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

Memorandum by the London Cycling Campaign (RTS 29)


  The London Cycling Campaign has been the voice of cycle users in London for the past 20 years. Through the active involvement of our 8,000 members and the ongoing work of our individual borough groups we have developed considerable expertise in the field of road safety, particularly in reference to cyclists. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to provide testimony to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on behalf of the 650,000 people who cycle regularly in London, and we stand ready to offer any further assistance which might be required.

  Despite low average traffic speeds in many of the capital's streets, illegal and inappropriate speed remains a major danger to London road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. Results of a Metropolitan Police survey in June/July 1999 revealed that 63 per cent of motorists exceed the maximum speed limit on 30mph roads in London—that is, around two million drivers. Of those breaking the limit, 10 per cent (around 200,000 drivers) were driving at over 50mph and a very small percentage (but still hundreds of drivers) were driving at speeds of over 70mph on 30mph roads.

  Such widespread contempt for the law requires dramatic action from police and government forces alike, akin to that taken against drink driving over the past 20 years. Yet road safety enforcement has been given a low priority in London—despite the 250 people killed and 45,000 reported injured on the capital's streets each year. In particular, the number of police officers dedicated to road safety in London has shrunk so low that the Commander of the Metropolitan Police Traffic OCU commented in March 2001 that his unit can no longer meet its objectives. In 1983 the Metropolitan Police Traffic Division numbered 1,335 police officers; today the Traffic OCU numbers under 650 officers—less than half its former strength.

  In autumn 2001 the Major of London and Transport for London (TfL) published a Road Safety Plan for the capital, which places great importance on speed management. We welcomed the Plan and have worked closely with TfL in developing many aspects of it, including the speed-related aspects. However, local initiatives such as this are undermined by lack of political will at the central government level. It is imperative that central government follow up the work undertaken in 2000 in the context of its Road Safety Strategy so as to support local authorities in their initiatives—especially by developing a strong awareness campaign to ensure speeding becomes seen as an unacceptable form of behaviour in the same way as drink driving is now.


  Speed is now acknowledged to be the largest single factor in road crashes. The government's Road Safely Strategy. Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone, published in March 2000, stated that speed is a major contributory factor in one third of all road traffic collisions.[40] That figure is widely seen as an absolute minimum. Evidence from projects to reduce traffic speeds indicates that speed is the major factor in up to 50 per cent of all road crashes, and a contributory factor in more. In the case of 20mph zones, for example, speed reduction measures reduce collisions by an average of 60 per cent (67 per cent in the case of children).[41]

  The connection between speed and road traffic casualties in equally clear. Lower speeds result in fewer and less serious collisions; higher speeds result in more and more serious collisions Government figures show that a pedestrian hit by a car at 40mph has only a 15 per cent chance of surviving, at 30mph a 55 per cent chance but at 20mph a 95 per cent chance of surviving.[42] More recent research has confirmed that even marginal reductions in average speeds can result in major road safety gains: every 1mph reduction in average speeds leads to a 5 per cent in the number of road traffic collisions.[43]


  The benefits of reducing road speeds extend far beyond the immediate reduction in casualties; lower speeds also bring marked improvements to the environment of local communities. The danger brought by speeding traffic severely damages the quality of life of local communities, which is why traffic speed consistently features as a priority problem in public consultations on community safety. Community audits carried out under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 reveal how great an issue road safety has become for people in Britain: when asked for their views on road safety, in 86 per cent of cases local communities rated it as an issue of concern to rank alongside burglary and mugging.[44] Traffic calming and speed reduction are likewise commonly identified as the most important road safety measures for local highway authorities to undertake—as shown by community safety audits in both rural and urban settings alike.[45]

  Fear of speeding traffic is also typically cited as one of the key reasons preventing more people from cycling, and studies from around Europe have shown the modal shift to cycling and other environmentally friendly forms of transport once speed reduction measures are introduced. In the German town of Buxtehude, for example, the introduction of a 30kph (20mph) speed limit led to a 27 per cent increase in cycle traffic and a 17 per cent increase in pedestrian traffic, as well as a 60 per cent drop in road traffic casualties. The environmental benefits of such a modal shift to cycling and walking need no further elaboration—particularly in cities such as London, many of whose roads already break government regulations on pollution levels.


  Local authorities across Britain have introduced a broad range of speed management measures in order to increase road safety for vulnerable road users. Many of these measures have been extremely successful in reducing speed and road casualties, and central government must press for their wider introduction. From the London context, we would like to draw particular attention to the introduction of area-wide speed limits, and especially, a 20mph standard speed limit on all but the most major roads.

  Reducing the speed limit to 20mph in all streets where Londoners live, work, shop or meet for recreational purposes would be the single most effective means of meeting London's casualty reduction targets, as well as reducing the sense of danger experienced by road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. It would:

    —  save up to 200 of the 250 lives lost each year in road traffic collisions on London's streets;

    —  save up to 25,000 of the 45,000 reported road crash injuries in London, including a high proportion of serious injuries;

    —  bring an annual cost benefit of over £1 billion to London, based on government figures for the prevention of road traffic collisions.[46]

  Introducing 20 mph as the standard speed limit on all streets used by people in London would also reduce congestion, air pollution and noise pollution. Moreover, it would be a highly popular move with Londoners: opinion polls reveal overwhelming public support for 20 mph as the standard speed limit on London's streets in view of the road safety gains it would bring.[47]

  It should be noted that area-wide speed reduction programmes have proved extremely successful in bringing down driver speeds (average as well as 85th percentile) and reducing casualties. It is widely recognised that physical restrictions bring greater speed reductions than speed limits on their own, and there should be a presumption in favour of such solutions wherever possible. However, there are many non-physical measures (eg fibre-optic and vehicle-activated signing, road safely awareness campaigns, speed cameras etc) which have achieved substantial speed reduction both in Britain and other countries.

Table 1: Average reductions in speed gained by non-physical measures[48]

effect on mean speed (mph)
effect on 85th %ile (mph)
Speed cameras
Vehicle-activated signs
Flashing signs (not vehicle-activated)
no data

  Used in combination with each other or with physical restrictions, these measures would obviously have the potential to reduce speeds still further. Yet even if used on their own, the correlation between 1mph speed reduction and 5 per cent casualty reduction means that these non-physical measures would reduce casualties by a very significant 20-30 per cent. Even the simplest (and cheapest) measure of just using static 20mph signs has been found to reduce mean speeds by around 2.5mph, thereby bringing a 12.5 per cent reduction in the number of casualties.

  At the same time, we would press the government to accelerate the introduction of the home zone and safe routes to schools programmes, both of which represent more substantial development of a people-friendly infrastructure on our streets. At present these programmes are proceeding at a painfully slow pace, with their potential drastically unfulfilled. We would also recommend the introduction of school safety zones around every primary and secondary school in the country, with maximum speeds reduced to 10, 15 or 20mph. This objective formed an important part of York City Council's 1997 Speed Management Strategy, and has now been identified as a priority by the Mayor of London too.

Peter Lewis, Director

London Cycling Campaign

John Hilary, Chair

LCC Greater London Working Group

January 2001

40   Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone; The Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010 (DETR, 2000). Back

41   Reviewof traffic calming schemes in 20mph zones, Transport Research Laboratory Report 215 (TRL, 1996). No Back

42   Killing Speed and Saving Lives (Department of Transport, 1997). Back

43   The effects of drivers' speed on the frequency of road accidents, Transport Research Laboratory report No 421 (TRL, 2000). Back

44   ACPO Review of Crime and Disorder Audits (Association of Chief Police Officers, 1999). Back

45   Killing Speed: A Good Practice Guide to Speed Management (Slower Speeds Initiative, 2001). Back

46   1999 Valuation of the benefits of prevention of road accidents and casualties, DETR Highways Economics Note No 14 1999 (DETR, October 2000); see TfL's calculation of costs for personal injury crashes in London in Accidents and casualties on London's roads 2000 (TfL, 2001). Back

47   20mph as a Standard Speed Limit: Why London Needs It (London Cycling Campaign, July 2000). Back

48   Urban speed management methods, Transport Research Laboratory Report No 363 (TRL, 1998). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 July 2002