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

Memorandum by the Local Government Association (RTS 21)


  1.  The Association welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry. It has been brought to the attention of all of the Association's member authorities and of the relevant officer societies and a number will be taking the opportunity to respond direct. The Association would suggest that the submissions from officer societies be given particular attention. The Association does not have access to independent statistics relating to the causes of crashes. Submissions to the Committee from individual authorities should be able to give useful statistical information about local experiences. No doubt the DTLR and lobbying organisations too will have considerable relevant material.


  2.  The Committee will be aware of the debate which has surrounded the difference in emphasis between the importance of the definitions "illegal" and "inappropriate", as applied to speed, and indeed how inappropriateness might be measured. The Government's speed review of 1999 has given some consideration to how speed limits might be related more effectively to local circumstances, without making signing and local regulations so complicated that both road users and local authorities become confused and enforcement becomes difficult.

  3.  Whilst there is a vocal lobby which suggests that safely driven vehicles are less likely to crash whatever speed they are driven at, it is inevitable that the faster the speed the more severe the risk of serious injury or death. It might be argued however that the difference between, say 70 mph or 80 mph on a motorway is less significant than between 30 mph and 20 mph in a residential area, where non-motorists are more likely to be the victims in crashes, however caused. Highway Codes for decades have emphasised the stopping distances depending on speeds driven, although these cannot readily take account of varying vehicle performance. Arguments that crumple zones and other in-built safety features make motor vehicles "safer" when driven at higher speeds, generally do not make them safer for cyclists and pedestrians on mixed use roads.

  4.  The traffic free-flow philosophy as applied to town planning through the 1960s and 1970s has led to divided communities with the social implications which this brings. The current Social Exclusion Unit study into transport and social exclusion, which your Committee had asked for, should be able to come to some conclusions about the extent of this problem over the course of the year. The former philosophy implied that the time savings of not allowing congestion to develop was more valuable to society as a whole than the disbenefit caused to the local community by isolating one side of the road from the other. The current Home Zones and Quiet Lanes initiatives, which many of the Association's member authorities are participating in wholeheartedly, takes the opposite view, that the quality of life for communities can be greatly enhanced by slowing traffic to an appropriate speed for the local streetscape and pedestrian activities.


  5.  The debate around whether more legislation would assist enforcement, whether self-enforcing measures are more appropriate, and whether adequate resources are being directed at enforcing traffic management legislation in general, appears to be almost continuous. Unfortunately the British motorists' approach to traffic regulations often appears to require physical measures for effective enforcement rather than relying on the compliance of drivers to signed limits or prohibitions. However, physical measures are less flexible than cameras and police enforcement, and some physical measures may impede emergency services and bus routes, so enforcement effort will need to be maintained at an appropriate level. In its response to the DTER consultation on road traffic penalties in March 2001 the LGA commented that any review of road traffic penalties for speeding offences should take on board whether existing speed limits are appropriate in all circumstances. The Government's speed policy review in 1999 covered many of the questions set out in the Committee's current inquiry and the Association's full response to that consultation exercise is available to the Committee on request.


  6.  Fast acceleration, and an ability to manoeuvre at high speed, are marketed by vehicle manufacturers as safety points. While this may be correct in comparison with older vehicle models, such advertising could encourage driving habits amongst drivers who do not have the necessary ability to make quick decisions at high speeds, and there may be a case for further encouragement to motor manufacturers to include a more distinct "health warning" about appropriate driving styles, similar to that applied to tobacco advertising. The Association would be interested in the comments made to the Committee by outside bodies on the activities of local government in this field.


  7.  Highway authorities are likely to have speed management strategies as part of the road safety plans and Local Transport Plans. Often LTPs will include strategies for extending traffic calming measures. Unfortunately effective physical measures can be capital intensive and it is not possible to meet the aspirations of all residents' groups for priority consideration.

  8.  In view of the time allowed for compiling this submission, it is necessarily brief and can take into account only a few comments from member authorities. There will be further discussions between the Association's elected members over the coming weeks, and if any significant additional points arise then, hopefully, there will be an opportunity to bring them to the Committee's attention.

7 January 2002

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