Memorandum by Brake (RTS 50)
THE NATURE AND EFFECT OF ILLEGAL AND INAPPROPRIATE
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
Brake is the national, not-for-profit road safety
organisation, dedicated to stopping deaths and injuries on roads
and to caring for people bereaved and affected by road crashes.
As part of its work, Brake has carried out research
into the nature and effects of illegal and inappropriate road
traffic speed. This includes background research for publicity
and promotional work as well as original research into public
attitudes towards speed. Brake's most recent report, Slow Down,
which investigates the excuses drivers give for speeding and recommendations
for action on the problem, is being published in January 2002.
Brake uses this research to produce information
on speed for policy makers, members of its Fleet Safety Forum
(who are mainly company managers with vehicle fleets), and the
general public. Information produced on the topic of speed includes:
mentions in the policy document How
many more lives must we lose?;
a leaflet for company drivers;
information for company managers
in the Guide to Fleet Safety;
banners in city centres, displayed
in the run-up to and during Road Safety Week 2001, with information
on local road deaths and injuries and the message "Slow Up";
information on how the public can
campaign to reduce speeds in areas where it is a problem in the
guides Road safety in urban communities and Road safety
in rural communities;
bus back posters, produced in partnership
with the Department of Health, with the message "Road crashes:
a drain on the NHS. Slow down" (These will be displayed on
bus backs in major UK cities from 15 January 2002).
Brake also asks drivers to "Slow Up"
as one of the promises in its Pledge to Drive Safely Campaign,
launched in April 2001.
Brake also carries out policy work on speed.
In February 2001 it organised a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary
Group for road safety to inform MPs and other policymakers about
how speed reduction can be achieved through enforcement and engineering
measures. Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, representing the
Association of Chief Police Officers, released the first results
from the Government's self-funding safety camera project at that
Brake regularly carries out both pro-active
and reactive media work on speed, including carrying out press,
radio and television interviews; disseminating press releases;
organising photo calls, including photo calls with sports stars
such as Olympic gold medallist rowers and cyclists to promote
the message "Keep Speed in Sport"; creating a coalition
of organisations to counter negative media coverage of speed cameras
(see page 240); and liasing with key journalists and broadcasters
to encourage them to show appropriate attitudes towards speed.
Brake's report Slow Down (pub January
2002) summarises research on the extent of the problem of speed
on the road. It found that:
The majority of drivers regularly
break speed limits, justifying speeding to themselves and others
with a range of excuses. They regard speeding as one of the least
serious traffic offences. Certain groups of drivers, including
male drivers, young drivers, and high mileage drivers are most
likely to speed.
Crash figures are directly related
to speed and are sensitive to even a small change in average speed.
While it is obvious that the faster you go, the harder you hit,
it is not as widely known that just a few miles per hour can make
a big difference to a drivers' ability to stop. The latest Government
advertising on the dangers of speed promotes this message.
Reducing speed reduces both crashes
and casualties. This has been proved in theory: researchers have
devised a general rule that for every one mile per hour reduction
in average speed, crashes are reduced by between 2 and 7 per cent.
It has also been proved in practice. Analyses of 20 mph zones
before and after implementation and of the Government's self-funding
speed pilot have shown that crashes and casualties are reduced
by at least this amount, if not more, in practice.
The report also details a survey, coordinated
by Brake, of 429 drivers caught speeding by Leicestershire, North
Wales, South Wales, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire police
forces in October/November 2001.
Brake found that the three most common excuses
for speeding given by drivers (some gave more than one excuse)
1. they did not realise that they were speeding
(179 of 441 excuses)
2. they were late/in a hurry (107 of 441
3. they had forgotten, or did not know, what
the speed limit was (59 or 441 excuses).
Other findings from Brake's survey include:
male drivers are more likely to speed
than female drivers. Of the 429 drivers stopped by police, 113
were female (26 per cent) and 316 were male (74 per cent);
drivers are most likely to say they
do not know the speed limit in 40 mph zones, then 50 mph zones,
then 30 mph zones. They are most likely to know what the speed
limit is in 70 mph zones;
drivers are most likely to say that
they are speeding to keep up with other drivers in 70 mph zones
and 30 mph zones;
drivers are most likely to say that
they are speeding because they are late on higher-speed roads;
female drivers were more likely to
admit that they were speeding because they did not know what the
speed limit was (18 per cent of female drivers, compared to 12
per cent of male drivers);
male drivers were more likely to
admit that they knew that they were speeding and were doing this
for a reason, such as being late (26 per cent of male drivers,
compared to 19 per cent of female drivers).
Previous reports by Brake containing relevant
information to this inquiry include the Green Flag report on
road safety. This report, based on a survey of more than 1,000
drivers by Brake, included the following findings:
four out of ten drivers (40 per cent)
admit to breaking speed limits in built-up areas and 55 per cent
of drivers admit to breaking speed limits in rural areas (in fact,
some drivers do not realise that
driving at speeds above 30 mph radically reduces a pedestrian's
chance of survival if hit. A third of drivers think the chances
of a pedestrian dying if hit at 40 mph is 50 per cent or less.
In fact, it is much higher at 85-90 per cent;
72 per cent of drivers feel pressured
by other drivers to go quicker;
male drivers, young drivers and high-mileage
drivers are all more likely to say that they break speed limits.
The Green Flag report on road safety also
includes information on:
how drivers adjust their speed to
bad weather, bright, or night driving;
excuses drivers make for speeding;
what drivers say would make them
take more care on the road.
The report also demonstrates that popular opinion
would support a tougher charge and penalty structure for dangerous
drivers, including speeding drivers.
73 per cent of drivers said that
drivers who have killed someone when speeding should go to prison
for five years to life.
70 per cent of drivers said that
tougher penalties for driving offences would make them take more
care on the road.
In 1998, Brake researched 22 verdicts of careless
driving and 34 verdicts of causing death by dangerous driving
following a total 104 deaths on the road and found that:
out of 22 verdicts of careless driving
brought against drivers (who had caused a total 42 deaths), the
average fine was £500.
Out of 34 verdicts of causing death
by dangerous driving brought against drivers (who had caused a
total of 62 deaths), 28 sentences were less than four years in
prison. The lowest prison sentence was four months.
Sentences for causing death by dangerous driving
that approach the maximum are rarely imposed on speeding drivers.
They are mostly imposed on drivers who were drunk, or cases such
as killing because of road rage. Maximum driving bans also tend
only to be imposed for some drink or drug-related and road rage
In August 2001, Brake set up a coalition of
organisations to counter negative media coverage of speed cameras.
These include: Brake, Direct Line, Parliamentary Advisory Council
for Transport Safety, the Slower Speeds Initiative, Association
of London Borough Road Safety Officers, Institute of Road Safety
Officers, and Transport for London.
The coalition aimed to dispel arguments that
speed cameras were being installed as a "stealth tax"
on motorists and explain that cameras are:
statistics from the Government's self-funding pilot scheme areas
show that numbers of people killed and injured on roads with cameras
have dropped significantly approximating to a five per cent reduction
for every one mph reduction in average vehicle speeds.
saving drivers' and motorbikers'
lives as well as pedestrians' and cyclists' livesthrough
declines in high-speed crashes at sites with cameras, as well
as declines in collisions with vulnerable road users.
increasingly being targetedpositioned
in the right places to save the most lives, eg at accident black
spots and particularly where children and other vulnerable road
users are at greatest risk.
raising valuable funds, through the
fixed penalty revenue, for speed cameras in appropriate locations
and cameras to catch people running red lights. The funds also
pay for the administration of the cameras and the processing of
the fines. The money doesn't go on parties for police officers!
Also, the cameras may free-up officer time to catch other types
supported by most of us. A MORI poll
of 2,000 drivers by Direct Line shows that a significant seven
out of 10 of us accept that cameras reduce crashes and save lives,
and make us keep to the speed limit when we know they are there;
not sneaky. The purpose of cameras
is to catch offenders who break the law and whose speed could
make death or injury more likely;
an important crime-prevention measure.
More than five times as many people are killed on roads as by
all crime put together. Many of these deaths are due to offences,
such as breaking speed limits in towns. If we accept CCTV in our
towns as a security measure, we should accept speed cameras that
are genuinely positioned to save lives;
desperately needed as part of a package
of measures to stop endemic levels of speeding in dangerous places.
Two thirds of us still break 30 mph limits. A third of us break
30 mph limits by more than five mph, more than doubling the chance
of killing a pedestrian we hit, and contributing to the 1,800
deaths a year on urban roads, more than half of whom are people
on foot and bicycles. Many of us also still go far too fast on
bendy rural roads, when we have no idea what is round the corner.
None of us like speeding on roads near where we live, but most
of us still speed in built-up areas.
Speeding is endemic in our society (DTLR statistics
show that 69 per cent of cars drive above the speed limit in 30
mph areas) but this is not a legitimate reason for letting speeders
"get away" with a small fine such as the fixed penalty
system offers. Brake is very concerned that speeding is dealt
with under the fixed penalty system, as speeding is not only serious,
it also threatens and costs life. The Government estimates that
one in three deaths on the road (more than 1,000 every year) could
be prevented if everyone drove within the speed limits.
Brake believes that speeding is included in
the fixed penalty system not because it is a minor offence (which
it clearly is not), but because of the sheer numbers of offenders,
and the burden it would place on the legal system if these offences
were dealt with by the courts. At present, only a tiny minority
of speeders are charged through the court system with careless
driving (which carries a fine of up to £2,500) or dangerous
driving (which can carry a prison sentence) and this is usually
only when a death has occurred.
Brake believes that it is wrong only to punish
speeders if they actually killall speeders are risking
lives by the risks they are taking. All speeders should, therefore,
be prosecuted with dangerous driving. To enable this to work in
practice, special courts could be established to deal with cases
very rapidly. These courts should be advised by road safety officers.
High fines (none below £1,000) should be imposed, along with
prison sentences and loss of licences, depending on the severity
of the offences.
Alternatively, if the fine system is kept (in
order to cope with the high numbers of offenders), high fines
should be implemented of no less than £1,000 for anyone caught
driving above a speed limit. They should also receive at least
six points (or 10 points if a new 20 point system is adopted)
To support this tough approach towards speeders,
it is essential for the Government to provide the necessary resources
and require the relevant authorities to ensure that all limits
are appropriate and clearly marked on all roads.
1. The Government should carry out further
research into who speeds and under what circumstances, including
their reasons for speeding and the excuses that they give for
speeding. This research should feed into education and enforcement
campaigns that are targeted at specific groups of drivers, such
as male drivers, young drivers, or high-mileage drivers.
2. The Government needs to respond to editorial
and advertising in the media that promotes speed, or provides
negative coverage of measures to tackle speeding, such as speed
cameras. It is particularly important that the Government refutes
information based on misquoted research through press releases
and statements. The Government should also encourage positive
media coverage with regular press releases and pro-active contact
with the media. Specific responsibility for this should be given
to a named civil servant in the road safety division or press
office at DTLR.
3. The Government should encourage police
force areas to take up the self-funding speed camera project as
soon as possible, in order to save most lives. It should continue
to combine this enforcement project with appropriate education
initiatives, locally and nationally, to retain drivers' support.
4. Year-round publicity campaigns on speed
through TV, radio, cinema, billboards and leaflets should be funded
by Government. These campaigns should be prepared by Government
in consultation with relevant academics and organisations such
as Brake. At present, such campaigns are intermittent, particularly
5. The Government should also fund targeted
publicity campaigns with messages aimed at company fleet managers
on the importance of creating a company culture which prioritises
safety and does not pressure drivers to speed, such as the messages
promoted through Brake's Fleet Safety Forum.
6. The promise to review speed limits, made
in the Government's road safety strategy, should be implemented
as soon as possible, to give drivers more confidence that speed
limits are not arbitrary and are there for a reason and to ensure
that the limits are right.
7. The Government should also review speed
limit signing in areas where drivers may be unsure of the speed
limit and consider extra signs, such as vehicle-activated "Slow
Down" signs, in areas that have a problem with speeding drivers.
8. The Government should not paint speed
cameras bright colours simply to appease the motorists lobby.
When cameras are painted bright colours, drivers know where cameras
are and consequently and dangerously know where they are not.
Cameras are an enforcement measure, which should be "plain
clothed", as well as visible, to stop people breaking the
9. Instead of spending money on painting
cameras bright colours, the government should spend any budget
for paint on clearly marked speed limit signs. If drivers know
what speed they should go at there can be no excuse for breaking
the law and there can be no legitimate reason for resenting visible
or hidden speed cameras.
10. The Government should urgently consider
the life-saving potential of different types of speed limiters
and how best to promote them to drivers and manufacturers.
11. The Home Office review of road traffic
penalties should lead the way in recognising that speeding drivers
are endangering lives. Research shows that only substantial penalties,
commensurate with the risk that these drivers pose, will deter
drivers from speeding and these should be introduced.
Brake welcomes this inquiry by the Transport,
Local Government and the Regions Committee and strongly recommends
that the Committee calls Mary Williams OBE, Brake's chief executive,
as a witness. Brake believes that its extensive experience of
working to ensure that the problem of illegal and inappropriate
speed is tackled in a positive way would be of value to the inquiry.
98 Note: all Brake publications and documents
mentioned are available from Brake by calling 01484 559909. Back