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

Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 76-79)




  76. Good morning, gentlemen. May I ask you, first of all, to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Dawson) I am the AA's policy director and managing director for the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research, and chairman of the European Road Assessment Programme which may be relevant this morning. On my left is Andrew Howard, the AA's head of Road Safety.
  (Mr King) I am executive director of the RAC Foundation.
  (Mr Delaney) I am the Traffic and Road Safety Manager for the RAC Foundation.

  77. Do any of you have anything you would like to say before we begin the questioning?
  (Mr Dawson) If I might just make a couple of remarks, we have not brought out this morning yet that the wrong speed on the wrong road contributes about a thousand deaths a year. We do have to manage it better and that is something that motorists, I think, are beginning to understand. We have to have a research-evidence based approach to this, and the AA Foundation's research into why drivers speed and how they understand our speed limit system was, I think, instrumental in putting speed firmly on the mainstream national agenda a couple of years ago. From that we have concluded that we need to develop our system and communicate it, so that people really understand it and buy into it because they know it is there to reduce real risk of death and serious injury. Our policy theme, if you like, is managing speed with public support. The other remark I would like to make because a lot of the discussion tends to take place about urban areas is that there are two huge road safety challenges that face us: the first is in urban areas where the majority of deaths and serious injuries take place where slowing down is vital, but most people on our roads die on roads outside built-up areas, and there is a huge area of neglect, particularly on our single carriage-way roads.
  (Mr King) Briefly, the RAC Foundation's approach to this is we would like to see a more flexible approach to speed limits and we take some of our examples from other European countries. For example, in France there is a higher speed limit on motorways in good weather conditions and a lower one in bad. We believe that kind of flexibility is sensible. Likewise in America there is much more enforcement outside schools when children are going in and out of schools with flashing orange lights, but not at three o'clock in the morning when there is not so much of a safety element, and we believe that kind of flexibility will win the support of the motoring public. I must say I do have some concern about some of the comments about making speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving, and the reason I raise that is that 55 per cent of motorists on motorways regularly break the speed limit and I do not think they go out with an intention to kill, as perhaps a drink driver does, so, therefore, I think we should address these speed limits. Either the police should enforce the 70 mph limit or we should have a sensible debate about it to see if it is not better to have an 80 mph limit in good weather, reduce it in bad weather, but have the police enforce it. Why do people do 80 mph on the M4 motorway? Because they know they can get away with it, so it is not a credible limit. I think if we have credible limits on the motorways it might make motorists respect limits in urban areas where 74 per cent of injury accidents occur.

  78. But in your memorandum, Mr King, you quote a West Midlands study showing speed was the cause of only 2 per cent of the accidents, and then you say that the figure of 30 per cent is not acceptable to you. Do you really say that the evidence that speed is a contributory factor in 30 per cent of the accidents is wrong?
  (Mr Delaney) Perhaps I can deal with that, Madam Chairman. I have here a copy of "Road Accidents, Great Britain", a Department of Transport document, containing statistics relating to road accidents. There is not one single statistic in this book relating speed to collisions—not one—or casualties or anything else. There are details about casualties and collisions in areas with different speed limits but not one statistic in this book or published nationally anywhere, to the best of my knowledge and belief, actually relates excess or inappropriate speed to levels of collisions. That is not to say that excess or inappropriate speed is acceptable: clearly no one but a fool would suggest that. What I am suggesting is that the mantra that is often put forward by the Department of Transport, by the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, that speed is a factor in 30 per cent of fatal and serious accidents is not borne out by the details in this book. The point has been made already but it is worth repeating: that what we need here is some hard statistical evidence to ensure that the careful targeting that Mr Brunstrom spoke about is based on some real statistics.

  79. That is an interesting attitude. Can I ask the AA about their memo which says they agree with the finding of other experts and disagree with the RAC. Why?
  (Mr Dawson) What it says is that from our own work we do support the analysis of 30 per cent of accidents having speed as a contributory cause. However, the memorandum says very clearly, which is not massively inconsistent with the emphasis that I would think that Mr Delaney has put on it, that the research is not good. We talk very carefully in our memorandum about the rather difficult research methodologies that are involved in this.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 6 March 2002