Memorandum by RoadPeace (RTS 35)
THE NATURE AND EFFECTS OF ILLEGAL AND INAPPROPRIATE
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED IN THE UK
With speed identified as the leading contributory
factor in road crashes, RoadPeace welcomes the Transport Committee's
Inquiry on Speed. Established in 1992, RoadPeace is the national
charity for road traffic victims in the UK and exists to provide
emotional and practical support to road victims (including a helpline
service), to raise awareness of road danger and to highlight and
present evidence of the consequences of road death and injury
on families and society. Road crashes are the leading cause of
premature death and acquired disability. RoadPeace members include
many who are bereaved or injured as a result of road crashes,
as well as those who are concerned about road danger, and are
dedicated to preventing future tragedy on the road.
1.2 RoadPeace and Speed
RoadPeace first targeted the problem of speed
in its 1996 publication "Tough on Speed". RoadPeace
is a founder member of the Slower Speeds Initiative (SSI) and
has recently produced a briefing sheet on Speed and Safety Cameras.
RoadPeace has also begun collaborating with
the Cochrane Group, an international health research consortium
dedicated to evidence based interventions, on the effectiveness
of safety cameras. RoadPeace is also contributing to the British
Medical Journal May 2002 issue on Road Trauma with an article
on the impacts of speed, written by a bereaved father.
2. ROLE OF
2.1 Crash Causation
With the restriction on response length, it
is not possible, nor practical, to summarise all speed related
research. RoadPeace would just like to note the recent articles
that have summarised the TRL research on speed. Earlier speed
impact estimates have been revised, with recent research concluding
that a 1mph reduction in mean speed can produce a reduction in
injury collision frequency of between 2-7 per cent with averages
of 10 per cent on urban roads. (Taylor, 2001).
Under-estimating speed as contributory factory
Taylor also noted how other crashes, such as
"following too closely", while not specifically or primarily
caused by speed, will be influenced by the vehicle speed.
At present, speed has been identified as a contributing
factor in one-third of fatal crashes and in approximately 15 per
cent of injury collisions surveyed. The contributory factors are
identified at the initial reporting stage and while fatal crashes
will be reported by a specialist collision investigator, all non
life threatening crashes (the vast majority of injury crashes)
will be reported by general police with very little training in
contributory factor identification. The limited training was summarised
in TRL Report 323 "A New System for recording contributory
factors in road accidents". Contributory factors, including
speed, are thus being identified not only by those with little
training, but also before the investigation is even completed.
2.2 Casualty causation
Casualty severity is even more sensitive to
speed than is crash frequency, and it is argued here that preventing
casualties, even in crashes not caused by speed but where the
casualty severity has been aggravated by excessive speed, should
be the true objective.
The statistics from DETR's Kill Your Speed campaign
clearly demonstrate the sensitivity of impact speed on survival
rates. While this campaign has targeted only pedestrians, car
occupants are also susceptible since the probability of a serious
injury to a belted car occupant in a front seat at an impact speed
of 30mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40mph it is
over five times greater (Hobbes and Mills, 1984).
2.2.1 Under-estimating road traffic casualties
The Government has estimated that "excessive
and inappropriate speed helps to kill around 1,200 people and
to injure over 100,000 more" (DETR, March 2000). These casualty
estimates are based on police records and not hospital statistics.
Hospital studies have consistently shown the number of road traffic
casualties to be two to three times higher than reported in the
official, ie police based statistics (See RoadPeace's "Under-reporting
of road traffic casualties or why we shouldn't use police data
to measure a public health crisis", 2001).
A recent TRL report comparing STATS 19 data
with the Trauma Advisory and Research Network data reported that
only 61 per cent of road traffic casualties who had been in hospital
for a minimum of three days were included in STATS 19 data (For
Greater London, it was 51 per cent). The Police are not medically
trained to differentiate between a serious and a slight injury
and they have been found to be twice as likely to under-estimate
the severity of a road injury than over-estimate it (Simpson,
1996). Police statistics are no longer seen as the most accurate
source of data on other victims, ie those of domestic violence
or rape. Based on hospital estimates, the true number of people
being injured by excessive speed is more likely to exceed 200,000
if not 300,000.
2.3 Socio-economic impact
The value of preventing road crashes is currently
estimated at over £16 billion (DTLR, 2001) with the majority
of injury crash costs represented by human costs, ie to avoid
the pain, grief and suffering. Families bear the brunt of caring
for road casualties. Headway, the national charity for head injured,
estimates that on average ten family members are affected by every
serious head injured casualty, the vast majority of which are
caused by road traffic collisions (Headway website).
Government research found that half of all public
sector road safety expenditure is on hospitals and ambulances
(DETR, 1997). With seriously injured staying in hospital on average
over 11 days, the opportunity cost to the already overstretched
NHS and other patients is believed to be immense.
Box 1: The high cost of speeding motorists (The
Guardian, 3 September 2001)
Just before Christmas last year our 16 year-old
daughter was knocked down by a speeding motorist estimated to
have been driving at between 49 and 63mph in a 30mph zone. Her
injuries were horrific. All over Christmas and the New Year period
she lay unconscious in the local intensive care unit, her life
in the balance. Against all odds she survived (Driven to Death,
The costs in both human and financial terms
have been incalculable; it does not take much imagination to estimate
the physical and psychological effects on our daughter. Plus the
effects on our family and our friends, not knowing whether she'd
make it through to the next day. And on her friends and other
onlookers who witnessed the accident.
Add to this the cost of her continued recovery,
including a total of nine weeks in hospital, numerous outpatient
appointments, seven operations so far, scans and drugs; one course
of antibiotics alone cost some £5,000. Then there's the police
investigation, the ongoing procedures in both the criminal and
civil courts, the costs of providing invigilators when she had
to sit her GCSEs from her hospital bed, the cost in terms of her
father and I having to take extended leave from work. The list
could go on.
As is often the case in such situations, there
have been positives. The treatment she received at the local NHS
hospital has been superb. The strength of will and determination
of our daughter has astonished us and, despite everything, she
managed to get sufficient A-C grades to take her onto the next
step of her education.
If drivers will not take responsibility for
the potentially lethal weapons they drive, then taking measures
that might compel them to do so, such as the widespread installation
of speed cameras, must be welcomed. Speeding is a crime and if
those who speed are caught and have to pay the financial penalties,
then so be it. The costs to us all of not using the available
technology to prevent speeding will be far, far higher. The civil
liberties arguments are spurious; if someone is speeding and seen
by a police officer, why should it be any different if they are
"seen" by a camera? Pauline Jordan, Brighton ([email protected])
2.4 Social exclusion and poor at risk
"Road crashes are the leading cause of
death and acquired disability of children. Many more children
are killed on the roads than are murdered. Low income families
are also more at risk since children from poorer areas are up
to six times more likely to be injured in a road accident"
(Care on the Road, April 2001). These families will also be less
prepared to cope with the consequences of any injury, with little
savings or private medical insurance coverage likely. DETR research
also found Asian children in the UK to be involved in up to twice
as many pedestrian collisions as average (Advanced Driving, Summer
2.5 Quality of Life
While an increasing number of people know someone,
or of someone, having been killed or seriously injured in a road
crash, including through illegal or inappropriate speed, the risk
of this tragedy would have a much wider effect if parents did
not curtail their children's leisure activity and transport mode
choices in order to keep their children safe. Few families, if
any, will be able to say that fear of road danger has not restricted
their options and reduced their quality of life.
2.6 Extent of Speeding
Despite the serious consequences, speeding is
endemic, as has been shown by Government's research into speeding:
two-thirds of drivers exceed the
30mph speed limit on urban roads and 25 per cent exceed the 40mph
on motorways, 55 per cent exceed
the 70mph speed limit with 13 per cent travelling faster than
on dual carriageways, 90 per cent
of articulated HGVs exceeded their 50mph limit and on single carriageways,
76 per cent exceeded their 40mph limit (Vehicle Speeds in Great
On 30mph roads, where minor increases in speed
have major impacts on casualty severity, the survey found approximately
one-third of cars on 30mph roads were travelling above 35mph.
As speeding was worse during off peak hours there is concern that
congestion, rather than personal choice, is discouraging/preventing
further speeding. These findings show that speeding is not clustered
at hot spots but is endemic in society and will need more than
isolated interventions for any real improvement in risk reduction
3. CURENT UK
3.1 Co-ordinated Approach (or Lack of)
The Government's road safety strategy, Tomorrow's
RoadsSafer for Everyone, included a chapter on safer speeds.
Despite speed being identified as the single largest contributory
factor in road traffic crashes, despite acknowledgement that casualty
severity is sensitive to speeds under 40mph and also under 30mph
and despite widespread evidence of speeding, the strategy refrained
from recommending lowering the 30 mph urban speed limit norm.
Throughout Government, speeding is still not
seen as the killer it is. A Daily Telegraph article (17
November 2000) quoted one minister as saying "people don't
think of themselves as criminals if they are caught speeding.
The courts should not be wasting their time on things like that".
Despite more people being killed or injured by excessive speed,
it is not considered as dangerous as the less frequent drink driving
Government's approach to speed is quite different
to that of other public health threats, or even threats to property.
While safety cameras are now restricted to well-publicised locations
with a speed related crash history, no such criteria are imposed
on CCTV cameras or the use of under-cover police officers. Even
more serious is the restriction of safety cameras to locations
with a speed related history, instead of a speed related risk.
Safety cameras have the ability to be self-financing and should
not be restricted to the traditional hazardous location identification
process, where multiple injury crashes have to occur before investment
can be justified.
Property protection appears to be a much higher
priority than injury prevention. Regarding other health threats,
the Government adopted a very pro-active approach to the foot
and mouth disease, instead of responding only after repeated cases
of foot and mouth were found.
The Government is now compensating BSE victims
on the basis that more could have been done to prevent these deaths.
The same position should hold for casualties from road traffic
crashes, but at present the government offers no compensation
at all to bereaved families from speed related road deaths, nor
has RoadPeace received any funding so far for their work for victims.
The Human Rights Act puts an obligation on governments
to adopt policies and procedures to safeguard the rights enshrined
in the articles, including Article 2, "Everyone's right to
life shall be protected by law".
3.2 Home Office/Police
Despite over four times as many people being
killed on the roads than are murdered, and hundreds of thousands
injured, the Home Office has not made traffic policing a core
function of the police. With speed involved in over one-third
of road deaths, more lives are lost through excessive speed than
through murders. Other examples of Home Office/Police indifference
to the threat posed by speeding.
Police drivers routinely violate
speed limits in the course of their duty, deaths alone caused
by police drivers have seen a dramatic increase, at present investigated
by the PCA.
Surrey Chief Constable's civilian
driver was being let off after being caught travelling 78mph in
a 50mph zone.
Jack Straw's driver was let off after
speeding with the Home Secretary in the car.
The Metropolitan Police has shown
a lack of support for safety cameras, with Superintendent Paul
Clulow (reported to be in charge of Met's operational traffic
policy) saying "We are not going to have speed cameras sprouting
up all over London. We have more important things to do and we
risk alienating the vast majority of London's law-abiding motorists",
whereas Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd announced a freeze on
the number of cameras in London arguing that installing more "for
the sake of it would provoke a backlash from drivers" (Evening
Standard, 20 August 2001).
3.3 Department of Health (DoH)
Despite road crashes being the leading cause
of death and acquired disability for those under the age of 40,
the DoH has given little priority to road trauma and does not
even collate road injury statistics, preferring to rely on incomplete
police statistics, despite the decades on evidence of widespread
under-reporting. "Accidents", which were to be one of
the four key priorities in the NHS's "Our Healthier Nation"
plan, have been dropped and not one DOH press release has addressed
road trauma in the past five years. The government's road safety
strategy did not include any recommendation for emergency medical
services or for road trauma treatment.
With only 10 per cent of fatal road crashes
being prosecuted in the Crown Court, the vast majority of prosecutions
involving fatal/injury road crashes are heard in the Magistrates
Court, where there is no specialist traffic court nor is there
any required training in traffic regulations. There are over 30,000
magistrates working in the 58 branches and very little road traffic
training is apparently given (only four courses nationally in
1998). The Magistrates' Courts Sentencing Guidelines were recently
updated. The changes to fines involved reductions and were also
Up to 10-15mph over the maximum speed
limit reduced from £60 to £50.
Up to 20-25kph over the maximum speed
limit increased from £90 to £100.
Up to 30-35mph over the maximum speed
limit reduced from £135 to £100.
Magistrates are also encouraged to fine a speeding
motorist on his ability to pay within 52 weeks (the discredited
unit-fine system through the backdoor). Speeding fines should
be compared to other fines. The fine for parking on a red route
in London is £60, the maximum fine for littering is £1,000
and cyclists in certain London Borough's face a £500 fine
for cycling on the pavement. Littering and non-motorised vehicles
encroaching on pedestrian space (even at low speeds) are treated
as much more serious than speeding motor vehicles.
3.5 Insurance Companies
Despite more people being killed or injured
by speeding drivers than by drivers under the influence of alcohol,
the response of the insurance industry is believed to be much
more serious for drink driving convictions, where insurance premiums
are usually doubled.
3.6 Media and Motor Industry
The media currently play an important role in
determining support for safety interventions, unlike when drink
driving restrictions were imposed. Some newspapers have referred
to speeding drivers as "victims of speed traps". The
Evening Standard's recent front page announcement that
80mph motorway limits are supported, led to a letter to the editor
(credit to the ES for printing this) stating: "One
has to assume that your lead article about speed limits being
raised was printed in error by a drunken reveller pushing a wrong
button (speed limits, 31 December). This article was surely intended
for 1 April? Perhaps if we all go out and get drunk, then leap
into our cars the Government will revoke its drink drive policy.
If we all take up burglary will that cease to be illegal? Perhaps
if enough people start selling hard drugs, those rules will be
allowed to slip? Speed, drugs, drink, mobile phone usage by a
driverall cause death, but who cares if more lives are
lost, so long as we get there faster?" (Perry, Evening
Standard, 3 January 2002)
Why are cars produced which are designed to
be driven at illegal speeds? And why are they allowed to be traded?
Another example of the irresponsible behaviour by the motoring
industry, including journalists, is the use of acceleration capability
as a key performance indicator. The time required for a motor
vehicle to accelerate from 0-60mph is represented as a basic indicator
of a car's desirability, despite drivers virtually never needing
to accelerate so quickly. A more useful indicator would be the
time and distance taken to decelerate from 60-0mph!
4. LESSONS ELSEWHERE
While the UK had led the world with such interventions
as road safety audits, it has lagged behind most continents in
its speed management approach, as shown by the following examples.
The recent report by the Commission for Integrated
Transporton European Best Practice in the Delivery of Integrated
Transportstressed the importance of speed reduction, especially
that of 30kph (20mph) speed limits in urban areas.
Insurance liability and vulnerable road users
First introduced in France in the mid 1980s,
many European countries have adopted a civil law (and insurance
regulations) whereby drivers are held wholly responsible for injuries
to elderly and young vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists)
and share responsibility for injuries to vulnerable road users
between these ages). In contrast, in the UK most vulnerable road
users are held liable for their own death/injury, with drivers
seldom facing a criminal prosecution.
4.2 North America and Australia
Responsible for providing third party insurance
as well as licensing drivers and motor vehicles, the insurance
Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), has adopted a very pro-active
approach to road safety. One of the many road safety programmes
it sponsors is Speedwatch (ICBC website).
Constrast the UK approach to flagging the location
of safety cameras with the use of unmarked traffic law enforcement
equipment in the US, which have been located in road construction
vehicles, as well as on lawn mowers or bus benches (NHTSA, 2000).
Teenage drivers convicted of serious motoring offences are also
given a tour of the emergency room and a morgue in an effort to
highlight the potential human devastation of their actions. Some
states also impose a surcharge on a hazardous moving violation
with Mississippi donating the money to emergency medical services
and New Mexico to a Traffic Safety Education and Enforcement Fund
In Western Australia, one-third of the fines
collected from safety cameras are dedicated to the Road Trauma
Trust Fund, which is used for road safety initiatives, including
5. SUMMARY AND
In summary, RoadPeace believes the problem of
speeding is being underestimated, treated with less priority than
other similar threats and that much more, as demonstrated in this
document, can be done to reduce the leading cause of premature
1. The number of speed related
casualties should be based on hospital statistics, not police
databases, which are known to be incomplete.
2. Contributory factors,
including speed, should be determined at the end of an investigation,
not the initial reporting stage and where speed would have reduced
risk or severity of crash/casualty, this should be noted.
3. Casualty avoidance/amelioration
and road danger reduction, rather than crash causation, ought
to be the key performance indicators (and objectives) of any speed
management strategy or intervention, including safety cameras
(whose main disadvantages appears to be their effectiveness).
4. Fines from speeding should
be shared with ambulance services, A & E Departments and other
organisations, who cope with the consequences of speeding.
5. A survivable speed limit,
ie 20mph default speed limit, should be the urban default.
6. Drivers should be presumed
liable for all crashes involving children and elderly pedestrians
and cyclists, if not of all ages.
7. Insurance industry should
recommend policy cancellation for speeding convictions, and reduced
compensation for speed related crash, and speeding convictions
should incur same penalty as drink driving convictions.
8. Community based organisations
should be encouraged and supported to monitor local speeds (as
currently done in British Columbia)
9. Any speeding related
casualty occurring in area where no speed reduction efforts have
been undertaken should be compensated in similar fashion to BSE
10. In its Ten Year Plan, government
should commit to catching up on traffic calming (as it has for
11. Government should make a
commitment to use for the Government fleet vehicles with speed
limiters and black boxes, as well as those that are safer for
pedestrians. A further commitment should be traffic law observance
and safe driving by its drivers.
12. Improved monitoring of speeding
offences, including casualty consequences and fines, improved
training of magistrates and reconsideration of separate traffic
13. All local authorities should
have speed management strategies based on clear framework of appropriate
speed limits for different categories of roads, framework provided
14. Reclassification of road
network (urban and rural) and reallocation of road space.
15. Problem with Highways Agency's
lack of priority/efforts on speed should be addressed.
16. Reconsider relative importance
of journey-time savings in road design (consider sensitivity analysis
of minimum level of time savings being considered, also accommodating
RoadPeace is willing to provide further evidence,
either in writing or oral testimony, to assist with this inquiry
that has the potential, if taken forward, to improve the quality
of life for millions and save so many people from injury, if not
a premature and violent death.
Injury Prevention 1998; 4:165-166, Journal of
the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention.
Department of Transport and Local Regions (2001),
Vehicle speeds in Great Britain, Hobbes and Mills (1984).
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(2000), Aggressive Driving Enforcement: Strategies for Implementing
Best Practice, NHTSA, Washington, DC.
RoadPeace (2001), Under-Reporting of Road Traffic
Taylor M (2001), "Managing vehicle speeds
for safety: Why? How?", Traffic Engineering and Control,
July/August 2001, p226-229.