Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Mr Donohoe

  40. At the side of the roads are signs to tell you that there are speed cameras in the locale.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes.

  41. At more than three-quarters of them there is never a camera anywhere close to them. That has been going on for years now. What input has the police got towards these signs being put up?
  (Mr Brunstrom) A significant amount. I have to agree with you there are far too many signs. When we were going for the old-fashioned, blanket approach of trying to persuade people to change their behaviour, signs were an attempt to do that. What we are going for now is a much more focussed signing, but it will take a long time for signing standards to change. I think there is scope for DTLR to do more to speed up that change, such that motorists recognise that if they see speed camera signs there is a reason for it.

Mr Stevenson

  42. Chief Constable, would you confirm or otherwise that where there is a speed limit laid down by the law the median speed on that stretch of road is always higher?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Not always, sir, but very usually, yes. Speeding is endemic.

  43. All right: in the main.
  (Mr Brunstrom) If left without enforcement, yes.

  44. I am coming to that, but let me be specific. Where there are 30 mile an hour legal limits, the median speed in that area is a percentage higher. It could be 35, 36, 37, 38 ...
  (Mr Brunstrom) That is usually the experience, yes.

  45. And similarly on motorways.
  (Mr Brunstrom) That is true.

  46. That leads me to my next question: When you talk about effectiveness and public support and enforcement, which are you trying to enforce? Are you trying to enforce the legal limit or are you trying to enforce the median limit?
  (Mr Brunstrom) We in the police service have to prove the commission of a criminal offence beyond reasonable doubt. In order to do so, we have to show to a court that a speed limit was exceeded. In the case of a 30 mile an hour limit, the law allows you to drive at 30. It does not allow you to drive at 31. In order to ensure that we secure convictions, however, we cannot enforce at 31 miles an hour because we cannot say with certainty that your speed was not 30.9 miles an hour. The result of that is that we cannot start enforcement until about four miles an hour over a limit. That is the technological situation at the moment. We are working to try and reduce that buffer zone through better technology and it does offer significant potential for improvements in the future. I do not think we would ever want to pretend, on scientific advice, that we could enforce a 30 mile an hour limit at 30 miles an hour. It is never going to be possible to do that to the level beyond reasonable doubt, bearing in mind that speedometers in a care are themselves only accurate to 10 per cent, if you are lucky. On top of that—

  Chairman: I think we have got the general point.

Mr Stevenson

  47. I think I understand that. You have given, if I may suggest, a legalistic response to my question, but I am more concerned about public perception and confusion. Given that median speeds in the main are higher than the legal speed limit, I am interested in what is the attitude of the police. Never mind the legalistic argument, which I think I accept and understand, as a policy approach are the police seeking to enforce what may be termed appropriate speeds or are you seeking to enforce the law?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Thank you, and I will give you a much less legalistic interpretation on this occasion. The research evidence shows that the greatest casualty reductions are achieved by tackling the more serious offenders first. We have not had a consistent policy of speed enforcement across the United Kingdom until now and one is growing out of the speed camera project. We have reintroduced speed enforcement guidelines—and I have given you a copy of those in my evidence. As part of the speed camera project, each partnership area, including the Chief Constable, is now required to specify how they are going to migrate their enforcement levels down to the national standards. This will result over the next several years—bearing in mind we are in a 10-year long project here—in police enforcement becoming more consistent in the first instance. It will start at the higher end and it will push enforcement limits down closer to the set speed limit. That will not be consistent across the UK in the immediate future, but it will develop in the medium term.

  48. So what we have then is legal requirements that are not enforced because it is impractical to do so for whatever reasons, and we have the police forces taking the view that that is the case and therefore you can only address this issue in policy terms and in enforcement terms by recognising that reality.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes.

  49. Could I then go on to the second question about road policing as a priority. I understand that the Home Office is trying to abolish road policing as one of its performance indicators. How can the public/police forces take seriously road policing when the Home Office appears to be wanting to abolish it from the performance indicators?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Literally yesterday, I heard Mr Denham, the Police Minister, I think change that position slightly. The Home Office had proposed to reduce the number of performance indicators that we are required to keep by 50 per cent—we have far, far too many performance indicators—and at an early stage a proposal was made, we think, to remove the road death indicator. I think that has not progressed and as recently as yesterday I heard Mr Denham say that they were going to keep the current number of indicators and spend longer consulting on a reduction. So, hot of the press, there is now an open debate to be had about what are appropriate indicators for the police service. I come back to my comments to Mr O'Brien, that actually there needs to be some clarity here. If the Home Office or the Government wishes the police to take road policing seriously, we are going to need to have an appropriate set of indicators to demonstrate whether we are being successful or not.

  50. So there is no ambiguity about this, in terms of the police, if there were a reduction in performance indicators, of which you say there are too many—
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes, there are.

  51. - this (that is the indicator of death and injury per thousand population) is one which you would argue strongly should be taken.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes, I would.

Dr Pugh

  52. In the evidence provided by the Department of Transport, it is suggested that one in three road crashes have speed as a contributory factor, not necessarily the main factor. Speed as a contributory factor can either be excess speed (ie, over the speed limit) or it can be inappropriate (eg, driving fast in fog). I do not think you are able to differentiate clearly, from the statistics provided by the Department Transport, between the two, though the police must be the source of these statistics. Do you have any breakdown of how many accidents are caused by inappropriate speed (ie, under the speed limit) and how many are caused by excess speed (ie, over the speed limit)?
  (Mr Brunstrom) No, I am afraid we do not. You have put your finger on really quite an important sore point, I think. I cannot develop that any further, I am afraid. I wish that I could. You are quite right to distinguish between inappropriate and illegal speed.

  53. It is quite fundamental to what you are trying to do, because clearly if, say, 60 per cent of the accidents caused were caused by inappropriate driving within the speed limit, then the main thrust for the police should be on educating drivers as well as enforcing speed limits.
  (Mr Brunstrom) You are quite right and we are always careful to include both categories of speeding in any conversations we have: inappropriate and excessive (which is what we mean by illegal speeding). We are on to the education aspects on both—and of course they are, as you point out, different. What we do not have is accurate statistics yet on which is which, and there is research planned over the next several years to try and develop that. Our data capture from collisions, which, as you correctly point out, comes from the police, is not sufficiently sophisticated yet to make that distinction. I would have to agree with you that it should do. It is high time that it did.

  54. It is not a good idea to formulate a policy without proper statistics.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Could I challenge that, however. We have lots and lots of evidence that excessive speed/illegal speed is causing significant numbers of casualties. What we cannot do is separate the inappropriate speed from the excessive speed. We are utterly confident that breaking the speed limit is killing people.

  55. Just following on from what the Chief Constable said about consistent policy enforcement, in some areas you see speed cameras and in other areas on similar roads you do not. Would you personally favour a sort of standard approach or a standard set of criteria to be met for speed cameras to be installed?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes. That is a fundamental part of the safety camera scheme that the Government is progressing. You will see greater consistency and more police force areas join that scheme.

Chris Grayling

  56. Repeater signs in 30 miles an hour limits. Can you give me your perspective on whether they are desirable?
  (Mr Brunstrom) There is a significant demand from the public for them, no doubt at all. The public are confused; they do not any longer understand how 30 mile an hour limits are shown to you. The road engineers hate the concept like the plague because you would have to have 30 mile limits on every lamppost in every place in the country. So it is a very difficult issue. We clearly need to find better ways of showing the public what the limit is on a road. The current system, which I think was designed in the 1920s, is life-expired.

  57. Would it work to have a scheme which allows local authorities the freedom to do it as opposed to making it compulsory to have them?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Broadly speaking, that already exists, but the consequences of doing it are significant. Why do you have a 30 mile an hour repeater sign on this road and not that one? You will increasingly see roundels painted on the road surface, for instance. There is a whole range of things that can be done. The Government, I think—and, in my view, quite rightly—is trying to avoid 30 mile an hour limit repeater signs in every 30 mile an hour limit in the country. We have already got too much street furniture and this will not assist, but there is a problem that needs to be resolved.

Christine Russell

  58. Chief Constable, do you agree that one of the main reasons perhaps why the public do not find speeding as offensive as they do drink-driving is because many of our existing speed limits are inconsistent and illogical? I said earlier to the Chairman, on my journey between Chester and Crewe one village has a 30 mile an hour limit and the next village, really for no good reason, has no limit there. That is the first question. The second question is: You said earlier that you would not like to see the limit on motorways higher than it is. Bearing in mind that, statistically, single carriage A roads are more dangerous, would you therefore, by implication, prefer to see lower limits on A roads, many of those which go through these villages where there is speed inconsistency at the moment?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Chairman, I fully and totally agree with the Member. There is no logic to our speed limit systems across the whole of the United Kingdom at the moment and there ought to be. There is no doubt at all that it causes confusion and discontent amongst motorists and it causes people to break the law—because if you cannot see, as one of your colleagues was asking, a reason why this limit applies then you are less likely to voluntarily comply with it. OK, that is a problem. Resolving it is a big issue and would be expensive and time-consuming but probably, in the longer term, absolutely necessary. There ought to be more consistency in speed limits. There is a safety case to be made, in answer to the second part of your question—and I am aware of the Chairman's caution previously—for lower limits on single carriageway rural roads. Whether that is a good idea for society is another matter. It might be that more targeted speed limits, rather than a general reduction, would be a better solution. You can show, because higher speed limits kill more people, that lower speed limits kill fewer people, and you are quite right there is a significant casualty problem on single carriageway rural roads, partially caused by the fact that one can travel on them at speeds that are dangerous. So we would not reject a lower national limit, but it needs a great deal of careful thought, and we have been very pleased to engage in that debate.

  Helen Jackson: Do you have regular dialogue with local authorities? Have you made the point that, as they are the ones in the main who get lobbied by the local people, by the local councillors—quite rightly—that they need to be consistent in what they are doing?


  59. There you are, Chief Constable: Are you going to demand consistency from councillors?
  (Mr Brunstrom) The answer to the question, Chairman, is that we have an excellent dialogue with local authorities at national level and at local level. The safety camera scheme, let me repeat, is a wonderful example of joined-up government—and I include local government in that. You will see more consistency being applied to this. Local authorities are entitled to net off revenue from offenders to tackle those sorts of issues and you will see a significant change in the next couple of years. Part of what you are referring to at the moment is a legacy of prior to the safety camera scheme, the netting-off system, which did not work as well as the new.

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