Memorandum by The Association of British
Drivers (RTS 11)
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEEDS
1. In recent years far too little research
has been carried out into the causes of road accidents. Research
that has been done has often started from the questionable presumption
that the only route to improvements in road safety lies in the
rigorous management of vehicle speeds. Conflicting viewpoints
are ignored, irrespective of the significant weight of supporting
2. The result is that modern road safety
studies have from the outset been compromised in seeking to legitimise
a particular road safety agenda instead of really seeking to address
accident causation, and from there going on to identify effective
3. Based on the blind acceptance of the
flawed and simplistic "Speed kills" soundbite, speed
enforcement hypothecation schemes are currently being expanded
country-wide. One of the highly regrettable consequences of this
is that, contrary to all the cardinal rules of British justice,
those involved in the setting and enforcement of speed limits
now also have a financial interest in the process. This is leading
to the proliferation of speed limits which are purposely inappropriately
set and enforced, with revenue generationrather than road
4. It is a source of some concern to the
Association that the DTLR is shortly to issue revised "guidelines"
to police officers on the completion of STATS 19 accident causation
forms. This is clearly in response to the fact that (as recorded
in eg, Transport Research Laboratory Report TRL 3231) the aggregated
submissions of well-trained police officers are (justifiably)
undermining the legitimacy of the "Speed kills" campaign.
By aggregating causation categories, the Department is seeking
to conceal this.
5. Instead of an unhelpful and unproductive
concentration on the single element of speed enforcement, the
Association of British Drivers' approach would recommend a return
to a balanced emphasis on the Three E's of road safety: Education,
Engineering and Enforcement. Each element should be neither overwhelmingly
more, nor less, important than the other two; in definite contrast
to the unbalanced situation currently in existence. The Three
E's should be directed at improving road safety by modifying the
attitudes and behaviour of all road users; not exclusively motorised
(1) The role of illegal and inappropriate
speed in respect of causing crashes, and the severity of accidents
To cover this point a clear understanding of
the definitions involved is essential. For this paper illegal
speed is that which exceeds the posted limit, and inappropriate
speed is that which is unsafe for the conditions existing at a
particular time and place, whether above or below the posted limit.
It is clearly impossible to set a posted limit
that reflects the appropriate speed for all the circumstances
and conditions that may be encountered. Within a 30 limit there
will be times and places where 40, or even 50, is safe but illegal.
There will also be many places where 30 is legal but unsafe. It
is also possible for a speed to be too slow for safety, as demonstrated
by the moped ban on motorways and the need for a police escort
for slow loads.
Inappropriate speed is much more likely to lead
to casualties than illegal speed, particularly as the "speed
kills" regime is leading to the lowering of many limits to
an unrealistic level.
Setting limits according to Annex A to Circular
Roads 1/93 gave clear guidance to the driver as to the hazards
he could expect to find. Ignoring these guidelines is leading
to an increase in illegal speeding where the limit is inappropriate.
The devaluing of the safety message that should be implicit in
the posted limit is also leading to an apparent increase in inappropriate
speeds in areas where the limit is correctly set.
There can be little doubt that injury severity
rises with speed of impact, however, to base a road safety campaign
on this fact alone is to imply that there is a safe and acceptable
speed of impact.
(2) Reducing the quality of life in urban
This is subjective and a matter of balance.
Congestion brings a reduction in traffic speeds without producing
claims of an increase in quality of life.
Many complaints of speeding traffic are investigated
and found to be unjustified. Often these complaints are based
on speeding traffic being heard rather than seen. It seems probable
that they are generated by driver behaviour rather than actual
speed. Wheel spin when pulling away, together with high engine
revolutions in low gear can give a completely erroneous impression
(3) The consequences of illegal and inappropriate
speed for urban design:
It should be possible to design the urban environment
in such a way as to reduce illegal speeds. However such designs
will probably increase the opportunities for, and occurrence of,
(4) The availability and reliability of research
on the consequences of, and reasons for, illegal and inappropriate
There is little basic research available, especially
in recent years. Much of the claimed research is a re-hashing
and amalgamation of old research. The only truly new research
into accident causes is TRL 323, a report on a new system for
recording accident causes. Most Local Authorities do not collate
accident causes, and the number that do has been reducing since
they were presented the panacea that if someone was hurt it must
be due to speed. There are other sources which bring into question
this simplistic view2.345
The research that led to the setting of speed
limits according to the 85th percentile led to us having some
of the safest roads in the world. We should be building on this
by identifying accident causes and trends, not throwing it away
with blind acceptance of the simplistic "Speed Kills"
There are many questions that need answering.
Media coverage gives the impression that many casualties result
from joyriding, vehicle theft and getaway attempts from other
crimes, often with a police pursuit element. What percentage of
speed related casualties are a result of crime?
It is widely accepted that around two thirds
of drivers exceed some speed limits, yet the worst abuses of statistics
only claim that speed causes one third of accidents, with the
true figure likely to be around 10 per cent. It would seem that
some limits are set at levels it is safe to exceed. Are they being
set too low?
Many areas that claim successful casualty local
reductions through speed reduction/enforcement measures actually
have an area wide increase in casualties. Where are the discrepancies
arising and why aren't the responsible authorities being asked
to account for them?
(5) The reasons for the very high pedestrian
As we have a good general road safety record
something unusual must be happening with pedestrians. Many of
the recent road safety studies have identified that a pedestrian
hit by a fast moving car will be injured.
Little information is available as to why the
pedestrian was hit by the car. TRL 323 and other sources6 indicate
that around 80 per cent of pedestrian injuries result from the
pedestrians' own actions. In Staffordshire pedestrian action is
the cause of 9.2 per cent of all road accidents. In Stoke-on-Trent
it rises to 16.5 per centmore than twice the 7.7 per cent
attributed to speed.
Yet many pedestrians and cyclists see "speed
kills" as a statement that they have no part to play in casualty
A European study of young people and the abuse
of alcohol and drugs found that our young people are the least
supervised in Europe. Could this lack of parental supervision
be responsible for our high child casualty rate?
(6) The role of enforcement:
Betteras in higher qualityenforcement
is part of the answer. Illegal speed may, to some extent, be treatable
by camera based enforcement of the limit. However the camera cannot
differentiate between inappropriate speed and illegal speed. Indeed
the camera will, in many cases, totally fail to detect inappropriate
While a fixed penalty ticket generated by a
camera will have a punitive effect it carries little educational
value about an event from two weeks previously.
These are figures available that seem to prove
that camera enforcement reduces casualties. Generally this is
only true at specific sites, and it seems probable that all that
is happening is that the accidents are transferring elsewhere.
This view is supported by the County casualty figures for most
areas that claim improved road safety through the use of cameras.
There is also some evidence that statistics are being used selectively,
with a return to "average" casualty figures after an
anomalous year being claimed as proof of success.
From a road safety point of view it makes much
more sense to stop the driver at the time. In cases of inappropriate
speed a caution coupled with advice on safe driving techniques
could be much more productive.
Road safety education and accident investigation,
not just speed enforcement, should be a core function of the police,
in conjunction with the local authority and road user groups.
7. Road re-design and traffic calming:
As one of the Three "E"s engineering
has a part to play in road safety. However, where possible it
should be used to improve traffic flows by removing obstructions
and extending lines of sight. Humps and chicanes are being increasingly
seen by drivers as devices to discourage road use rather than
Most drivers are responsible people and travel
at what they consider a safe, even if illegal, speed for the conditions.
"Whole area" treatments that lead
to a reduction in the perceived safe speed have been seen to work,
whereas the introduction of deliberate obstacles on a wholesale
basis often leads to resentment and attempts to reduce their effect.
8. Road re-classification:
There is no reason for re-classification to
affect the safe speed for a road. Drivers are not aware whether
they are driving on a trunk road or any other class of road. The
introduction of unnecessarily low speed limits and inappropriate
white lines by the Highways Authority as part of the de-trunking
program is widely resented and devaluing properly set limits and
properly used white lines.
9. Physical measures to separate pedestrians
and cars (eg barriers):
In theory a good idea. It should be noted that
most pedestrian barriers would not stop a vehicle, and so are
there only to keep the pedestrian from the traffic, not vice-versa.
However, it is clear that pedestrians are determined
to take the shortest route between any two points, and to achieve
this will climb any barriers and ignore the presence of crossings
and lights. They find subways intimidating and, particularly in
the case of females and the elderly, can be nervous about the
"stranger danger" involved in using dedicated routes
away from traffic.
The statistics show that the overwhelming majority
of pedestrian road casualties occur on the highway rather than
on the footpath, yet many new roads and bypasses are built without
a footpath or cycleway, as are many roundabouts.
There is a need to identify the pedestrians'
preferred routes and crossing places and then to make them as
safe as possible, rather than to try to artificially "manage"
10. Technology (eg through Intelligent Speed
Adaptation and car designs which promote pedestrian protection):
There are many concerns about ISA, some raised
by those developing the system. In fact, it may be that ISA actually
decreases driver involvement, thus leading to inattention and
higher accident rates.
The research published to date shows an increase
in drivers following too closely. This behaviour is identified
(incorrectly in the ABD's view) by the DTLR as one of the causes
of speed-related accidents.
ISA will reduce overtaking opportunities and
lead to longer overtaking manoeuvres, increasing driver frustration
and increasing the risk of accidents while overtaking. Accidents
while overtaking are also identified by the DTLR as a speed-related
In a purely theoretical setting ISA would perhaps
appear to have its attractions, but this takes no account of driver
A warning light to inform the driver when he
exceeds the posted limit may perhaps have its uses, but taking
control away from the driver could, under some circumstances,
be exceedingly dangerous.
Designing vehicles so that they can more safely
hit a pedestrian would no doubt save some lives, but not as many
as ensuring that the pedestrian and vehicle do not come into contact
in the first place.
11. Education to improve drivers' and motorcyclists'
behaviour and pedestrian and cyclist awareness:
The wording of this phrase amply demonstrates
an unfortunate bias and lack of understanding of the problem on
the part of those responsible for trying to develop solutions
to it. All road users have room for improvement in both behaviour
The police have a clear role to play in this.
The spread of in car video record and playback ability offers
a chance for the police to point out dangerous and unacceptable
actions and offer advice as part of a road safety campaign. This
advice is needed as much by pedestrians and cyclists as it is
by powered road users.
The "speed kills" message seems to
exonerate cyclists, pedestrians and parents from any responsibility
for road safety, while discouraging drivers and riders from taking
advanced trainingthey already know how to drive slowly!
More publicity must be directed on the advantages
and responsibilities of being a skilled road user, rather than
a slow road user. There should also be more incentive to take
advanced training, or, in the case of pedestrians and cyclists,
any training. Reductions in insurance premiums and the removal
of VAT from training would perhaps help.
12. Changes to speed limits:
Speed limits should be set to an understandable
national standard, particularly on through routes. As it is impossible
to set a limit to cover all conditions the set limit can only
ever be seen as a guideline as to the general environment. The
message sent by the limit needs to be consistent across the country,
and to be based on safety considerations. The use of speed limits
to make a road or route unattractive devalues the safety message
that should be clear and understandable.
The reduction of limits on "joining roads"
between residential areas is removing the demarcation that used
to exist when entering higher risk residential areas, and is also
leading to longer, and therefore riskier, overtaking manoeuvres.
In many places these reductions should be reversed.
13. Specific policies which should be implemented:
It may be useful to make road safety a core
function of the police. While this would obviously have an enforcement
aspect there should also be a "crime prevention" educational
role, as applied to other forms of crime.
More use needs to be made of the dangerous and
careless driving laws, preferably at a stage before casualties
result. The present regime of ignoring damage only accidents allows
bad driving to go uncorrected until it finally results in a casualty.
"Speed Kills" is both too vague and
too simplistic a statement as a basis for a national campaign.
Inappropriate speed is just one aspect of bad driving, and its
contribution to casualty figures will vary from area to area.
There is a need for national promotion of safe,
skilled driving techniques, backed up by identification of local
casualty causes and targeted local engineering, education and
14. The extent to which relevant bodies are
taking the right actions:
It is clearly correct to be promoting road safety
and casualty reduction. The majority of the voluntary lobby groups
and organisations promote training as the solution, including
the skills and observations needed to select a safe and appropriate
speed for the conditions.
Unfortunately too many bodies are erroneously
seizing on the "speed kills" message as the whole solution
to casualty reduction and ignoring the wider picture. Casualty
reduction schemes should actually reduce casualties, not just
displace them elsewhere.
15. Provision of a co-ordinated approach to
speed management by local authorities, DTLR, the Highways Agency,
the police and Home Office:
Lack of national co-ordination is part of the
cause of illegal speed, and to a lesser extent causes inappropriate
Speed limits should be set to a national standard
for the purposes of road safety. These standards should be based
on sound road safety principles such as the 85th percentile rule;
and not on anti-road use dogma. The use of limits as a traffic
management tool is unacceptable, as previously explained.
Speed limits should indicate the level and type
of hazards to be expected on a road, and should change when conditions
change. The present tendency to reduce limits to the lowest possible
level removes all indication of changing risk levels, and should
16. Appropriateness of sentences imposed by
magistrates and judges on those convicted of speeding offences/other
The "production line" approach of
issuing of camera generated fixed penalties for illegal speeding
gives no useful road safety message, awarding the same penalty
for a "dangerous" 35 on a busy road at school time as
it does for a "safe" 35 on an empty road at 4 a.m.
The excessive fines imposed by the courts on
those that dare to challenge a fixed penalty means that even those
who are not guilty are accepting the fixed penalties. Coupled
with the lack of any identification evidence of the driver's identity,
which makes it possible for, say, a wife to protect the breadwinner's
driving licence by falsely claiming to have been the driver, any
safety message is so diluted as to be non-existent.
Speeding tickets are being increasingly seen
as purely one of the costs of motoring.
17. Appropriateness of the attitudes to speed
amongst motor manufacturers, the national press, TV motoring programmes
Again, there appears to be a bias inherent in
the question. It is also important that the Government is not
seen to be "censoring" the media, either directly or
through bodies like the ASA.
Some magazines do little for road safety, with
their constant promotion of "dangerous and challenging"
roads, and some of the descriptive language used in their road
tests. It is difficult, however, to quantify the harm done.
In some cases the identification of certain
roads and venues as "challenging and dangerous" can
be seen as by some road users as challenge to prove their driving
or riding ability. More often it seems to generate some sort of
"wish fulfilment fantasy", as demonstrated by the large
numbers of non-biker onlookers that turn up at publicised biker
An emotive article describing the joys of aggressively
driving latest 200 mph car or 'bike will do little to alter the
driving habits of those not already inclined to that style of
driving, and will be read by most as pure escapism. Complaints
that a blurred background in an advert will encourage inappropriate
speeds are clearly frivolous, and should be seen as such.
It would be more productive for the media to
promote driving skills relevant to the road in a "fun"
way, possibly with televised competitions calling for a high level
of driving skill.
18. The role of speed management strategies:
Speed management has a part to play in road
safety, but should preferably be through engineering and education,
with enforcement reserved for the dangerous offenders.
To give an extreme example:
The building of a three lane motorway standard
access road through a residential estate would not lead to a natural
traffic flow at 30 mph. No amount of signs, humps and white paint
would make it seem that 30 mph was the optimal speed. Build the
road with one lane each way and 30 mph becomes a much more acceptable
and understandable speed limit.
If casualties occur their cause should be identified
and targeted. The present system of investigation means that those
responsible for the design and maintenance of roads and schemes
perform the investigationthey could be resistant to shouldering
Should such investigations be carried out by,
say, a neighbouring authority who would bring a truly independent
The current road safety strategy is inherently
unbalanced; relying almost entirely on speed management and enforcement.
In many cases this is largely the result of financial, rather
than road safety, considerations.
A return to implementing a balanced road safety
policy embodying all three of the key elements of road safety:
Education, Engineering and Enforcement offers a much more productive
and effective method of achieving meaningful road safety improvements.
Such a strategy would also generate public (and hence electoral)
support rather than growing suspicion, resentment and opposition,
as is the case with the current approach.
1 Transport Research Laboratory Report TRL 323:
"A new system for reporting contributory factors in road
accidents', Transport"Research Laboratory, Crowthorne,
Berkshire, United Kingdom.
2 "Accidents on Rural RoadsA
Study in Cambridgeshire" AA Foundation for Road Safety
Research/Cambridgeshire County Council, 1994.
3 Traffic Crash Facts 1996Florida
Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, 2900 Apalachee
Parkway, Neil Kirkman Building, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0505.
4 "Effect of speed limits on speed and
safety: a review", Wilmot, C G and Khanal, M, Transport
Reviews, Oct 1999, Vol 19, No 4, pp 315-329.
5 Report No FHwA-Rd-92-084, US Department of
Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Research, Development
and Technology, Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, 6300
Georgetown Pike, McLean, Virginia, 22101-2296.
6 "But it is not excessive speed in relation
to the speed limits that is the problem, but speed relative to
the prevailing conditions, which almost always is less than the
speed limit, that is the culprit. Recent figures (1998) from the
Cornwall Road Safety Unit back this up. None of the fatal accidents
that occurred that year are attributed to speed in excess of the
limit, but 38 per cent of fatal accidents were due to going too
fast. In the serious accident category in the same year, just
2 per cent were attributed to being over the speed limit and 28
per cent due to going too fast ...speed in that context is not
responsible for the vast majority of tragedies laid at its feet.
It seems that the Government is prepared to do a lot about a little
and little about a lot. It's too easy to just put up more cameras
and rake in the cash. Education is what is required, not castigation.
Report in "Driving" magazine, Jan/Feb 2000, p
44. Statistics taken from the leaflet: "Road Accidents
in Cornwall 1998", Cornwall County Council Road Safety
Unit, Scorrier, Redruth, Cornwall.
7 West Midlands Road Accident Reviews 1998,
1999 and 2000, jdt (Divn. Of Mott MacDonald), Canterbury House,
85 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 1lZ.