Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
80. On the issue of statistics, what do you
think the government should need to respond to the advertisements
of cars which do promote speeds?
(Mr Delaney) The simple fact is that the statistics
are available; they must be available because the West Midlands
road accident review is based upon police statistics, and they
do not keep any special data in the West Midlands. This data is
available and really what we should be seeing are similar statistics
produced in the "Road Accidents, Great Britain" document.
Effectively what we have is two documents, one for the West Midlandswhich
is extremely usefuland one for the whole of the countrywhich
does not address these fundamental issues.
81. But if the editorials in the newspaper are
promoting speed in some of their advertisements, how would this
impact upon those statistics?
(Mr King) I have done a study of motor manufacturers'
advertisements in the press, in fact, for a seminar for the Advertising
Standards Agency, and there is no doubt some car manufacturers
still put speed up there but, in the last 2.5 years, there has
been a slight change of emphasis to emphasise safety of vehicles,
and I think the European new car assessment programme, the crash
testing programme, has helped that. We see in TV adverts that
the Renault Laguna is the only car to achieve five stars in safety,
but I think you are right: we need to continue to encourage the
manufacturers to put out the safety message rather than the speed
82. I wonder if the RAC could clarify the position
in relation to speed. Mr King, you question whether speed kills,
and Mr Delaney then said that only a fool would ignore speed
(Mr King) I did not question whether speed kills.
Obviously in a collision speed can make the severity of the collision
more serious; that is a fundamental. What we are questioning are
the actual speed limits and if the majority of motorists abide
by an 80 mph limit - and I think there is evidence to suggest
that it depends how you drive; it all comes down to appropriate
speed. On the same motorway, in clear weather conditions, in a
modern car, doing 80 mph at a safe distance from the car in front
is probably safe. On the same motorway, in rain, in fog or snow,
doing 50 mph may be too fast, and I think that is what we have
to get through to the public. I think just bland statements saying
making speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving is not
the way to do it.
83. So what you are just suggesting is not that
speed does not matter but that speed changes with circumstances.
How in a practical sense do you think that could be applied on
(Mr King) I think it could, and I gave the example
of the French motorways that have lower speed limits in the rain,
but also on our motorways we are getting more and more variable
message signs. They are used on the M25 on the western section
in order to reduce speeds to alleviate congestion, but there is
no reason why a similar system could not be used in bad weather
to lower the speeds, and I think that would be more acceptable
to the public. But we must face it: at the moment, in effect,
the common law on a motorway in good weather conditions is 80
mph. People pass police cars at 80 mph. They might be breaking
the law but that is the reality
84. On reality, could I ask a question on the
French experience? As lay people, the information we see indicates
that French have a far worse road safety record than usin
fact, many times worse. How can you then relate the French experience,
given that reality to a situation you are advocating here?
(Mr King) The French do have a far worse safety record
but, if we analyse it, it is rather consistent with our own: the
majority of accidents in France happen in urban areas and on rural
roads due to bad road design as a factor, but not necessarily
on the autoroutes.
85. But taking all those factors into account,
Mr King, comparing like with like, it is a fact that we have a
far better record in this country, and we have reduced accidents
and deaths on our roads in this country, compared with France?
(Mr King) Yes. Absolutely.
86. What is the AA view?
(Mr Dawson) It comes back to my central point about
risk: we are in the business of putting our money where our mouth
is and measuring risk across the roads of Europe through a new
European roads assessment programme. We believe that, if you can
measure the risks on roads and understand what they are, then
you can get the design and the speed limits right and communicate
to the public that that is the reason for the speed limit on a
particular stretch of road. It is a fact that motorways are four
times safer than single carriageway roads, yet the public perception,
for example, is that motorways are the most dangerous roads and
this is just one of the many misperceptions in this whole equation.
Traffic travelling above 30 mph in a 30 mph limit, where there
are people about, is dangerous because the human body cannot withstand
impacts uncushioned at more than about 25 miles an hour, so if
you hit someone the results can be disastrous. And it is one of
the successes of policy that those of us working in the field
are beginning to communicate the physics of death so that people
understand risks and understand the consequences of impacts. On
motorways you do not get these uncushioned impacts. The problems
on motorway safety, apart from the rare and unusual and unpredictable,
are the hard shoulders where people are killed, and accidents
at roadworks where people have not yet understood adequately that
the accident rate at roadworks doubles.
87. What about the environmental impacts of
speed which may not kill but perhaps in terms of pollution, or
upsetting people in local areas who want to walk around and feel
deterred from doing so?
(Mr Dawson) I think there has been great pressure
recently to get speeds reduced through things like traffic calming
schemes. What the AA is most concerned about is the mismatch between
the way resources have tended to follow the socially articulate
and not the accident problem which is more prevalent in the more
deprived areas. You will find, for exampleand I will not
mention the two citiesthat one city well known for its
articulate behaviour is spending 10 to 100 times more on traffic
calming schemes than the one which is just concerned about the
basic safety problems, and that expenditure is going into making
the safety improvements also environmentally attractive and pleasant.
Chairman: I will have to ask for much briefer
88. What about the RAC?
(Mr Delaney) Clearly there is an environmental aspect
to speed. It probably relates to the kind of road
89. But what do you think should be done about
(Mr Delaney) I think the level of speeds on roads
should reflect the sort of environment through which they pass,
but clearly there has to be a balance. If a motorway passes a
village there would be a difficulty in reducing the speed limit
on the motorway much more so than if an ordinary road passes through
the middle of a village. In those cases, then clearly reducing
the speed limit is much more logical. A great many local authorities
throughout the country are doing just that by a wide variety of
quite imaginative methods that do not necessarily involve road
humps or anything else.
90. In such circumstances, are the interests
of the motorists taken into account as opposed to the interests
(Mr Delaney) I would suggest that is a matter for
91. What is your view?
(Mr Dawson) My own view is that it depends on the
road. Motorways are the arteries of this country.
92. I am talking about local roads now.
(Mr Dawson) Clearly, if a local road passes through
the middle of a community it should do so with a speed limit which
is appropriate to the fact that it is going past peoples' front
93. Technology is such now that every car in
the country would be able to be governed and the speed limits
would be monitored at 70, 60, 50whatever. What are the
views of both organisations on that idea?
(Mr Dawson) The technology is certainly there so that,
in twenty years' time, you could have the ultimate big brother;
facial recognition; everybody's movements could be monitored;
and you could cut in with electronic devices to reduce speed.
Those in the thinking classes who have considered the problem
are planning that it may be possible within about five years to
offer drivers what is called a speed alert system, so drivers
can have the vehicle tell them that they are exceeding a speed
limit if they choose to switch it on. What one finds with technological
development is that the smart thing is not to hypothesise about
what might happen 20 years' hence if you get the quality assurance
in Greece to match that in Britain, for example, in terms of speed
limits, but actually think about practical developments so we
know what we are talking about before we go to the next stage.
94. So there is an international association
that ties up all your agencies across the globe. What is your
evidence from, say, the US where the speed limits are 55 in terms
of the number of road deaths per thousand miles driven, against
Europe, with your sister organisations there?
(Mr Dawson) We effectively do talk about these things
a lot and regularly do try and keep tabs on best practice across
the world. In fact, in a few months' time we shall be having an
assessment with our American sister organisation on rural accidents.
It is one of the issues we shall be looking at.
95. But is there evidence there for you to see
today that the speed limits being at 55 mph in the US save lives?
(Mr Dawson) The speed limits in the US are back up
to 75 mph on many of the roads and it is interesting that the
96. Yes, but there are clearly statistics which
show what happened when the speed limit was lower.
(Mr Dawson) Can I give a crisp answer to that which
is this: just as we debate statistics and facts in this country
so there is not one view elsewhere.
97. I see. So it is not just the British that
are wrong, but everybody?
(Mr Dawson) No. There are arguments of this nature
going on in the United States.
98. But logic must follow that, the lower the
speed limit, the less number of people are going to be killed.
Is that not common sense? Is that the case? As people are advocating
the possibility of higher speed limits on motorways which were
built for 100 mph, surely it is possible that others will advocate
that the speed limit be reduced?
(Mr Dawson) I think the issue that you have touched
on is that it is about the road and its protection system as well
as the driven speed. Why are motorways four times safer than single
carriageways when the speeds are higher? Why do Formula One drivers
walk out of 160 mph smashes? Because the protection systems built
around the track and the motorway allow those higher speeds, so
there is an interaction between the speed and the protection system,
and that is what should lead to the setting of the speed limit.
That is why motorway speed limits are higher. To turn to the motorway
speed limits specifically, the driven speeds on our motorway system
are around about 80 mph with most drivers exceeding limits, and
what we find in our research is that less than one in five would
want the speed limit enforced rigorously to 70 mph but there is
no agreement among motorists at large to what they would want
to happen next. If the speed limit were raised to 80 mph and then
everybody just drove at 90 mph, that is something that people
99. Yes. I think, Mr Dawson, we will not need
to detain either of you very much longer. What about the European
road assessment programme?
(Mr Dawson) That will be announced fairly shortly.