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


CSS (County Surveyors Society)



  The initiative to investigate a road hierarchy for speed management is welcomed but the main proposition of this paper is that significant progress could be made by a few modifications to what we have rather than promote a radical new hierarchy related to speed limits.

  Speed limits are not the panacea for improving safety. Both the practicalities of provision and public understanding of speed limits are crucial and influence strongly the approach presented.


  Typically there are 1,860 fatalities in a year so we must take action to reduce casualties. There are differences between urban and rural situations and little doubt that there are significant casualties on rural main roads BUT not many casualties occur on minor rural roads. On these the issue is far more one of perceived risk.

  The public are seeking less perceived risk for both drivers/walkers. Both have a very different perception of risk and this difference can come from the same person undertaking the two different activities.

  Greater use of minor rural roads for walking, cycling and horse riding should be promoted. These three activities are not necessarily compatible but all can unite against the common enemy—THE CAR.


  Drivers have a poor understanding of speed limits. Work done for the AA Foundation by Ross Silcock indicated that drivers understood 70 and 30 mph limits. They were confused about single carriageway limits which is the crux of this paper—the current situation must be simplified.

  The road environment can have a major effect on vehicle speed but slow speeds of less than 30 mph are difficult to achieve without physical obstructions. What we can be sure of is that lower speeds mean lower (less serious) casualties.

  Self-explaining roads which influence speed are fine in concept and in some cases could be engineered but most UK roads are not suitable. A single carriageway in the Weald of Kent, for example, looks different from one on Romney Marsh so people will use them differently and drive at different speeds. We cannot have the majority of our network as self-explaining because to do so would change appearance unacceptably.

  Further, the same class of road can have very different traffic characteristics in different parts of the country so we should not rely on class to enforce limits.

  The ascendance of the "consumer" make them more questioning so more people challenge limits. If people cannot see a purpose they tend to ignore. Yet the common attitude is "they" must do something about people driving too fast, not me. Changing attitudes to speed is just as important as other types of intervention such as speed limits.

  There are many hierarchies/networks already, eg

    —  maintenance hierarchy, heavy goods vehicle network, abnormal loads

    —  the ABC route classification system, primary routes

    —  traffic sensitive streets for NRSWA

  So should we impose another—only if we can be sure it helps understanding.

  Main road congestion causes rat-running. Congestion will not go away so "through traffic" on minor roads is a fact of life, which is unlikely to change. We need to challenge whether the perceived problem is "only" speed. It is likely to be volume on minor roads as well.


  Drivers adopting appropriate speed for the conditions is just as important as the imposition of speed limits.

  Sufficient enforcement deterrent must be provided. Currently there is little fear of detection and prosecution. Safety cameras improve enforcement BUT where there are casualties rather than at locations where there is perceived risk.

  How can a widespread understanding of speed limits be developed? Surely this can be done by making speed limits simpler to understand.

  Quiet Lanes have been promoted in Kent and Norfolk in partnership with the Countryside Agency. These involve little physical action but a lot of publicity and local involvement. Most action centres on removing signs and markings rather than adding them. They cause speeds to drop so that the 85 percentile is below 30 mph. Some residents say they are less worried about speeding traffic when Quiet Lanes are instituted. Just under half of drivers say they drive more carefully.

  The Babtie/Ross Silcock Proposed "Template" is far too complicated. For rural single carriageways, there are seven different categories and four different speed limits. This will not help understanding and so there is a need to deconstruct and simplify.


  Continue promoting 70 mph on dual carriageways, including motorways.

  Reduce the national limit of 60 to 50 mph on single carriageways outside urban areas. This is because the vast proportion of rural single carriageways are more suitable to 50 not 60 and so casualties should be reduced. Those where 60 mph is appropriate would be positively signed and derestriction signs would be scrapped in favour of signing the actual limit.

  Use 30 mph for urban roads and villages—extend current application as DTLR suggest and use other techniques—eg vehicle actuated speed limit signs which are a big success.

  Promote the concept of default limits. These are limits which drivers should assume are in place unless they are told otherwise. These would be:

    —  70 mph  Dual carriageway, including motorways

    —  50 mph  All other A/B roads single carriageway outside urban areas

    —  30 mph  Urban roads and villages.

  While other limits such as 20s, 40s and 60s drivers would be told that they applied using repeater signs/markings.

  For rural roads therefore there would be two default limits; 70 mph on rural dual carriageways and motorways and 50 mph on all rural single carriageway roads. But can there be more? Possibly, but one would need a "default" descriptor. One could argue for another tier but this would be very difficult to distinguish without a lot of signing, which would destroy the appearance of the roads. So it is argued that the Quiet Lane concept of appropriate speed should be promoted instead.


    —  Scrap derestrictions signs and replace with positively signed limits.

    —  Introduce a national 50 mph limit on rural single carriageway roads and 30 mph in villages.

    —  Have publicity campaigns about "default" limits and appropriate speeds.

    —  Calculate and earmark additional money.

    —  Leave the current road classification largely as it is because from a speed limit point of view it is irrelevant.


  The proposals seek to make speed limits more understandable to drivers. They will minimise sign clutter, yet give greater clarity to drivers through promoting a national approach with local exceptions which are well signed. There is, however, a need for more enforcement of speed limits.

  So this should mean:

    —  Less casualties on higher used rural single carriageways but probably not on rural narrow country lanes because casualties are not high now.

    —  Less perceived risk both on rural roads with a lowered national limit and through the use of Quiet Lanes.

Dr A Jefford, Chairman

CSS Transport and Environment Committee

1 March 2002

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