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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)



Andrew Bennett

  420. If it is possible to do charging with a system from the sky, it is also possible to regulate speed from the sky, is it not? What are you doing about intelligent speed adaption systems?
  (Mr Spellar) There is some work being done to see how that would be a good experience for driving, either for individual control or from external control. I think a number of countries are looking at that. That by no means, by the way, concedes the argument as to whether it would be a good or bad idea in order to try and conduct congestion charging by external control and the huge capital cost, let alone a whole number of other considerations, that would have to be examined on what are some interesting ideas—but no more than ideas—that have been put forward on that. You would have to look at whether that was desirable or effective. You could have technically land-based systems that would indicate the speed on a particular road. Now, a number of cars already have speed limiters; heavy goods vehicles have speed limiters by law, of course.

  421. How effectively are they working?
  (Mr Spellar) Reasonably effectively. There are a number of heavy goods vehicles that have overridden their speed limiters and that is obviously a matter of concern and this is not just British legislation but it applies broadly across Europe. There are a number of aspects, for example, about collision avoidance or about the ability to—

  422. I understand the difficulties with it but when could we possibly have it in place in this country?
  (Mr Spellar) You mean the technicalities of being able to put that in?

  423. Yes.
  (Mr Spellar) I will have to drop you a note on that. There would be technical feasibility but I think you would have to look at the much broader issues of whether this would be an effective way of traffic management. We are also awaiting, with the number of vehicles that we are having driven around at the moment on test, to get a feel from the driver's point of view as to whether that makes driving more or less difficult. One of the advantages from a driver's point of view, particularly in an urban area with changing speed limits, is that you do not then need to be constantly looking at your speed dials in order to check whether you are below the current limit.

  424. Given the cost of all the traffic calming measures, it might be cost effective, might it not?
  (Mr Spellar) All of these are issues that will have to be considered in any valuation, and also the effectiveness of whether it would lead to a significant reduction in accidents. It is not just about speed limits; it is also, as I indicated right at the start in my opening remarks, about appropriate levels of speed. You may be within the speed limit but given other traffic or, indeed, the road conditions due to weather or other factors, it may still be an inappropriate speed.

  425. Moving to car design, why did you veto or prevent the European Union issuing a directive which would make car design such that accidents at whatever speed would be less severe?
  (Mr Spellar) It was particularly accidents between vehicles and pedestrians, and we believe that having a voluntary agreement between the major car manufacturers and the Commission would lead to changes coming in much sooner and more effectively.

  426. A voluntary agreement is pretty pathetic, is it not?
  (Mr Spellar) Not really.

  427. The Honda Civic already achieves those standards.
  (Mr Spellar) It shows the voluntary method can work.

  428. No, because if you do a voluntary method at a very low standard it is not worth the paper it is written on?
  (Mr Spellar) Not at all. If you can voluntarily negotiate with the manufacturers steady improvements, that is very much to be welcomed and can bring those changes in sooner at considerable advantage.

  429. Some of the highest speeds on the roads are from young motorists. What are you doing about them, and their speed?
  (Mr Spellar) Both within the driving test and driving instruction trying to focus their attention and by publicity as well, recognising the considerable difficulties that we do have. One of the questions that we are still trying to get a firm answer on is whether it is the age of the motorist or whether it is in their first year of driving that we have the significant problem.

  430. That is why you did not want to raise the age limit for young people to drive to 18, is that right?
  (Mr Spellar) I think it is an issue we have still not resolved.


  431. The thing is that we did a report which made it very clear that large numbers of young people are not even taking the complete driving test. We really want to know what action has been taken by the Department since that report was published.
  (Ms McMahon) We will be publishing consultation documents setting out options and different measures to address the safety of young drivers.

  432. When?
  (Ms McMahon) Very shortly.

  433. You are beginning to sound like the Prime Minister. Define "very shortly".
  (Ms McMahon) It will be out on Friday.

Helen Jackson

  434. On young motorists, very quickly, would you recognise that there is a big gender differentiation with young motorists and injuries and casualties, and what are you doing on that?
  (Mr Spellar) I think the other question within that is whether it is within their first year of motoring—


  435. With respect, that was in our report as well. We need to know what your consultation document is going to say and come back to you. Finally, now, we need to know, as a Committee, whether the Department is now prepared to move from cure to prevention and to introduce design improvements before people are killed, not afterwards?
  (Mr Spellar) Firstly I should say that the record, which is a very significant reduction in the number of those killed and seriously injured, is a tribute to the work that has already been done, and I reiterate that we do have the safest roads in Europe along with Sweden. That is no reason for complacency but it is a good comparison. That is a mixture of driver behaviour, vehicle design and also road design.

  436. So when you have a scheme like the one in Hull with the 20 mile reduction zones, you monitor that carefully, do you?
  (Mr Spellar) We will be—

  437. You will be?
  (Mr Spellar) Well, we are monitoring the outcomes precisely because we want to see what works most effectively, what works in different environments between urban, suburban, city centre and rural areas.

  438. So how soon can you give us an estimate on numbers of lives saved?
  (Mr Spellar) By the 20 mph reduction zones?

  439. Yes.
  (Ms McMahon) We already have estimates from TRL research and they are continually monitoring—

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