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
- 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
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. The
AA informed us that drivers often cannot tell from the design
of the road and the surroundings what the legal or appropriate
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".
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".
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.
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.
41. Motorists rarely speed accidentally. The surveys
which Mr Silcock undertook found that they usually do it consciously
because "it feels right".
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.
42. The second factor is "the nature of the
road". Mr Silcock
"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".
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".
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."
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.
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.