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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)



  380. Has there been an assessment made of the extra lives that would be lost if the speed limit was raised to 80 mph?
  (Mr Waddams) The work that we have available does not apply to motorways but, clarifying that, there is work by TRL who have been looking at rural roads particularly where, on the highest quality roads, a one mph increase in the mean speed of the traffic could result in something like a 2 per cent increase in casualties. If you then extrapolate and increase the speed limit by, say, ten miles per hour, not everyone would take advantage of that. Again, there is an estimate of perhaps 2.5-5 mph increase in the mean speed so, if you take your 2 per cent and multiply that between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent you have something between 5 and 10 per cent, in fact a bit more—


  381. So what you are saying is that, as far as the Ministry is concerned, you have not looked at this seriously: there is evidence available and you do not accept that it would be of benefit?
  (Mr Waddams) We do not have our own evidence for the UK.

  382. No. I am not asking you that. You are telling us that TRL has done some work; there is evidence available from other sources; you have taken it seriously and you are not persuaded?
  (Mr Waddams) That is right.

Andrew Bennett

  383. And it was good enough to fix the Home Secretary!
  (Mr Spellar) Yes, and I think you are interviewing a Home Office minister shortly! But vehicles would also be less fuel-efficient at the higher speed as well.

Mr O'Brien

  384. But the comparison is between rural roads and motorways. In the present circumstances it is costing more to prevent accidents on rural roads than on motorways. Now there does appear to be a conflict of view there that, if you are comparing rural roads and motorways, motorways would be safer. On the evidence that has been received and given, I think there is a conflict there
  (Mr Spellar) Motorways are safer: they are the safest roads that we have. That is certainly true. At the same time, however, the underlying question was whether that would be improved or worsened by an increase from 70-80 mph and we believe it would increase the rate of accidents, along with the fact that it would also be less fuel efficient and, therefore, less environmentally friendly.
  (Ms McMahon) If I could just clarify the figures in the Highways Economics note, the higher figure for rural roads reflects the mixed severity of the accidents that happens on rural roads. A lot of them are head-on crashes and therefore the severity is greater than in the average motorway accident. That is the explanation for those higher figures which reflect the value that will be achieved by doing safety measures rather than the cost of them.

Mr Donohoe

  385. The RAC suggested that a report had been undertaken by the West Midlands police to show that speed was not a major cause of death. Do you accept that?
  (Mr Spellar) And I think the AA had a different view when you interviewed them on that. As I said, when the police are asked to give an indication, they can put up to four factors down for a particular accident. Also, in some cases, where, for example, it is an action by a pedestrian that has caused the accident, sometimes I think the evidence would suggest that that is put down as the cause whereas the severity of the accident may well be related to the speed of the vehicle—the fact that an accident was likely to happen although there might have been a better chance of avoiding it had the pedestrian not behaved in that way. Also the severity could well be affected by the speed. In response to that, the TRL have looked at the figures: and, as I said, speed will be a factor in something like a third of the accidents but in many cases some of those other factors will also be affected to a greater or lesser extent by the fact that the vehicle was going faster. Quite a bit of that is to do with reaction times and also the severity of impact.

  386. Why did we introduce speed limits on motorways?
  (Mr Spellar) Quite simply, historically, because of the desire to prevent accidents.

  387. That is not the case, is it? It was because of the fuel crisis. It was nothing to do with safety at all.
  (Mr Spellar) I think it is a case that higher levels of speed above a certain level on motorways do have an impact on safety.

  388. But, Minister, the point is that it was to do with the fuel crisis that they introduced 70 mph on motorways, which were built to do 100 mph, and 60 mph on single carriageways were introduced at the same time. It had nothing whatsoever to do with safety.
  (Mr Spellar) I mentioned the fuel efficiency issue earlier in my contribution but I think there is strong evidence that moving to much higher levels—and this is not just our experience but, with one significant exception, the experience of all other European countries as well—and maintaining a reasonable level is consistent with not just the ability of the vehicles to withstand crashes, and I accept there has been changes in vehicle design over a period of time, but also, quite straightforwardly, reaction time of drivers. While vehicle design may have improved, the basic design of drivers has not.

  389. Why, then, do we build cars that are capable of 140 mph?
  (Mr Spellar) I think you would have to ask the manufacturers that—

  390. But you could legislate against them?
  (Mr Spellar) That would be a matter for European-wide competence of vehicles but there is a lot of work, as you know, being undertaken in order to improve the safe characteristics of vehicles and also the effect that an impact has between vehicles and vehicle design and pedestrians, and a vehicle that may be able to go an excessive speed might well be easier to drive at lower levels. If you are driving right up to the capacity of a car, it makes it much harder to drive.

  391. Why do we have the countryside littered with signs to tell you there are speed cameras when it is obvious there are none?
  (Mr Spellar) The evidence you had from the Chief Constable of North Wales indicated that had been a policy but was slowly being rationalised out because there was a danger that that was bringing the reactions into a degree of disrepute. They are therefore focusing much more on drawing people's attention to cameras where they are in operation, and that is designed very much to modify and change people's behaviour on those sites with the favourable impact that we have already indicated.

  392. Why do you think that so many of our witnesses have indicated that the speed limits in this country are very badly understood? What is the Department going to do about that fact?
  (Mr Spellar) What do you mean by "badly understood"?

  Mr Donohoe: : There are so many variants of speed limits that there does not seem to be a uniform speed limit in some of the areas of the country, and they are very badly understood because of that. What is the Department doing to have it more standardised, as to what would be then best understood by the person who travels? I was with the police and I was standing with a speed camera pointing it at a motorist who did not have a clue what the speed limit was when he was stopped—


  393. I think he has the point.
  (Mr Spellar) There are a number of issues tied up with that. One is the question whether the speed limits that are applied are appropriate to the road. In some cases it can be that these are too high and in some it may be the fact that they could be higher perfectly safely. One of the issues is having lower speed limits, as we said earlier, in the vicinity of schools. There is an argument about the question of the 30 mph limit and how well that ought to be signed, and I think there is a particular issue—it has been raised with me, for example, by Ed Doolan on Radio West Midlands—concerning a road where the speed has been changed from 40 to 30 mph but has not been properly signed. Particularly where there are changing circumstances, and this ties in with Mr Cummings' point, it is enormously important that those are signed and also signed well in advance of hitting that particular change so that people can adjust their speed.

Mr Betts

  394. On that point, should you not be encouraging local authorities to do a proper review and valuation of speed limits on all roads? One of the reasons that people ignore speed limits is where they are irrational. If it is safe to do 30 mph in a residential area and there is a 30 mph limit on a wide dual carriageway next door, they are probably going to ignore that limit.
  (Mr Spellar) I thought I said that there are grounds in a number of areas for reducing speed in some areas quite often because, as was indicated earlier, the situation has changed and a new housing estate has been built or industrial estate or sporting facility or whatever that has changed traffic volume and traffic patterns.

  395. But should this not be done on a systematic basis on existing roads, not waiting for new developments?
  (Mr Spellar) I think it is important to be reviewing that but with the objective of looking at—

  396. Are you encouraging them to carry out those reviews?
  (Mr Spellar) My understanding is that we are encouraging local authorities to review their position.
  (Ms McMahon) Yes. We are doing work at the moment to see whether we can give local authorities better advice on speed limits and that work is on-going.


  397. When will that be completed?
  (Mr Waddams) The existing guidance is called Circular 1/93 and we are in the process of looking at that and we are hoping that, by the end of this calendar year, we will be in a position to start discussing and, indeed, consulting local authorities—

  398. It sounds a bit leisurely, does it not? We are killing people every day.
  (Mr Waddams) Yes. The guidance already exists and is clear but we are now in a position, and I think it was published in 1993, that we have much more experience and we want to introduce that experience into a revised guidance.

  399. What are you discussing with them? That you have not learned from your own experience? You are telling us, "The guidance is clear; we do it already; we now have got improved information; but we need to consult with them before we print it". Why?
  (Mr Waddams) Because any changes that might be proposed would have a impact. For example, if the 30 mph repeater were to be introduced, it would be at enormous cost. There would have to be repeater signs every few hundred yards along every urban street.

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