Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Green Speed (IT 47)



  Formed in 1993 to campaign for lower urban and inter urban speed limits, Green Speed has sought the opinion of the previous administration, all parties during the 1997 election, and the current government to the role that they feel that speed control could play in a sustainable transport system. During the election the Labour Party admitted that speed was not an issue and despite making detailed representations on the Green Paper, the evidence of the White Paper is that speed control is still not on the political agenda.

  We do not intend to repeat all the detailed evidence on the potential benefits of lower speeds to the select committee (this can be found in Speed Control and Transport Policy by Stephen Plowden and Mayer Hillman Policy Studies Institute 1996) but will point to the areas within the White Paper which lack credibility through the glaring absence to this fundamental aspect of integrating the car into a sustainable transport system.

  The role of the Committee cannot be to unpick the whole document but it should be possible to expose some of the worst inconsistencies or omissions. If this is the case then there may be a role for the Committee in establishing why speed control has been ignored when it could make such a fundamental difference on almost every topic raised by the paper.

Questions which need to be asked of the DETR are:

  Where is the evidence in the White Paper that speed control has been considered under all the topics where, on an objective basis, the reduction of traffic speeds would, undeniably make a positive contribution to Government objectives?

  If traffic speeds have been considered, are the benefits of reducing the national speed limits and the limits in urban areas fully recognised and recorded?

  1. Speed control is an unusual subject area in transport policy. The reason that the question to the Government can be put so forcibly is that there is no disagreement by transport professionals in respect of the benefits of lower speed limits in and between urban areas. These can be summarised as:

    —  significant (up to 30 per cent) reduction in fuel consumption;

    —  significant (up to 30 per cent) reduction in CO2 emissions;

    —  significant reduction in fatalities to people in and out of vehicles;

    —  significant reduction in the seriousness of injuries;

    —  potentially huge savings in health service costs due to accident reduction;

    —  significant reduction in engine and tyre noise;

    —  very significant incentive to the manufacturing sector to produce vehicles adapted to these lower urban and cruising speeds;

    —  greater potential of vehicles designed for slower speeds meeting emission targets (including electric vehicles);

    —  a competitive advantage given to means of public transport (higher speed limits could be maintained for buses);

    —  reduced disadvantage for walking and cycling in urban areas in terms of both travel times and danger to life and limb;

    —  lower speed limits can be introduced at virtually no cost and with little or no warning (many people drive the current generation of vehicles at Green Speeds);

    —  would produce "traffic reduction" by reducing the environmental impact of every mile driven even if the overall mileage was to stay the same;

    —  most likely to produce a significant reduction in overall mileage (especially by the current high powered/high mileage motorist);

    —  controls car traffic without introducing regressive fiscal measures;

    —  the best and simplest, if not the only way to prevent the growth in car use overwhelming any savings made possible by as yet unproven increased vehicle efficiency (targets assumed to be achieved by 2005!).

  2. Having inspected the White Paper for references to the role that speed control could have to the integration of road traffic into a balanced, fair and sustainable transport policy, only one explicit reference was found, that to imposing some control over the speed of lorries. We would be genuinely pleased to know that we have overlooked other more important references.

  3. It seems quite extraordinary that there is a measure which, even the officials at the DETR must agree, would have most if not all of these 15 significant benefits, and yet the whole issue is overlooked. Either the DETR must believe that lower speed limits have some overriding technical disbenefit, in which case this must be made clear, or the DETR feel that lower speed limits are politically unacceptable. Given the references in the White Paper to public support for measures to tame the car, it seems unlikely that lower speed limits could not be sold to a majority of the voting population (bearing in mind the large numbers of those without access to cars), those drivers who would be penalised by the proposed fiscal measures, and those below driving age whose world is designed around the car to which they may have only occasional access.

  4. Perhaps the most important aspect to speed control, in the context of the need to make our transport system more sustainable, is the comparative attraction of different modes of travel. Our choice of travel mode is based on cost, convenience and taste.

  If there is any evidence (which we doubt) for the assertion in the White Paper that increases in fuel tax has reduced car use this will only be by those who can least afford the increases rather than those who least need to use their cars. This demonstrates the inequity and the ineffectiveness of measures based on cost.

  Lower speeds will have a significant impact on those who find it convenient to base their journey times on socially and environmentally irresponsible, and often illegal, driving speeds. Some of these drivers will transfer their loyalties to modes of public transport which will appear to be relatively quicker. Putting extra bums on seats is the best way of improving public transport, although some limited hypothecation of taxes, not aimed at the poor, can help. Others will choose, over time to make shorter journeys, or journeys which can be achieved by the ever improving public transport.

  It is clearly also a matter of taste that people choose to spend so much time both travelling and in their cars. If this is also because there is some attraction in driving these machines at such irresponsible speeds, then it may be that cars (at least the over-powered beasts currently dominating our roads) will be used less if restricted to Green Speeds.

  5. Another indication of the blinkered approach of the White Paper is the reference to technological change as the likely means of reducing the car's environmental impact. The paper says that increases to fuel efficiency will have the greatest impact on reducing transport CO2 emissions. It beggars belief that the paper can then refer to the 5 per cent saving that is possible to those changing to low rolling resistant tyres, and not mention the 30 per cent saving which can be achieved by driving all our current vehicles at 55 mph instead of 70+ mph.

  6. Finally, it is not possible to examine our transport system without including a thorough analysis of the effects of our national speed limits (70mph and 60mph) and the 30mph urban limit. Considering how to integrate a means of personal transport allowed to travel at the current limits, is a completely different proposition to how the use of exactly the same vehicle, could be integrated if regulated to socially and environmentally more acceptable speeds. This suggestion seems to be stating the obvious but, consciously or unconsciously, the point seems to have escaped the authors of the White Paper. We would ask the Select Committee to enquire as to how this has happened and to have the omission made good as one of the follow-up studies promised as part of the process in achieving a balanced, fair and sustainable transport system.

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