The concept of a rural road hierarchy was considered
as part of the Speed Review and the Government's Road Safety Strategy,
both published in March 2000. The Transport Act 2000 subsequently
committed the Government to consider the development of a rural
road hierarchy for speed management purposes. Following Royal
Assent the then DETR let a contract to Babtie Ross Silcock Limited
who set up a Working Group of professionals and the main interest
groups to consider the development of a rural hierarchy. The Group
prepared a thorough report (Silcock et al 2001) which was made
public and referred to in a Written Answer to the House of Commons
by David Jamieson on 28 November.
The overall assessment was that if the hierarchy
as proposed were developed as a system of different speed limits,
it would be costly both financially and in terms of environmental
intrusion. Also, given the necessary infrastructure and behavioural
changes required, the road safety and quality of life benefits
could take too long to realise. The report identified the clear
links between the development of a hierarchy and several other
Road Safety Strategy initiatives. DTLR will now develop an approach
based on these, building on the recommendations of the report,
to determine criteria for assigning roads within a hierarchy.
The report identified the speed limit signing
issues as a big obstacle to progressing the hierarchy as they
have proposed it, and DTLR will shortly be commencing work on
the Road Safety Strategy commitment to review speed limit signing
regimes. The signing elements of the hierarchy report will be
included as part of this work.
The Group recognised the need for traffic calming
measures to support speed limits in order to achieve changes in
vehicle speeds. The forthcoming DTLR project to develop practical
speed management measures on rural roads will be the best setting
for testing such traffic calming treatments. Other work that will
feed into this will include improved signing, speed limit order
making procedures and guidance to determine the appropriate traffic
speeds on rural roads. Conveying the right information to drivers
about appropriate and safe speeds is a key aim together with ensuring
that drivers' perceptions of suitable and safe speeds match the
appearance and condition of the road.
As well as conventional treatments, innovative
measures have already been tried by DTLR such as vehicle-activated
signs, and these will in future be more widely applied where suitable.
Both the Working Group and the DETR Speed Review
identified the need for more information before we can properly
assess the case for lower rural speed limits. DTLR will undertake
a survey of vehicle speeds on a representative sample of rural
roads to ensure that decisions are evidence based.