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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. Various local authorities have taken to putting up an odd collection of assorted signs to highlight 30 mph limits which may be green fluorescent signs on lamp posts and big signs by the roadside reminding motorists. Is there any suggestion that, where authorities have taken individual action, it has had an impact on speed limits?
  (Dr Kimber) There is a difficulty here because anything that looks odd or different will produce some sort of behavioural reaction, and it does not necessarily follow that if you adopted that generally it would produce the same behavioural reaction. Local initiatives of that sort are studied from time to time and usually they have a local impact, but it is not clear how that could necessarily be rolled out. What I think is mainly missing is a sense of clarity and coherence in terms of the type of road, its function and the speed limit that attaches to it.

  121. On the subject of speed cameras concerns have been raised with me that the current rules require the siting of speed cameras to take place after a serious incident rather than before. Can you give me your assessment based on the work that you have done of whether you believe that that policy is appropriate?
  (Mr Lynam) : There are two ways in which speed cameras can be used: one is to focus on sites which are high risk, and the focus there, if it is a localised site, is one where you need to demonstrate to the motorist that it is high risk and you need to get a rapid change of speed at that site. There is a broader issue in the question which is how you use cameras and enforcement generally as part of the broader policy alongside publicity and education to demonstrate to people that not only are you simply putting up speed limits and making statements about education—you are trying to get across risk—but you are also enforcing that, and that was the combination that went together in the typical drink driving example that is often quoted, though we recognise in the speed example it is a lot more difficult. So those two are slightly different. There is a third complication which is that many of the individual high risk sites are not now localised, small sites but extended along lengths of road, and in that case you are needing to affect the drivers and get them to recognise the higher risk along the length of road. It is important then that mobile camera operation comes into play rather than fixed cameras.


  122. Dr Carsten, I assume that if you do not agree you will make your views clear.
  (Dr Carsten) Yes.

Mr Stevenson

  123. Could I ask all the witnesses their view on the proposition that if the legal speed limit is increased from, shall we say, 30-35 mph and 70-80 mph, the median speed travelled by motorists will be considerably higher than that?
  (Professor Allsop) I think all the experience is yes. We have a general culture—though this may be changing somewhat through speed cameras—that there is a tolerance in enforcement. We are all allowed a little margin for error and, of course, it would not be in the interests of good relationships between the police and the motorists if there were unduly officious enforcement for very small amounts of excess speed and, therefore, I think, certainly until cameras began to be used in urban areas, there was a very widespread feeling that you were all right up to about ten mph over the limit—that is, 30 mph really meant you could be in the 30s but not in the 40s—and, similarly, right up to 70 mph and 80 mph on motorways. Although you may achieve, over a considerable period, a change in this culture, I do not think it would be quick and, therefore, at least in the short term, the tendency will be for the speed distribution to move upwards when a limit is raised.

  124. That was my next question. Does it necessarily follow that, if the legal speed on motorways with a 70 mph limit is raised to 80 mph, because we heard evidence from Mr Dawson that that is the case, everybody would be doing 90 mph and so on? Is there evidence to suggest that would necessarily happen?
  (Dr Carsten) I think there is evidence from other countries that that is the case because I think other countries with higher speed limits have similar numbers, as Richard indicated, in excess of the speed limit. So it is almost inevitable that people will adopt the same margin and speeds will creep up.

Mr Stevenson

  125. Can I ask about attitudes and changing public perceptions, which has been I think a theme through all our evidence this morning? I have two particular questions: what, if any, is the correlation between our propensity to break the speed limit and to speed and the motor car industry that puts adverts on our television of motor vehicles that will do 0-60 in five seconds and where we all drive in wide open spaces in the middle of deserts?
  (Dr Carsten) Concerning correlation, we have done research that shows that speeding is correlated with other kinds of negative driving behaviours, which I think is the important point. The car industry obviously creates this illusion of freedom. Unfortunately the people who are prone to very excessive speeding are the same ones who are prone to very close following, red light violation and to other forms of road law infraction, so it is not the case that speeding is risk-free, as the car industry likes to portray it. It is accompanied by a whole host of other negative behaviour.

  126. I understand that but I am seeking to get your expert opinion. In terms of public attitude, we need to consider how we make speeding a social evil like drinking and driving is now and I am trying to get your view as to whether you believe that the industry has a responsibility here, as well as producing safe cars and so on, in terms of public perception?
  (Professor Allsop) You ask about belief: my belief is there can hardly not be a connection, but I have to admit that I do not have hard evidence.

Mr Stevenson

  127. Lastly, on road designs and particularly home zones which some of us have seen in the Netherlands, it appears there is a difference in view between those that think there is more scope for home zones in the UK to be introduced and the TRL who, I think, are not so keen.[1] What is your view about that sort of concept, as well as better road design?

  (Professor Allsop) My view about that is that you have to look at what the area is like that you have in mind for a home zone to begin with. If it has a general nature in terms of wideness and narrowness of streets and the purposes the streets are serving that would lend itself at reasonable cost to changing, and it is a question of changing the physical surroundings at reasonable cost to produce a different behaviour, if there is a reasonable prospect of doing that and if the local people want it or at least are acquiescent in it, and especially, of course, if there are children or more frail, older people using these streets, then all this argues in favour of it being a candidate for a home zone that will be effective at reasonable cost. On the other hand, there are other kinds of residential development where it is probably over-ambitious, at least in the present state of attitudes to choice of speed, to go straight to a home zone and where, first of all, strict enforcement aided by limited engineering change of 30 mph may be a first step: a 20 mph zone, then, a second step. As I understand it, there is a large demand up and down the country now for residents wanting their areas converted to 20 mph zones, and I think we should build on this by getting ahead with it. Of course, let us try home zones and see how quickly people are ready to have those on a larger scale but, to begin with, we must be relatively careful with selected cases, I think.

Mr Betts

  128. Much of the evidence we have had this morning seems to be saying that it is important we get motorists on our side in terms of speed limits being appropriate for particular roads and environments and where motorists can see the rationale behind why speed limits are different for different sections of road. Is that fair?
  (Professor Allsop) Yes, I think so, and that goes back to the idea of the self-explaining road. The self-explaining road is an ideal that, as you drive along, from various cues about road markings, the width of the road, the planting, the general layout, you should feel like driving at what we have decided is about the appropriate speed for that road. Of course, that is a very long way away but there are many things we can do step by step to move towards it. To go back to the repeater sign question, the difficulties of moving quickly to extensive use of 30 mph repeaters were correctly put forward by Dr Kimber but the further we get towards most of the road system seeming logical to the motorist, the more of a role the repeater signs may have. In the exceptional cases where we cannot achieve the right change in appearance but where we know, on safety grounds, that the low limit is justified, there then may be a well-defined role for repeaters.

  129. Taking you on to a different area, perhaps we are beginning to win the arguments there and there is a recognition from the majority of motorists that speed over 30 mph in a 30 mph limit can kill; it is dangerous; but people who take that view and who would try very hard to stick to a 30 mph limit would happily get on a motorway and exceed the 70 mph limit and feel they are absolutely doing nothing wrong; they are not going to get caught; it is safe and, what is more, they start to fix their own safety limit. Some feel 80 mph is safe, some feel 90 mph, some 95 mph. We are nowhere near winning that battle at all, are we?
  (Dr Kimber) I think that is true in the literal sense. The main point, though, is that the risk per mile driven on motorways is substantially less than it is on any other type of road and, therefore, whilst risk increases with speed on motorways, we believe the imperative for containing speed is very much stronger on other types of road.
  (Dr Carsten) I think we do know exactly what you have outlined—namely, that the variability between the speed in different parts of the traffic stream going up means motorways become more unsafe. Quite a lot of research literature shows that. What we also know is that, if we top off the very extreme of a speed limit, and cut people off from driving at 90 mph or driving at 100 mph or whatever, we can get the average motorist on that road to his or her destination faster than by smoothing out the traffic flow. So driving more slowly, rather contrary to what the average person in the street might believe, will get you to your destination faster.

  130. But in terms of getting recognition that speed limits are what they are and are going to be enforced and people are going to comply with them, would it not be better on motorways and better accepted if the limit was taken up to 80 mph and then enforced—so that 85 mph was not acceptable and neither was 90 mph—and on the argument put to us before about most accidents on motorways being car-to-car and not involving pedestrians being hit, 80 would be as safe today as 50 or 60 was with the lower safety of cars when the 70 mph limit was first produced?
  (Dr Carsten) Briefly, we have heavy goods vehicles and coaches which are speed-governed on motorways: that means we would increase the variance between those vehicles, so are you suggesting we should also increase, which would be contrary to European regulations, the national speed limit for HGVs? Otherwise we would have a situation where we would have lots of slow-moving HGVs and lots of very fast-moving cars, which is extremely undesirable.
  (Mr Lynam) The question is why should people obey the 80 mph limit and why should that be more appropriate rather than the 70 mph limit now? The risk with the 70 mph limit now is affected very much not by the fact that it is a large open road which you can speed on but by driving behaviour, and there is a very high risk in a situation where you are travelling at 70 mph and you have other cars around you at very close distances, so the key to that is changing driving behaviour standards on those roads if you want to accept that they can be driven on at a higher speed.
  (Professor Allsop) Briefly, I think I would be quite tempted—I am not promising—to buy your argument if I could see a way in which we could say to motorists, "Right, from next week the limit is going to be 80 mph and that is going to be enforced", but the trouble is, in the motorway system, unless we went in for very extensive technology and gained public acceptance for very large numbers in the first instance of camera detections followed through, I do not really see a prospect of enforcement on motorways other than for the really blatant speeders who police can pull over. I do not think that is going to change quickly and, until it changes, despite the contradiction between perhaps allowing ourselves to be not too uncomfortable with 80 mph for 70 mph on motorways and wanting to do away with the 40 mph for 30 mph in urban areas, despite the apparent illogicality of that, that is more practical to live with than trying to do what you suggest.

Christine Russell

  131. I just wanted to come back on what David Lynam was saying about change in driver attitude. We all know that the most casualties are caused by the fastest drivers, if you look at the statistics, so I ask all of you, or any one of you, how are we going to persuade these fast drivers to drive slower because they are the ones causing the fatalities and the casualties? How are we going to do it?
  (Mr Lynam) I will answer in two ways. First of all, at the moment it is not only just the fastest drivers who are speeding: the speeding issue is much broader than that. There is a general issue about changing attitudes to speeding. In terms of the means of doing it, as we said earlier, it has to be a combination of education, people understanding the risk, coupled with enforcement and with understanding which sort of behaviours contribute to the higher risk. In that sort of situation it is not just the information on whether speed itself has more or less risk associated with it but whether the other driving behaviour has more or less risk associated with it. In terms of enforcement, if you can start moving—as was done with drink driving—the general attitudes of the population to be more positive, then you are in a far easier position to isolate the minority and deal with them in a different way. Again, taking the alcohol example, there is now different legislation for high risk offenders and people who persistently offend at high level; that is the way the general trend in regulation has moved in response to that ability to change attitudes.

Dr Pugh

  132. Quickly, briefly, on motorway speed, has any research been done by any of you into what speed the average motorist feels comfortable at in current circumstances, because there is this hypothetical motorist doing ten miles more than you give them but lots will not because they are not comfortable at driving more than 70 mph?
  (Dr Kimber) There has been research on the determinants of drivers' choice of speed, and those determinants seem mainly to do with the general road environment. There is no doubt that, over the years, the development in vehicles towards quieter vehicles and so on has encouraged people to drive fast.

  Dr Pugh: But have you asked the average British motorist what speed they feel comfortable at on a motorway and what speed they would not go to anyway, if they had an option?


  133. It does not sound very scientific!
  (Mr Lynam) I do not think there is a single answer simply because it depends on the conditions of the motorway.

Dr Pugh

  134. I am talking about standard, good, driving conditions, with no major problems. No fog.
  (Mr Lynam) I am not talking about weather conditions; I am talking about traffic. If there are goods vehicles in the inner lane, people feel uncomfortable with that and they feel they want to move to the outer lane.

  Dr Pugh: I am talking about in ideal circumstances. It is a reasonable question. We have to ask what limit people will not go naturally over.


  135. I think we can take it you have not found those parameters yet?
  (Mr Lynam) No.

Mrs Ellman

  136. What is the bigger problem? Is the issue that the research that you have already done is not being applied, or do we need any more research at all?
  (Dr Carsten) I am a career researcher, you might say, so I would always answer that we need more research, but I would also say that we do know much about the scope of the problem. For example, on the question that came up earlier about what percentage of accidents involve excess of speed and what the relationships are there, I think we know the answer to that, in spite of what the RAC Foundation said. Our answer to that is 20 per cent of injury accidents are related to drivers exceeding the posted speed limit, so one can use the evidence in the research and put it together to piece out an answer. We know a lot about this problem. There are specific problems and issues that we need further work on: one of them is how best to design the self-explaining roads that Richard mentioned; another is, for example, what would be the best speed limits to use if we move to a system where speed limits change with the traffic conditions, with the road conditions and so on, and how you would propagate those into the vehicle, so there is plenty of research to be done but on the fundamentals I think we know the answer.

  137. Where does the problem lie, then? You have done research. The lessons seem to be very clear from what you have submitted to us and what you have said to us this morning, but something stops that being used to make a change. Is it that the policy-makers do not know, or that they have conflicting points of view?
  (Professor Allsop) I think that in relation to the engineering of the road to approximate more closely to the self-explaining road, to get more speed reduction, more speed limits, the sheer size and detailed nature of the job is a very considerable problem. We not only need more budget—and there has been, of course, more budget for work on local roads of this kind—but we also need quite a lot more trained people who are appointed and given the time to do the job, because it does mean looking at roads in considerable detail, and it means talking to local communities in considerable detail, like in Suffolk. In Suffolk they have systematically done their villages, with the use of 40 mph limits on approaches to villages and 30 mph limits in villages. They divided the county into 13 areas. They went round one area at a time. They took the line "You drive slowly through my village and I'll drive slowly through yours" and they got the people alongside them. They treated all villages in the county in that way. They saved 20 per cent of the injury accidents in the treated villages, but that needed a very concerted, planned effort and it needed several people allocated for several years to do it. We need a consistent effort throughout our highways authorities to do that kind of thing.
  (Dr Kimber) Perhaps I could add to that, Chairman. I think the main point really is that we have a great deal of evidence in terms of the generic effects of speed on accidents. We also know a great deal about the role of different road types and how it breaks down between different drivers and so on, but the road system and the drivers on it are very complex systems, and in order to get sufficient understanding to be able to take this knowledge forward and get it into full application then we need to know a lot more about the particulars of some of these systems and how they work. There is a great deal of work there, and the application is something on which Government is moving forward. Our view is that there is a lot to be gained by their moving forward in a very concerted way on it.

  138. Is the Government doing enough?
  (Dr Kimber) There are always limits.

  139. But are they doing enough? You are doing all this work, yet you do not seem to be getting the results commensurate with the nature of the work you are doing. Is that the Government's fault?
  (Dr Kimber) No, not at all. I do not think it is the case either. Casualties have fallen very markedly over recent years. We have understood a lot about different causes of accidents. We see speed as a very major cause of accidents.

1   Note by Dr Kimber: TRL in fact strongly supports the concept of Home Zones. Home Zones aim to change the functional use of road space between motor vehicles and other road users, with the wider needs of residents, especially children, in mind. However, experience from abroad indicates that their application is limited to streets with low levels of through traffic which are the destination for traffic in the area Back

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