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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 107-119)




  107. Gentlemen, I am very grateful to you for coming. Would you introduce yourselves?
  (Professor Allsop) I am Professor of Transport Studies at University College London.
  (Dr Carsten) I am director of research at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.
  (Dr Kimber) I am science and engineering director at the Transport Research Laboratory, and technical director of the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research. On my left I have Mr David Lynam, who is technical manager of the Safety Group in TRL and Ms Marie Taylor, group manager of that Safety Group.

  108. Thank you. Dr Kimber, did you have something you wanted to say to begin with?
  (Dr Kimber) By way of introduction it is worth our remembering that there is now a large body of evidence that shows that, in given circumstances, higher speeds lead to more accidents and that injuries are more severe the higher the speed is. That dependance on speed is very strong: that means, therefore, that reductions in speed have the potential to reduce accidents very significantly. There is a substantial scientific evidence base for that and previous witnesses have touched on parts of it, but I would like to name three main strands, if I may, to start off. Firstly, observations of the speeds adopted by individual drivers and comparisons with their accident records show that, the faster the driver drives, habitually, the more accidents they will have. Secondly, observations of traffic on roads of different types show that the higher the average speed and the higher the spread of speeds on a road of a given type, the more accidents there are. Thirdly, before and after studies of speeds and accidents when speed-reducing measures were installed—traffic calming, 20 mph zones and so on—show both reductions in speed and reductions in accidents, and the two are very closely associated. In addition to that, studies of the injuries caused by accidents show a very rapid dependance on speed. The higher the impact speed, the more severe the injury. That body of evidence, I believe, Chairman, provides us with a very sound scientific base for concerted action.
  (Dr Carsten) I would like to add that in intelligence speed adaptation, which is the system that brings the speed limit into the vehicle, we have the potential to prevent speeding from occurring in the first place and that makes it the most powerful, single, road safety system that we can currently think of, and it is practical now. I would invite all members of the Committee to come and drive the intelligent speed adaptation car which has been produced for the intelligent speed adaptation research project funded by DTLR to see that this system can operate now, with current technology.

Christine Russell

  109. I would like to start on the psychology of speeding. Dr Kimber, what research could you tell us about showing what does work and what does not work in persuading drivers to cut their speed? For instance, the current DTLR slogan says "Speed kills". How do you assess that? Is it the best slogan?
  (Dr Kimber) It is very difficult to assess slogans in isolation. Past experience shows that what works best in road safety is a variety of measures that are mutually reinforcing. Thus, if you look at drink driving, over the years the accident rate for fatalities fell during a period when a number of measures were introduced—legislation, tighter enforcement and so on—and that was reinforced by very good publicity and attempts to change attitudes. That, together, was very successful. I think the same would very much apply with speed management: that is to say slogans, publicity, attempted attitude change, need to mutually reinforce other measures which we need to bring in. If those other measures are effective then the reinforcement would be strong, so it needs to be seen as part of a whole.

  110. What role do you see the media playing in attempting to shift attitudes?
  (Dr Kimber) I think there is a point of principle here, first of all. What we would like to convey to the public in general is, if you like, a true appreciation of the risk of particular activities. Thus, it would be far better if people understood the risk they ran by driving at a certain speed and by speeding. Unfortunately there are minority groups who argue against the general message, which tends to produce some confusion. I think that the media, in putting out a coherent and clear message which is based on sound evidence and a message that will, therefore, get over to people just what risks they do run—


  111. You are not even getting over to the motoring organisations, are you? You must have heard the evidence they have just given.
  (Dr Kimber) Indeed, there are differences, Chairman, yes.

  112. I think they fly in the face of sense.
  (Dr Kimber) Quite so.

  113. So what do we do about that, Dr Kimber? How do we educate the uneducated?
  (Dr Kimber) Without drawing any direct inference from that, recently—

  114. I will make the inferences, Dr Kimber.
  (Dr Kimber)—it is the case that the evidence has built up over the past few years very rapidly and very substantially. That evidence is now clear and we understand it and it is possible to begin to put it over in a clear way, in the same way that the successes with drinking and driving were really kick-started, I think, back in the 1960s by the Grand Rapids study which showed how risk depended on blood alcohol. Now we have the same sort of information from the last few years and we need to plug away at that.

Mr O'Brien

  115. On the statistics and what you have given, what investigations or evidence have you taken on road rage? There are a lot of serious incidents and there are more and more of them. What research have you done into people who do create road rage on our motorways?
  (Dr Kimber) For our own part we have no direct research and it is rather a difficult subject to research, partly because any deconstruction of an accident or road rage incident depends very much on how to get hold of the evidence and that is difficult to build up—

  Chairman: So you do not intend to block the psychiatrically disturbed from driving.

Chris Grayling

  116. Can I take you to a couple of issues: one is related to speed cameras and siting, and the others is repeater signs? We will start with repeater signs. What is the view of you and your colleagues about the desirability of repeater signs at 30 mph speed limits, and the current situation regarding restricted roads and the signing of speed limits on them?
  (Dr Kimber) Evidence collected by the AA Foundation for road safety research showed that motorists' understanding of speed limits was generally poor and it was particularly poor for speed limits other than the 30 mph limits and 70 mph motorway and dual carriageway limit, so I think the value of flagging up 30 mph limits is not quite so straightforward as all that. There has been resistance in the past to using repeater signs, mainly because of the fear that it would cause confusion. In other words, it would be very difficult to throw a switch and have repeater signs everywhere in the country where there was a 30 mph limit and, therefore, where they were not present, there would be legal ambiguities. So there is a resistance to that and I do not think they would be particularly helpful in these circumstances.

  117. So how would you deal with that issue of confusion?
  (Dr Kimber) The recognition of speed limits and the use of speed limits needs very close attention. I think there is a lot of evidence now that we should really be looking very hard at, so as to define roads and speed limits by function of the road, so that the road itself is "self-explaining" and it is clear to a motorist what sort of speed limit is applying and what sort of speed should be adopted.


  118. Wherever they join the road?
  (Dr Kimber) Yes.

Chris Grayling

  119. But there are a number of roads where the very nature of that road is highly ambiguous. There are effectively `B' roads that run through residential areas which could be classified either as through significant roads or as residential, so it is going to be very hard to define a road clearly and what you are talking about, to me, makes it likely to confuse the motorist even more.
  (Dr Kimber) I do not think that necessarily follows. Waiting for the best could be the enemy of the good. We really have a lot of ground to make up in terms of understanding, and I think it is perfectly possible to move into more rational systems and there are ways of doing it, but there will always be exceptions and difficulties.

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