Memorandum by the RAC Foundation (RTS
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
The RAC Foundation for Motoring was formed in
January 1999, following the demutualisation, demerger and sale
of RAC Motoring Services, to research and campaign on a wide variety
of issues of general interest to six million RAC Motoring Services
members and to responsible motorists generally.
The Foundation has developed close links with
central and local Government Departments, national organisations
such as RoSPA and the media, as well as providing representation
on a number of advisory committees and working groups. Since our
inauguration, the RAC Foundation has conducted high profile media
campaigns on numerous issues including vehicle and road user safety,
vehicle security, motoring taxation and the deteriorating condition
of UK roads.
The RAC Foundation position on road traffic
speed can be summarised as follows:
The RAC Foundation wholeheartedly supports Government
road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets and recognises
the importance of road user education, highway infrastructure
engineering and enforcement targeted upon the most dangerous driving
practices, vulnerable road user groups and those roads whose design,
construction, or use renders them most prone to collisions. We
recognise that excess and inappropriate speed are potentially
dangerous and support the use of speed cameras within a broadly
based enforcement strategy.
"Excess" and "inappropriate"
speed are undoubtedly two of many factors contributing to collisions
and to the severity of casualties. As the speed of a vehicle rises,
the time available to the driver to respond to hazards or emergencies
reduces and braking distance increases. The speed of impact is
directly related to the extent of damage and injury caused. DTLR,
ACPO and those with an interest in road user safety routinely
attribute speed as a cause of 30 per cent of road accidents [sic].
However any discussion on the problem of speed
will take place against a background of a lack of information
in three key areas:
(i) There are few official statistics and
no published national data showing the number of collisions and
casualties where excess speed is a cause. "Road Accidents
Great Britain: 2000 The Casualty Report", the annual compendium
of road casualty data, published by National Statistics and DTLR
contains no data relating to excess speed as a cause of road casualties.
Such statistical data as does exist does not
necessarily support the 30 per cent claim. For example the annual
"West Midlands Road Accident Review", based upon Road
Traffic Accident data gathered by West Midlands and surrounding
Police forces and local authorities, records that of 10,640 traffic
accidents in the year 2000, 163 (less than 2 per cent) were caused
by "excessive speed for the conditions".
(ii) References to speed and enforcement
strategies blur the distinction between two wholly different problems,
"excess" and "inappropriate" speed.
Excess speed, as the title suggests, is speed
in excess of the posted speed limit. It is always illegal, but
does not always constitute a present danger. For example, travelling
at 71 mph on an empty motorway in good road, traffic and weather
conditions in a modern car.
Inappropriate speed describes speed which is
notor not necessarilyin excess of the speed limit,
but which is too fast for the prevailing road, traffic and weather
conditions. Travelling at 60 mph on the same motorway in poor
weather, visibility, or slippery road conditions would be recognised
by all as wholly inappropriate and dangerous, but which breaches
no speed limit.
(iii) Declining standards of carriageway
infrastructure maintenance, worn out road surfaces, poor lighting
and signing may well render speeds within the posted speed limit
dangerously inappropriate, without drivers necessarily being aware
of the hazard.
The simple fact is that whilst research into
the effects of speed has been conducted, national statistics derived
from data within police reports of collisions are less readily
available, or not available at all.
Whilst the RAC Foundation recognises the crucial
importance of national and local road safety strategies and targets,
we are concerned, even baffled, at the apparent lack of hard data
to inform or support road user safety and enforcement strategies.
High quality information about how, where and why collisions occur
is presumably essential to enable road safety projects to compete
for central and local government and police resources with other
equally important and often better and more persuasively documented
problems and thereafter to enable scarce and expensive resources
to be targeted effectively on the most dangerous forms of driving
and most vulnerable road user groups. For example strategies to
detect or deter "excess speed" are unlikely to have
any significant impact on "inappropriate speed".
The RAC Foundation welcomes the change in emphasis
from "speed limit enforcement" with its all too familiar
negative and confrontational connotations, to speed management
that suggests a more comprehensive and strategic approach to managing
and reducing speeds involving education, engineering and enforcement,
rather than simply detecting and penalising those who exceed the
speed limit in the hope that this activity will act as a deterrent.
We believe that there is an urgent need for
a comprehensive speed management strategy including education,
engineering and enforcement.
The RAC Foundation has carried on the campaigning
work of RAC Motoring Services to include responsible road use
within the senior school curriculum, preferably within mainstream
subjects. At present responsible road use tends to be taught in
two stages; teaching Year 1 and 2 pupils to cross the road safely
and at Year 6 providing cycle training for some pupils at least.
Thereafter little formal education in responsible road use takes
place within the senior school curriculum. In due course, young
people apply for a Driving Licence. However their main priority
at this stage is to acquire sufficient skills and knowledge to
pass the Theory and Practical tests.
We believe that incorporating responsible road
use into mainstream subjects would encourage young people to consider
their responsibility as road users both for their own safety and
that of others. For example within maths and science subjects
speed could be considered in terms of its relationship with velocity
and kinetic energy. Pupils would learn not only that speed is
potentially dangerous, but also why. Thereafter, their understanding
of the problem should make them more receptive to anti-speed campaigns
when they are of driving age.
The RAC Foundation believes that education also
encompasses both road safety and product advertising, as well
as factual media and print coverage of motoring issues. We feel
that the emphasis of DTLR campaigning upon television, whilst
understandable, fails to reach the driver at the most crucial
time ie behind the wheel of the car and that more emphasis should
be placed upon targeting people when the message will be most
effective, rather than simply relying on powerful TV images to
create a lasting impression.
Whilst a number of car manufacturers continue
to depict speed or the impression of speed in their advertising,
safety and "lifestyle" concepts are increasingly favoured.
The RAC Foundation welcomes this trend and hopes that manufacturers
will be encouraged to continue it. Similarly the motoring media
appear to be adopting a more mature approach to their work. Economy,
comfort and safety related performance are all given a high priority
and whilst speed and handling performance are still tested, the
reporting leaves the recipient in no doubt that these tests take
place off the roads and on private property, often on racing circuits.
The RAC Foundation believes that the engineering
objective should be to design roads that are self-explaining where
speed limits are sufficiently self-evident as to require minimal
enforcement. Whilst this may appear unrealistic, a number of highway
authorities are experimenting with relatively low cost schemes
to reduce vehicle speeds. Norfolk County Council for example,
has installed a number of inter-active signs, activated by the
speed of approaching vehicles and which either reinforce the posted
speed limit eg "Slow 30 mph", or which slow vehicle
speeds to below the posted speed limit on the approach to hazards
such as cross-roads and bends. They have also experimented by
removing the white centre line along the carriageway and using
different colours and textures of road surface to reinforce the
change to a "village environment".
In the short term, speeds might be better managed
by the use of clearer and additional speed limit signs. The RAC
Foundation has received numerous complaints from motorists about
the absence, or lack of cleaning and maintenance of all speed
limit signs, especially 30 mph signing in built up areas with
street lights. In many cases local authorities have argued that
since the Built Up Area speed limit applies to areas with 30 mph
signs, or with street lights and no other sign displayed, they
have no legal obligation to erect signs warning of a 30 mph speed
limit. The situation is not helped where "street light"
limits are not signed but are enforced by speed cameras. The RAC
Foundation believes that all speed limits must be properly and
clearly signed with smaller repeater signs at frequent intervals.
We also believe that better road maintenance
would result in a surface giving more tyre adhesion, improved
stability as well as stopping distance and would reduce the number
of instances where drivers travelling within the posted speed
limit are unwittingly travelling at a dangerously inappropriate
speed for the road conditions. Improved carriageway maintenance
would not only benefit four, or more, wheel vehicle users. It
would significantly improve the safety of cyclists and motorcyclists
and might encourage more people onto two wheels, powered or otherwise.
Within the urban scene, improved street lighting
would improve the vision and visibility of all road users. Whilst
not necessarily increasing vehicle speeds, better lighting would
allow drivers a clearer view of pedestrians and cyclists reducing
the possibility that speeds within the speed limit are too high
for the poor lighting conditions. It would also afford pedestrians
and cyclists a clearer view of approaching traffic than that provided
by two bright moving points of light.
Whilst the RAC Foundation recognises the importance
of enforcement within an integrated road safety, or speed management
strategy, contact with police and highway authority officers suggests
that enforcement policy and decisions are jealously guarded by
the Police service and that road and road user safety strategies
are tailored to accommodate the views and participation of police.
Senior police officers are frequently quoted as recognising that
their input alone will not solve persistent problems. This clearly
applies to road and road user safety and the RAC Foundation would
wish to see police representatives taking an equal part in developing
safety strategies, with enforcement complementing rather than
dictating education and engineering aspects of them.
Remaining on the subject of speed enforcement,
e-mails, letters and telephone calls to the RAC Foundation suggest
that there is a growing level of cynicism among motorists of all
groups that central and local Government road safety strategy
and Police enforcement activity has become disproportionately
concentrated upon excess speed, almost to the exclusion of other
Unfavourable comparison is invariably made between
the obvious enthusiasm shown to detect those who exceed the speed
limit, with the apparent lack of police activity to deter dangerous,
careless and inconsiderate driving, examples of which are all
too apparent to those who regularly use the roads.
This view is at least partially supported by
Home Office statistics dealing with motoring offences in England
and Wales during 1999, which indicate that after parking irregularities
and driving documents offences, speeding was the most numerous
offence dealt with. In fact, the one million plus speeding offences
equalled the total number of offences in all the other groups
of moving motoring offences.
Since the RAC Foundation for Motoring is frequently
perceived as being critical of speed cameras, it is perhaps appropriate
to reiterate our general policy of support for the use of speed
cameras, as part of a comprehensive enforcement strategy targeting
the most dangerous drivers, the most dangerous sections of road
and the most vulnerable road users.
However, we have two separate, but related concerns
about the spread of speed cameras.
(i) The exponential growth in numbers of
speed cameras during the past decade, has been accompanied by
a significant reduction in numbers of Police traffic officers
and that this in turn seems to have led to concentration on narrowly
defined enforcement strategies, such as "excess speed",
to which camera enforcement is suited, rather than the broad based
pro-active detection and deterrence of all forms of reckless,
dangerous and careless driving.
To put it bluntly, it appears that speed cameras,
which initially formed a small but valuable part of enforcement
strategies, have become increasingly important and may come to
determine national and local strategies, if they have not done
Our concern is reinforced by Home Office statistics
showing that speed camera detected offences grew from just under
207,000 in 1995 to just under 499,000 in 1999 and by statements
in the national press by an ACPO spokesperson suggesting that
almost one million offences were detected in 2000 and predicting
that this figure would rise to three million in the coming years.
(ii) That despite official assurances to
the contrary, there is a widespread and growing perception among
motorists and sections of the mediaeven those who support
the wider use of speed camerasthat the concentration on
speed limit enforcement and speed camera deployment is as, or
more, motivated by their revenue raising capacity as by considerations
of road user safety.
This perception has been reinforced during the
past 12 months by the Government introduction of the "netting
off" or hypothecation procedure whereby approved police forces
and local authorities are allowed to keep some or all of the proceeds
of camera enforcement of excess speed, together with statements
from individual senior police officers estimating the number of
motorists expected to be prosecuted for speeding and the sums
of money raised as a result. Whilst the RAC Foundation accepts
that this view may not be correct and that the Police do or should
not make a profit from camera operations, the fact is that the
"netting off" scheme does give Police and local authorities
a financial stake in speed camera operations in their area which
lends credibility to motorists' cynicism.
The Foundation believes that cameras will be
more effective if well signed and concentrated only at accident
blackspots and traffic lights. A full review of speed limits and
a more intelligent and flexible approach would also help enforcement.
80 miles an hour on a clear day, driving at a safe distance from
the car in front in a modern car is quite safe. Whereas 20 mph
outside a school with children crossing the road is probably too
fast. That does not mean that 80 mph should apply in all weather
conditions or that 20 mph should be the limit at 3 am outside
a school. Flexible speed limits would help intelligent policing,
would be more respected by the public and would enhance road safety.
E V King
RAC Foundation for Motoring
2 January 2002