Memorandum by Mercian Transport Consultancy
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
This Memorandum, submitted by the Principal
of the Consultancy, puts forward observations and proposals based
on over 40 years experience and studies of transport planning
and traffic management, including 25 years working on local authority
schemes. The matters to be considered by the Committee are examined
in the order in which they are detailed in the Press Notice. The
final section of the submission summarises conclusions and recommendations.
2. THE ROLE
A useful way to start an examination of the
problems caused by excessive speed is to review the main reasons
for the introduction of highway and vehicle speed limits, these
(1) To improve road safety by reducing the
number and severity of accidents.
(2) To reduce community severance, noise
levels and other environmental nuisances.
(3) To assist with the regulation of traffic
flows, particularly by reducing the disparity between vehicle
3. THE AVAILABILITY
The main causes of injury road accidents have
been extensively studied. The evidence strongly suggests that
a clear majority of accidents are mainly due to driver error,
with much smaller numbers being attributable to the external environment
(weather, temporary obstructions of the highway, etc), lack of
road maintenance or vehicle faults. Driver errors may be due to
a variety of causes, some of which may be permanent (aggressive
temperament, chronic illness, etc), whilst others may be transitory
(alcohol, drugs, fatigue, etc). The perceived high rate of pedestrian
injury accidents also appears to be due to several factors, including:
(1) Impatience of pedestrians with the increased
waiting time for crossing roads, due to the progressive growth
in road traffic, with a resultant increase in risk taking.
(2) The concentration of pedestrian crossing
movements onto designated crossing points resulting in drivers
being less prepared to encounter casual crossing movements elsewhere.
4. THE EXTENT
4.1 Better Enforcement
A basic principle in deciding the levels of
highway speed limits is that they can only be effective and enforceable
where the overwhelming majority of drivers are willing to comply
with the limit. Enforcement can then be targeted at the small
minority who deliberately contravene the restriction.
4.2 Road Design and Traffic Calming
A crucial objective of highway design and any
subsequent traffic calming measures is that the design speed for
the new or revised road alignment has to be approximately the
same as the regulatory speed limit. This principle applies throughout
the range of speed limits from 20 mph to 70 mph.
4.3 Road Re-Classification
As a general guide, speed limits on rural and
inter-urban roads should usually correspond to road classifications.
This principle has been endorsed in a recent DTLR sponsored study
that has been undertaken by consultants, supported by a working
group drawn from a wide range of organisations that have an interest
in highway safety. This report, Developed of a Rural Road Hierarchy
for Speed Management, advocates that generally speed limits should
be based on 70 mph for dual carriageway A roads, 60 mph for single
carriageway A roads, 50 mph for B roads and 40 mph for unclassified
roads, with lower speed limits, usually 30 mph in villages. The
report accepts that extensive new regulatory signing could be
needed and that either new primary legislation or a large number
of local authority speed limit orders would be required for implementation
of the proposed changes.
4.4 Physical Separation of Vehicles and Pedestrians
Physical separation of vehicles and pedestrians
can be achieved either by grade separation (bridges and subways)
or by barriers such as guardrailing. Physical separation is essential
in areas with very high levels of both vehicle and pedestrian
activities (eg the central core of large cities and towns). Where
grade separation is needed, it is important that vehicles rather
than pedestrians should be required to descend and ascend at conflict
points. Guardrailing can create an unpleasant constrained environment
for pedestrians and should usually be confined to locations where
it can be of greatest safety benefit, including the approaches
and exits at Pelican and Zebra crossings, outside schools and,
in certain cases, around the radii at road intersections, in order
to discourage pedestrians from attempting to cross diagonally.
It is perhaps useful to mention that trams, and possibly some
other vehicles with a fixed guidance system, can penetrate pedestrian
areas in relative safety at moderate speeds.
A major difficulty with the use of technology
for speed detection and enforcement is the need to effectively
counter the concept that drivers are being "spied upon"
by speed detection equipment. Nevertheless, there are some measure
that could be adopted to use technology to reduce the number and
severity of speed related accidents. Probably one of the most
straightforward measures is that all motor vehicles used on a
public highway, except emergency vehicles and these already controlled
by a lower limit, could be governed to a maximum speed of 80 mph,
which would still enable drivers to exceed a 70 mph limit for
a short period, in order to get out of a difficult situation.
A longer term possibility, which could usefully be researched,
would be the fitting of all motor vehicles with an external digital
speedometer, mounted alongside the rear vehicle registration plate.
The need to maximise pedestrian safety in the
event of a collision, has to be a primary requirement in the design
of all road vehicles.
4.6 Education of Road Users
The use of any vehicle on a public highway has
to be generally accepted as being a serious social responsibility,
if there is to be any major reduction in the number of injury
accidents. It seems to be illogical that a teenager can take a
driving test on quiet suburban roads and be given a full driving
licence that is valid for over 50 years! On the contrary there
appears to be a strong case for periodical testing of drivers'
abilities. It is suggested that initially driving licences should
be of, say, 10 years' duration, before retesting is required,
although, for younger drivers this period might usefully be reduced
to five years. If this suggestion were to be adopted, it would
be desirable to allow a period of, say, two years for retraining
and retesting before the old licence became invalid, in order
to reduce the risk of a retest failure resulting in a loss of
livelihood. Similarly, cyclists, including children, should be
required to take a proficiency test before being allowed to travel
along roads used by motor vehicles. As with other road users,
cyclists would need to be retested at regular intervals.
4.7 Changes to Speed Limits
A proposed structure for highway speed limits
has been outlined in paragraph 4.3. As circumstances alter over
a period of time, local authorities should be required to review
all speed limits within their respective areas at regular, say
10 yearly, intervals, in order to take account of changes in land-use
and other developments. Local traffic authorities need to liaise
with the Highways Agency and the regional planning body, in respect
of major through traffic routes.
4.8 Specific Policies
Various policy proposals have been suggested
in earlier paragraphs and are summarised under Conclusions and
Recommendations in the final section of this submission. One further
policy that could result in a significant reduction in the severity
and number of speed related injury accidents would be to progressively
raise the minimum driving age to 21 years and possibly even, at
a later date, to 25 years. In order to minimise inconvenience
to individuals, the policy could be implemented by making the
minimum age for new driving licences 18 years on, say, 1st January
2004, and then progressively raising this age by one year every
two years (eg minimum age 19 years from 1 January 2006, 20 years
from 1st January 2008, 21 years from 1st January 2010). In addition
to the potential for accident reduction, which can be clearly
illustrated by the insurance premiums charged to young drivers
and by examination of accident statistics, this change could also
offer a range of social benefits. Potential benefits include:
(1) Breaking the exclusive car-using lifestyle
for young adults, particularly men, in favour of using alternative
transport modes (cycle, train, bus, etc).
(2) The provision of extra passengers to
support the development of higher standard public transport services.
(3) The encouragement of exercise for young
adults, in terms of increased cycle usage and walkingif
only to and from the nearest bus stop!
(4) Greater appreciation by new drivers of
the social exclusion difficulties experienced by those people
who do not have access to a car.
5. THE EXTENT
5.1 A Co-ordinated Approach to Speed Management
For many years, local authorities have worked
closely with the police and, where necessary, the Highways Agency
and its predecessors in respect of the preparation and implementation
of Speed Limit Orders. In future, speed management policies will
also need to be assessed in the context of the Local Transport
Plan and relevant local land-use policies.
5.2 Sentences for Speeding Offences
As with many other forms of offence, penalties
for speeding must be largely determined by their effectiveness
in dissuading offenders from repeating the offence and of discouraging
other drivers from offending in a similar manner. Brief assessments
can be made of the main forms of penalty that can be applied to
drivers, these being:
(1) Speeding finethe effectiveness
of this form of penalty is largely dependent on the size of the
fine in relation to the financial circumstances of the offender.
(2) Prohibition of driving for a period of
timein theory this ought to be the most effective form
of penalty, but unfortunately it is probably the most difficult
(3) Imprisonmentin view of the financial
and social cost of imprisonment, this form of penalty can only
be used as a last resort, either for deliberate dangerous speeding
or for repeated offenders where other penalties have proved to
(4) Other possibilitiesother penalties
that may be worthy of further research include "aversion
therapy" (showing speeding offenders the results of injury
accidents) and "naming and shaming" persistent offenders.
5.3 Speed Representation in the Media
Advertisements in the mass media, particularly
television, do not encourage a mature approach to driving on the
public highway. If road safety is to be improved, there is clear
need to set specific standards for media car advertisements, requiring
the main emphasis to be placed on the provision of practical information
(eg safety of operation, reliability, fuel consumption, maintenance),
rather than on speed and acceleration. Motoring programmes and
press reports should also help to promote this approach. The effects
of the predominance of "speed chases" in television,
video and film dramas on impressionable minds, particularly young
drivers, need to be the subject of urgent investigation.
6. THE ROLE
The role of speed management strategies can
be summarised as being to improve road safety for all road users,
to reduce environmental nuisances and to complement traffic management
and land-use policies.
(1) If speed limits are to be enforceable, acceptance
by the majority of drivers is essential. (4.1)
(2) Guardrailing should only be used sparingly
and for specific purposes. (4.4)
(3) Highway design speeds should approximate
to speed limits. (4.2)
(1) In rural areas, speed limits should generally
correspond to the following road classifications:
(a) Dual carriageway A Roads 70 mph
(b) Single carriageway A Roads 60 mph
(d) Unclassified roads 40 mph
(e) Roads within villages 30 mph. (4.3)
(2) Local traffic authorities should be
required to review all speed limits within their areas at regular
(3) Motor vehicles on public roads that
are not already controlled to a lower limit should be mechanically
or electronically governed to a maximum speed of 80 mph. (4.5)
(4) The minimum age for new driving licences
should be progressively raised to at least 21 years. (4.8)
(5) Drivers should be retested at regular
(6) Cyclists should be required to take
a proficiency test before using public roads. (4.6)
(7) Standard criteria for motor vehicle
advertisements should specify that they do not emphasise speed
or acceleration characteristics. (5.3)
(8) "Speed chases" in television,
video and films dramas should, at least, be strongly discouraged.
The figures in brackets after each conclusion
and recommendation refer to the paragraph numbers in the submission
in which the respective points are explained in greater detail.