Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Ninth Report

Reasons for speeding

Who speeds

32. Speeding is endemic. It is not something just done by a small minority of irresponsible drivers. While there are those who speed "extravagantly to seek thrills etc", most people "do so within what they may claim are accepted social norms".[60] Professor Allsop pointed out that "there is an inherent tendency for all of us to drive faster than is good for ourselves".[61] Mr Silcock's research for the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research found that:

"85% of respondents to a household survey (of 1,000 households) admit that they "find themselves speeding on occasion". In a further strand of the research, all but 5 of 243 drivers who drove a pre-determined route whilst being filmed from within the car exceeded the prevailing limit at least once during their one hour drive".[62]

33. Professor Stradling of Napier University provided a profile of those driving at higher speeds. The following table shows the typical characteristics of drivers who speed:

Demographic, vehicle and vehicle use characteristics of car drivers reporting higher speeds: Who reports higher speeds?

Driver Age      17-24 year olds fastest, then 25-58, then 58 years plus

Sex            Males faster than females

Social Class      A/B fastest, then C1, C2, then D/E and Retired

Household Income  £30Kpa fastest, then £20-30 pa, then below £20Kpa

Domicile        Living out-of-town, faster

Experience      1-3 years driving experience, faster

Engine Size      Drivers of cars with engines 1.6 l and above, faster

Age of Car      Drivers of cars 1-7 years old, faster

Annual Mileage  Above 10K miles pa fastest, then 5-10K, then below 5K

Company Car    Company car drivers, faster

Drive as Work    Driving as part of work, faster

Source: Professor Stradling, RTS 45.[63]

34. It is, of course, not just car drivers who speed. Motorcyclists driving at excessive or inappropriate speeds can be a serious problem in both town and country.[64] The Freight Transport Association acknowledged that HGV drivers fail to keep to the 40 mph limit on single carriageway main roads.[65]

35. The groups most likely to speed excessively are those driving in a work-related capacity, members of high income households and young males. Motorcyclists are also a serious problem, and HGV drivers commonly exceed the 40 mph limit on single carriageway main roads.

Why people speed

36. There is a significant amount of research about why people drive at illegal and inappropriate speeds. It points to several factors:

- many drivers do not know what the speed limits are

- they do not regard speeding as a serious offence and they are unlikely to get caught

- they do not appreciate the damage they do because others bear much of the cost

- they are in a hurry or feel pressured into keeping up with other drivers; and

- the comfort of the car and the design of the road means that it feels right to drive more quickly than is legal or safe.

37. Mr Silcock's research into drivers understanding of the speed limit found that, although people accept the existing speed limits, they only understand where the 30 mph and 70 mph limits apply.[66] The AA informed us that drivers often cannot tell from the design of the road and the surroundings what the legal or appropriate speed is.[67]

38. However, in nearly all cases they exceed those limits they are aware of. A key factor, as the AA's research shows, is that "drivers do not regard speeding as a serious offence, are not the best judges of their own driving abilities, and often prefer to blame others for crashes, including children".[68]

39. Moreover, those who speed only suffer a small part of the costs. Professor Allsop pointed out that:

"drivers get much of the benefit immediately for themselves and their associates in terms of earlier arrival (and possibly the pleasure of going faster). They do bear some of the costs themselves but they are known to under perceive these costs. They do not themselves bear any of the human consequences of accidents for others or much of the damage to the environment or quality of life in the areas through which they drive".[69]

Those most likely to die as pedestrians are poor and live in cities.

40. Part of the explanation is the obvious one that drivers need to reach destinations quickly. It is an important factor for some drivers, especially those who are working and have to keep to very tight schedules. It is much more likely to be a reason for speeding on higher than lower speed roads. When questioned why they were speeding, drivers on these roads were most likely to say that they were speeding because they were late.[70] In 30 mph zones, on the other hand, drivers are most likely to say that they are speeding not because they are in a hurry but rather to keep up with other drivers or because they did not know the speed limit.[71]

41. Motorists rarely speed accidentally. The surveys which Mr Silcock undertook found that they usually do it consciously because "it feels right".[72] They revealed two key factors which had an influence on a speed "feeling right" to an individual. First, modern vehicles encourage speeding by insulating the driver from the effects of speed - both obvious factors such as "the absence of noise, vibration, and wind in the hair" as well as comfort, internal protection and sound systems, which were also cited by drivers as features which encourage speeding.[73]

42. The second factor is "the nature of the road".[74] Mr Silcock observed:

"drivers generally make their own assessments of the speed at which they will drive, irrespective of the speed limit. We found that, as a broad generalisation, the sections of road with the highest proportion of speeding drivers were those with 30 or 40 miles/h limits, which were also wide, straight and with little frontage activity".[75]

There was universal agreement with this finding. The Association of British Drivers stated:

"To give an extreme example: the building of a three lane motorway standard access road through a residential estate would not lead to a natural traffic flow at 30 mph. No amount of signs, humps and white paint would make it seem that 30 mph was the optimal speed".[76]

TRL's studies of drivers show that "site characteristics have by far the biggest influence on drivers' choice" of speed. The design of the road system leads drivers to think that they can drive far faster than is safe.

43. Part of the problem is that many roads came into being long before the motor car was invented. There are therefore so many roads in towns and cities which have shops, schools and other facilities but are also major through routes for vehicles. In England we have not resolved the conflicts which arise in these situations. The policies of highway engineers in the 1960s and 1970s made matters far worse. The Institution of Civil Engineers has convened a working party under the Urban Design Alliance which has found that streets have been designed around the largest vehicles ever likely to be encountered. We were informed that: "the design of some urban main roads encourage[d] drivers to treat them as racetracks, even where they pass through areas where people live and shop."[77] Efforts were concentrated on allowing traffic to flow as smoothly as possible, for instance by introducing one-way systems. These roads have been death traps for pedestrians: Transport for London has recently found that pedestrian casualty rates on the one-way main roads are double the level on other main roads.[78]

44. The combination of bad road design, driver ignorance and a belief that speeding is acceptable must be tackled if speeds are to be reduced to safe levels.

60   AA quoting research by Mr Silcock. Back

61   RTS 36. Back

62   RTS 12. Back

63   The survey is reported in Professor Stradling's paper, entitled Highway Code and Aggressive Violations in UK Drivers (2000). Back

64   RTS 18. Back

65   The figure may be between 60 and 70% of HGVs (RTS 139). Back

66   RTS12. Back

67   RTS 48. Back

68   The quotation is a description by the Slower Speeds Initiative of research published by the AA (RTS 34). Back

69   RTS 36. Back

70   The research was undertaken by Brake (RTS 50); there is also evidence is that there are "diminishing returns in terms of journey-time from increasing speed and the ever more rapidly rising risk" (RTS 36).  Back

71   RTS 50. Back

72   RTS 12 Back

73   Idem. Back

74   The phrase is Professor Allsop's (RTS 36). Back

75   RTS 12. Back

76   RTS 11. Back

77   T2000 (RTS 8); Sustrans stated: "Much fast traffic is encouraged by highway design manuals. Roundabouts are notoriously dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. The traditional British roundabout - unlike its continental counterpart - is large with flared entrances and exits which encourage high speed driving ... many side road crossings have inappropriate speed. This feature, and the thinking that lies behind it, is one major reason why drivers fail to give way to drivers on foot or bicycle, in clear contrast to European situations." (RTS 18).  Back

78   RTS 8. Back

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