for their work for victims.

  The Human Rights Act puts an obligation on governments to adopt policies and procedures to safeguard the rights enshrined in the articles, including Article 2, "Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law".

3.2  Home Office/Police

  Despite over four times as many people being killed on the roads than are murdered, and hundreds of thousands injured, the Home Office has not made traffic policing a core function of the police. With speed involved in over one-third of road deaths, more lives are lost through excessive speed than through murders. Other examples of Home Office/Police indifference to the threat posed by speeding.

    —  Police drivers routinely violate speed limits in the course of their duty, deaths alone caused by police drivers have seen a dramatic increase, at present investigated by the PCA.

    —  Surrey Chief Constable's civilian driver was being let off after being caught travelling 78mph in a 50mph zone.

    —  Jack Straw's driver was let off after speeding with the Home Secretary in the car.

    —  The Metropolitan Police has shown a lack of support for safety cameras, with Superintendent Paul Clulow (reported to be in charge of Met's operational traffic policy) 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", whereas Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd announced a freeze on the number of cameras in London arguing that installing more "for the sake of it would provoke a backlash from drivers" (Evening Standard, 20 August 2001).

3.3  Department of Health (DoH)

  Despite road crashes being the leading cause of death and acquired disability for those under the age of 40, the DoH has given little priority to road trauma and does not even collate road injury statistics, preferring to rely on incomplete police statistics, despite the decades on evidence of widespread under-reporting. "Accidents", which were to be one of the four key priorities in the NHS's "Our Healthier Nation" plan, have been dropped and not one DOH press release has addressed road trauma in the past five years. The government's road safety strategy did not include any recommendation for emergency medical services or for road trauma treatment.

3.4  Magistrates

  With only 10 per cent of fatal road crashes being prosecuted in the Crown Court, the vast majority of prosecutions involving fatal/injury road crashes are heard in the Magistrates Court, where there is no specialist traffic court nor is there any required training in traffic regulations. There are over 30,000 magistrates working in the 58 branches and very little road traffic training is apparently given (only four courses nationally in 1998). The Magistrates' Courts Sentencing Guidelines were recently updated. The changes to fines involved reductions and were also inconsistent:

    —  Up to 10-15mph over the maximum speed limit reduced from £60 to £50.

    —  Up to 20-25kph over the maximum speed limit increased from £90 to £100.

    —  Up to 30-35mph over the maximum speed limit reduced from £135 to £100.

  Magistrates are also encouraged to fine a speeding motorist on his ability to pay within 52 weeks (the discredited unit-fine system through the backdoor). Speeding fines should be compared to other fines. The fine for parking on a red route in London is £60, the maximum fine for littering is £1,000 and cyclists in certain London Borough's face a £500 fine for cycling on the pavement. Littering and non-motorised vehicles encroaching on pedestrian space (even at low speeds) are treated as much more serious than speeding motor vehicles.

3.5  Insurance Companies

  Despite more people being killed or injured by speeding drivers than by drivers under the influence of alcohol, the response of the insurance industry is believed to be much more serious for drink driving convictions, where insurance premiums are usually doubled.

3.6  Media and Motor Industry

  The media currently play an important role in determining support for safety interventions, unlike when drink driving restrictions were imposed. Some newspapers have referred to speeding drivers as "victims of speed traps". The Evening Standard's recent front page announcement that 80mph motorway limits are supported, led to a letter to the editor (credit to the ES for printing this) stating: "One has to assume that your lead article about speed limits being raised was printed in error by a drunken reveller pushing a wrong button (speed limits, 31 December). This article was surely intended for 1 April? Perhaps if we all go out and get drunk, then leap into our cars the Government will revoke its drink drive policy. If we all take up burglary will that cease to be illegal? Perhaps if enough people start selling hard drugs, those rules will be allowed to slip? Speed, drugs, drink, mobile phone usage by a driver—all cause death, but who cares if more lives are lost, so long as we get there faster?" (Perry, Evening Standard, 3 January 2002)

  Why are cars produced which are designed to be driven at illegal speeds? And why are they allowed to be traded? Another example of the irresponsible behaviour by the motoring industry, including journalists, is the use of acceleration capability as a key performance indicator. The time required for a motor vehicle to accelerate from 0-60mph is represented as a basic indicator of a car's desirability, despite drivers virtually never needing to accelerate so quickly. A more useful indicator would be the time and distance taken to decelerate from 60-0mph!

4.  LESSONS ELSEWHERE

  While the UK had led the world with such interventions as road safety audits, it has lagged behind most continents in its speed management approach, as shown by the following examples.

4.1  Europe

  The recent report by the Commission for Integrated Transport—on European Best Practice in the Delivery of Integrated Transport—stressed the importance of speed reduction, especially that of 30kph (20mph) speed limits in urban areas.

Insurance liability and vulnerable road users

  First introduced in France in the mid 1980s, many European countries have adopted a civil law (and insurance regulations) whereby drivers are held wholly responsible for injuries to elderly and young vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) and share responsibility for injuries to vulnerable road users between these ages). In contrast, in the UK most vulnerable road users are held liable for their own death/injury, with drivers seldom facing a criminal prosecution.

4.2  North America and Australia

British Columbia

  Responsible for providing third party insurance as well as licensing drivers and motor vehicles, the insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), has adopted a very pro-active approach to road safety. One of the many road safety programmes it sponsors is Speedwatch (ICBC website).

United States

  Constrast the UK approach to flagging the location of safety cameras with the use of unmarked traffic law enforcement equipment in the US, which have been located in road construction vehicles, as well as on lawn mowers or bus benches (NHTSA, 2000). Teenage drivers convicted of serious motoring offences are also given a tour of the emergency room and a morgue in an effort to highlight the potential human devastation of their actions. Some states also impose a surcharge on a hazardous moving violation with Mississippi donating the money to emergency medical services and New Mexico to a Traffic Safety Education and Enforcement Fund (Froning, 1992).

Western Australia

  In Western Australia, one-third of the fines collected from safety cameras are dedicated to the Road Trauma Trust Fund, which is used for road safety initiatives, including casualty treatment.

5.  SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  In summary, RoadPeace believes the problem of speeding is being underestimated, treated with less priority than other similar threats and that much more, as demonstrated in this document, can be done to reduce the leading cause of premature mortality.

    —    1.  The number of speed related casualties should be based on hospital statistics, not police databases, which are known to be incomplete.

    —    2.  Contributory factors, including speed, should be determined at the end of an investigation, not the initial reporting stage and where speed would have reduced risk or severity of crash/casualty, this should be noted.

    —    3.  Casualty avoidance/amelioration and road danger reduction, rather than crash causation, ought to be the key performance indicators (and objectives) of any speed management strategy or intervention, including safety cameras (whose main disadvantages appears to be their effectiveness).

    —    4.  Fines from speeding should be shared with ambulance services, A & E Departments and other organisations, who cope with the consequences of speeding.

    —    5.  A survivable speed limit, ie 20mph default speed limit, should be the urban default.

    —    6.  Drivers should be presumed liable for all crashes involving children and elderly pedestrians and cyclists, if not of all ages.

    —    7.  Insurance industry should recommend policy cancellation for speeding convictions, and reduced compensation for speed related crash, and speeding convictions should incur same penalty as drink driving convictions.

    —    8.  Community based organisations should be encouraged and supported to monitor local speeds (as currently done in British Columbia)

    —    9.  Any speeding related casualty occurring in area where no speed reduction efforts have been undertaken should be compensated in similar fashion to BSE victims.

    —  10.  In its Ten Year Plan, government should commit to catching up on traffic calming (as it has for road maintenance).

    —  11.  Government should make a commitment to use for the Government fleet vehicles with speed limiters and black boxes, as well as those that are safer for pedestrians. A further commitment should be traffic law observance and safe driving by its drivers.

    —  12.  Improved monitoring of speeding offences, including casualty consequences and fines, improved training of magistrates and reconsideration of separate traffic court.

    —  13.  All local authorities should have speed management strategies based on clear framework of appropriate speed limits for different categories of roads, framework provided by Government.

    —  14.  Reclassification of road network (urban and rural) and reallocation of road space.

    —  15.  Problem with Highways Agency's lack of priority/efforts on speed should be addressed.

    —  16.  Reconsider relative importance of journey-time savings in road design (consider sensitivity analysis of minimum level of time savings being considered, also accommodating under-reporting.

  RoadPeace is willing to provide further evidence, either in writing or oral testimony, to assist with this inquiry that has the potential, if taken forward, to improve the quality of life for millions and save so many people from injury, if not a premature and violent death.

6.  REFERENCES

  Injury Prevention 1998; 4:165-166, Journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention.

  Department of Transport and Local Regions (2001), Vehicle speeds in Great Britain, Hobbes and Mills (1984).

  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2000), Aggressive Driving Enforcement: Strategies for Implementing Best Practice, NHTSA, Washington, DC.

  RoadPeace (2001), Under-Reporting of Road Traffic Injuries.

  Taylor M (2001), "Managing vehicle speeds for safety: Why? How?", Traffic Engineering and Control, July/August 2001, p226-229.

January 2002



 
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