Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
380. Has there been an assessment made of the
extra lives that would be lost if the speed limit was raised to
(Mr Waddams) The work that we have available does
not apply to motorways but, clarifying that, there is work by
TRL who have been looking at rural roads particularly where, on
the highest quality roads, a one mph increase in the mean speed
of the traffic could result in something like a 2 per cent increase
in casualties. If you then extrapolate and increase the speed
limit by, say, ten miles per hour, not everyone would take advantage
of that. Again, there is an estimate of perhaps 2.5-5 mph increase
in the mean speed so, if you take your 2 per cent and multiply
that between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent you have something between
5 and 10 per cent, in fact a bit more
381. So what you are saying is that, as far
as the Ministry is concerned, you have not looked at this seriously:
there is evidence available and you do not accept that it would
be of benefit?
(Mr Waddams) We do not have our own evidence for the
382. No. I am not asking you that. You are telling
us that TRL has done some work; there is evidence available from
other sources; you have taken it seriously and you are not persuaded?
(Mr Waddams) That is right.
383. And it was good enough to fix the Home
(Mr Spellar) Yes, and I think you are interviewing
a Home Office minister shortly! But vehicles would also be less
fuel-efficient at the higher speed as well.
384. But the comparison is between rural roads
and motorways. In the present circumstances it is costing more
to prevent accidents on rural roads than on motorways. Now there
does appear to be a conflict of view there that, if you are comparing
rural roads and motorways, motorways would be safer. On the evidence
that has been received and given, I think there is a conflict
(Mr Spellar) Motorways are safer: they are the safest
roads that we have. That is certainly true. At the same time,
however, the underlying question was whether that would be improved
or worsened by an increase from 70-80 mph and we believe it would
increase the rate of accidents, along with the fact that it would
also be less fuel efficient and, therefore, less environmentally
(Ms McMahon) If I could just clarify the figures in
the Highways Economics note, the higher figure for rural roads
reflects the mixed severity of the accidents that happens on rural
roads. A lot of them are head-on crashes and therefore the severity
is greater than in the average motorway accident. That is the
explanation for those higher figures which reflect the value that
will be achieved by doing safety measures rather than the cost
385. The RAC suggested that a report had been
undertaken by the West Midlands police to show that speed was
not a major cause of death. Do you accept that?
(Mr Spellar) And I think the AA had a different view
when you interviewed them on that. As I said, when the police
are asked to give an indication, they can put up to four factors
down for a particular accident. Also, in some cases, where, for
example, it is an action by a pedestrian that has caused the accident,
sometimes I think the evidence would suggest that that is put
down as the cause whereas the severity of the accident may well
be related to the speed of the vehiclethe fact that an
accident was likely to happen although there might have been a
better chance of avoiding it had the pedestrian not behaved in
that way. Also the severity could well be affected by the speed.
In response to that, the TRL have looked at the figures: and,
as I said, speed will be a factor in something like a third of
the accidents but in many cases some of those other factors will
also be affected to a greater or lesser extent by the fact that
the vehicle was going faster. Quite a bit of that is to do with
reaction times and also the severity of impact.
386. Why did we introduce speed limits on motorways?
(Mr Spellar) Quite simply, historically, because of
the desire to prevent accidents.
387. That is not the case, is it? It was because
of the fuel crisis. It was nothing to do with safety at all.
(Mr Spellar) I think it is a case that higher levels
of speed above a certain level on motorways do have an impact
388. But, Minister, the point is that it was
to do with the fuel crisis that they introduced 70 mph on motorways,
which were built to do 100 mph, and 60 mph on single carriageways
were introduced at the same time. It had nothing whatsoever to
do with safety.
(Mr Spellar) I mentioned the fuel efficiency issue
earlier in my contribution but I think there is strong evidence
that moving to much higher levelsand this is not just our
experience but, with one significant exception, the experience
of all other European countries as welland maintaining
a reasonable level is consistent with not just the ability of
the vehicles to withstand crashes, and I accept there has been
changes in vehicle design over a period of time, but also, quite
straightforwardly, reaction time of drivers. While vehicle design
may have improved, the basic design of drivers has not.
389. Why, then, do we build cars that are capable
of 140 mph?
(Mr Spellar) I think you would have to ask the manufacturers
390. But you could legislate against them?
(Mr Spellar) That would be a matter for European-wide
competence of vehicles but there is a lot of work, as you know,
being undertaken in order to improve the safe characteristics
of vehicles and also the effect that an impact has between vehicles
and vehicle design and pedestrians, and a vehicle that may be
able to go an excessive speed might well be easier to drive at
lower levels. If you are driving right up to the capacity of a
car, it makes it much harder to drive.
391. Why do we have the countryside littered
with signs to tell you there are speed cameras when it is obvious
there are none?
(Mr Spellar) The evidence you had from the Chief Constable
of North Wales indicated that had been a policy but was slowly
being rationalised out because there was a danger that that was
bringing the reactions into a degree of disrepute. They are therefore
focusing much more on drawing people's attention to cameras where
they are in operation, and that is designed very much to modify
and change people's behaviour on those sites with the favourable
impact that we have already indicated.
392. Why do you think that so many of our witnesses
have indicated that the speed limits in this country are very
badly understood? What is the Department going to do about that
(Mr Spellar) What do you mean by "badly understood"?
Mr Donohoe: : There are so many variants of
speed limits that there does not seem to be a uniform speed limit
in some of the areas of the country, and they are very badly understood
because of that. What is the Department doing to have it more
standardised, as to what would be then best understood by the
person who travels? I was with the police and I was standing with
a speed camera pointing it at a motorist who did not have a clue
what the speed limit was when he was stopped
393. I think he has the point.
(Mr Spellar) There are a number of issues tied up
with that. One is the question whether the speed limits that are
applied are appropriate to the road. In some cases it can be that
these are too high and in some it may be the fact that they could
be higher perfectly safely. One of the issues is having lower
speed limits, as we said earlier, in the vicinity of schools.
There is an argument about the question of the 30 mph limit and
how well that ought to be signed, and I think there is a particular
issueit has been raised with me, for example, by Ed Doolan
on Radio West Midlandsconcerning a road where the speed
has been changed from 40 to 30 mph but has not been properly signed.
Particularly where there are changing circumstances, and this
ties in with Mr Cummings' point, it is enormously important that
those are signed and also signed well in advance of hitting that
particular change so that people can adjust their speed.
394. On that point, should you not be encouraging
local authorities to do a proper review and valuation of speed
limits on all roads? One of the reasons that people ignore speed
limits is where they are irrational. If it is safe to do 30 mph
in a residential area and there is a 30 mph limit on a wide dual
carriageway next door, they are probably going to ignore that
(Mr Spellar) I thought I said that there are grounds
in a number of areas for reducing speed in some areas quite often
because, as was indicated earlier, the situation has changed and
a new housing estate has been built or industrial estate or sporting
facility or whatever that has changed traffic volume and traffic
395. But should this not be done on a systematic
basis on existing roads, not waiting for new developments?
(Mr Spellar) I think it is important to be reviewing
that but with the objective of looking at
396. Are you encouraging them to carry out those
(Mr Spellar) My understanding is that we are encouraging
local authorities to review their position.
(Ms McMahon) Yes. We are doing work at the moment
to see whether we can give local authorities better advice on
speed limits and that work is on-going.
397. When will that be completed?
(Mr Waddams) The existing guidance is called Circular
1/93 and we are in the process of looking at that and we are hoping
that, by the end of this calendar year, we will be in a position
to start discussing and, indeed, consulting local authorities
398. It sounds a bit leisurely, does it not?
We are killing people every day.
(Mr Waddams) Yes. The guidance already exists and
is clear but we are now in a position, and I think it was published
in 1993, that we have much more experience and we want to introduce
that experience into a revised guidance.
399. What are you discussing with them? That
you have not learned from your own experience? You are telling
us, "The guidance is clear; we do it already; we now have
got improved information; but we need to consult with them before
we print it". Why?
(Mr Waddams) Because any changes that might be proposed
would have a impact. For example, if the 30 mph repeater were
to be introduced, it would be at enormous cost. There would have
to be repeater signs every few hundred yards along every urban