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

Memorandum by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (RTS 31)



  1.  CPRE welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Transport Sub-Committee inquiry into Road Traffic Speed. We have long called for action to address the problems of speeding traffic for people's quality of life and believe the inquiry is timely, coming as it does, after the Government's statement on a rural road hierarchy.

  2.  CPRE has 58,000 supporters; a Branch in every County; and a network of dedicated Transport Campaign Groups which are actively involved in discussions with local authorities over Local Transport Plans (LTPs). Our national campaigning led to the requirement on Ministers to report to Parliament on the development of a rural road hierarchy (Section 269, Transport Act 2000). It is the combination of national policy expertise, backed by local experience which enables CPRE to comment both on policy development and its implementation. While our focus is rural, we passionately believe in the inter-connections of town and country and the need to improve people's quality of life wherever they live.

  3.  Our submission principally addresses the problems facing rural communities and road users. As we shall explain, it is on rural roads where progress in achieving casualty reduction has been slowest, and where real opportunities exist to improve speed management strategies. We believe this to be an essential complement to action in towns and cities.


  4.  Inappropriate and excessive speed is a significant concern for many rural communities. Its effects impact on:

    —  road safety;

    —  the attractiveness of alternatives to the car;

    —  quality of life for rural communities; and

    —  the character of the countryside.

  5.  The problems of speeding traffic frequently fill council post bags. An indication of how this issue has gained greater significance comes from the national The Changing Village survey undertaken by the Women's Institute. This discovered that "the increase in traffic was the third most notable change by respondents over the last ten years, and of particular concern were the increases in speeding and heavy traffic". Traffic levels have been rising faster in rural areas than in towns and cities—a trend which is set to continue. The Government's Ten Year Transport Plan, Transport 2010, states that traffic levels on rural roads will have risen by a further 21 per cent in the next decade, even after implementation of the plan. As such, existing problems are only likely to get worse. CPRE believes it is essential, therefore, that a concerted programme of action is established to tackle the problems caused by speeding traffic.

  6.  The Government's Speed Policy Review, New Directions in Speed Management, noted that in rural areas inappropriate speed was more of a problem than excessive speed. The latter, however, is dictated by the speed limit set and CPRE firmly believes that 60 mph is, itself, an inappropriate signal to drivers. Indeed, the same document acknowledged that "the one aspect of the national speed limit system that comes in for most criticism is the notion that 60 mph is a reasonable maximum speed on country lanes". The RAC Report on Motoring 2000 showed that 50 per cent of drivers would like to see the current 60 mph speed limit reduced on country roads. We therefore believe that consideration of both excessive and inappropriate speed is necessary on rural roads.


  7.  It is well documented that speeding traffic, by significantly reducing time frames to react to road conditions, increases the chances of a collision and effects the likely severity of those involved. In launching the Road Safety Strategy, the Prime Minister said "research shows us that speed, more than anything else, is what is killing people. So controlling speed is at heart of our strategy." This is of particular importance in rural areas where average speeds tend to be higher. According to DTLR, 59 per cent of all deaths on roads and a third of all serious injuries occur on rural roads. In 2000, figures show that 3,577 people lost their lives on rural roads, over 19,000 people were seriously injured and 60,550 slightly injured. Given that approximately a third of collisions are caused by excessive or inappropriate speed, it is possible to estimate using DTLR calculations that this "cost" society £2,744 million in 2000 alone. Of course, such calculations do not begin to address the heart-ache felt by families whose lives have been affected by a road collision.


  8.  Speeding traffic has an intimidating effect on vulnerable road users (residents, walkers, cyclists and horse-riders). This expresses itself in different ways, many of which are not easily measured using traditional survey techniques. This means that frequently the problems are understated. They are subtle, but important changes to lifestyles and travel patterns. Speeding traffic may lead to journeys on foot or bicycle not being made because people feel frightened; more trips being made by car; an increase in escort trips for children; and an inability of those who do walk, cycle or ride along country lanes to do so in safety. It becomes harder for both the young and older people to cross busy or dangerous roads—curtailing their activities.

  9.  In 1999 CPRE undertook a survey of over 1,000 people's experiences on country lanes. Copies of our Rural Traffic Fear Survey are enclosed with this submission. Over 90 per cent of respondents were motorists, yet 65 per cent of people said that they felt threatened either all or some of the time by speeding traffic. Responses included comments like:

    "it is dangerous to walk to neighbours or to the post box even in daylight"

    "sometimes I get the feeling that car users think people should not be walking on roads, not even country lanes"

    "when riding on narrow country lanes I feel drivers go too fast when they can't see what is ahead. I am always frightened they will run into the back of us"

    "too many drivers seem to feel that four wheels dominate over two wheels, feet, hooves or anything else."

  10.  A higher proportion of older people live in rural areas than the national average and 18 per cent of people in rural districts are aged over 65 and particularly vulnerable. As such, the effects of intimidation can be more acute. It is important, therefore, that public policy is able to reflect on and respond to these less visible, but very important, effects of speeding traffic.


  11.  An important objective of the Government's Transport White Paper was to increase the proportion of journeys made by bicycle and on foot. The Ten Year Transport Plan, Transport 2010, contains a target to triple the number of cycling trips between 2000-2010.

  Research by the Commission for Integrated Transport (Rural Transport: An Overview of Key Issues) has revealed that the proportion of trips made by bicycle in rural areas is less than 1.5 per cent—and worryingly is in fact in decline. The fear of speeding traffic is recognised as a constraint on increased levels of walking and cycling. Indeed, vulnerable road users are exposed to higher levels of risk on rural roads. This needs to be tackled urgently in order to support more sustainable transport choices and health enhancing activities.


  12.  The bulk of attention and resources on road safety have been geared around improving conditions in urban areas, while the attention in rural areas has been on tackling identified accident hot spots. Progress on reducing road casualties on rural roads, however, has been half that achieved on urban roads since 1981-5. Furthermore, the ability of highway authorities to address the impact of speeding traffic on wider quality of life and community safety concerns has been limited. In a number of counties, CPRE Branches have undertaken surveys of all Parish Councils to identify the extent of the problem. The results are presented in Annex 1 and illustrate how the existing approach is failing rural communities, and those who use rural roads and lanes.

  13.  Further evidence comes from the Provisional Local Transport Plan for Somerset County Council (1999) which said "many communities suffer a significant reduction in their quality of life as the result of excessive traffic speeds and volumes, but do not have an unduly poor accident record. The County Council's environmental traffic calming programme has, for a number of years, addressed this issue. Approximately five sites are addressed each year....the scale of the problem can be seen from the list of 250 requests awaiting environmental traffic calming within the county". This would, therefore, take 50 years to complete!

  14.  Progress is delivering improved safety on country lanes has also been considerably slow. In part, this is because Highway Authorities continue to focus on collision hot spots, rather than adopt a more strategic approach. It is worth noting the DTLR's Good Practice Guide (2001), which says that "over time, most of the worst accident problem sites have been "cured". Accidents now tend to be spread more evenly across whole areas. For this reason, "mass action", "route action" or "area action" remedial treatments may be preferable to treatments at a few specific sites". This requires a new approach, assessment criteria, and skills. We hope the Committee will press the Government on how it will ensure local authorities can rise to this challenge.


  15.  CPRE supports the development of rural road hierarchy (RRH). This is essential if policies, and the activities of highway authorities, are to improve rural quality of life, contribute to casualty reduction targets, and protect the character of the countryside in line with the Government's Rural White Paper.

  16.  We believe the report by Babtie Ross Silcock to Government provides a firm foundation for developing a RRH. It is worth noting that the report was developed, having reached a consensus between the DTLR, Motorists Forum, other road users groups, transport professionals, the Countryside Agency and the Highways Agency. Such consensus is often rare in transport policy debates. Key issues which CPRE would draw to the Committee's attention from the report are:

  A broader range of objectives: the report acknowledges that speed policy needs to address a wider range of policy objectives as well as contribute towards casualty reduction (see Annex II for CPRE's assessment on policy linkages).

  Action on country lanes: the report notes that assigning major roads and country lanes to different parts of the rural road hierarchy is easier to achieve than those roads which might be described as being "in the middle". There is, therefore, a consensus around being able to improve safety and reduce intimidation along country lanes which the Government should respond to.

  Consistency of approach is important: drivers need consistency in the application of speed limits. In CPRE's view this lends itself towards a national speed limit system, rather than the incremental approach adopted to date.

  Quiet Lanes: the useful role of Quiet Lanes ( as designated under Section 268 of the Transport Act 2000) in a broader rural road hierarchy is acknowledged.

  HGV Abuses: the report highlights that up to 75 per cent of HGVs abuse the 40 mph speed limit on single carriageway rural roads. HGVs total 10 per cent of all vehicles involved in fatal collisions on rural roads, yet make up a far smaller proportion of overall traffic.

  Legal Implications: changes to primary legislation would be required to enable a RRH to be implemented, and in particular, to overcome existing regulations which would require significant new amounts of signing and clutter.

  17.  In essence CPRE looks to the rural road hierarchy to help provide choice to people who have been frightened of walking, confidence to those who might cycle, and safety to horse riders. It should deliver real benefits for rural communities which have been plagued by heavy traffic, protect the character of the countryside and enhance people's quality of life and public enjoyment of the countryside.

  18.  CPRE was deeply disappointed by the Minister's statement to Parliament on the Rural Road Hierarchy (HOC, 28 November 2001). In particular, the Minister noted that more research was required "before we can properly assess the case for lower rural speed limits". This conclusion follows an 18 month Speed Policy Review which examined this very question, and the Babtie Ross Silcock report which examined this specific issue. It would appear that little progress has been made, in policy terms, in improving rural road safety since the Speed Policy Review was commissioned some 3¼ years ago. This will only add to the growing dissatisfaction of rural communities at the ability of authorities to respond to their needs (see Annex 1).

  19.  CPRE's principal recommendations are that:

    —  the Government urgently bring forward a Road Safety Bill which amends national speed limits in line with the conclusions of the Rural Road Hierarchy working group, with a clear but ambitious timetable for implementation; and

    —  the Government brings forward the review of Circular 1/93 Speed Limits and changes its current focus on the setting of speed limits on the basis of existing vehicles speeds and casualty data, towards:

      (i)  giving greater prominence to the safety and quality of life needs of local communities;

      (ii)  breaking the link between the absence of vulnerable road users and higher permissible speed limits in order to tackle traffic intimidation;

      (iii)  promoting a whole route and area based approach to speed policy instead of one based on collision hot spots.

  20.  In addition, CPRE recommends:

    —  Speed policy should be more holistic and be guided by how it can improve urban and rural quality of life, environmental objectives (such as CO2 emission savings), sustainable transport and health objectives and countryside policies, as well as casualty reduction;

    —  a new Rural Road Hierarchy should aim to deliver an overall step change in the protection given to vulnerable road users (rather than simply prioritising motorised traffic on main roads with the effect that vulnerable road users are pushed onto back roads);

    —  a precautionary approach should be adopted in selecting speed limits for any given road given the tendency of motorists to perceive them as a target speed rather than the maximum operating speed in ideal conditions;

    —  local authorities be required in reviewing their Local Transport Plans for submission in 2004, to review and potentially re-classify all rural roads in their area to complement the national rural road hierarchy, and for DTLR to issue guidance to authorities in late 2002 on how this should be undertaken;

    —  the Government support calls for a national roll-out of Quiet Lines so as to provide greater transport choices for rural communities and incorporate them within the new national rural road hierarchy;

    —  the Committee press DTLR and the Home Office on how enforcement can be improved to reduce the significant number of HGV's breaking speed limits on rural single carriageways; and

    —  additional resources be provided to DTLR Road Safety Division and highway authorities through the Spending Review to ensure this specific policy area is progressed.


  21.  In making his statement to Parliament the Road Safety Minister, David Jamieson MP, noted that the working group "rightly identify the signing issues as a big obstacle to progressing the hierarchy as they have proposed it". Certainly CPRE is concerned that a new Rural Road Hierarchy does not lead to a profusion of signs or other urbanising clutter. We believe there are many opportunities, however, to reduce the potential for clutter. Chief amongst these would be a national speed limit of 30 mph for all villages where the village name plate indicated the lower limit (as used in France), and the absence of a centre white line on a country lane to indicate a 40 mph speed limit, unless signed otherwise. Other behavioural techniques (including Self Explaining Roads) also have potential to slow vehicles without damaging the character of the countryside.

  22.  CPRE would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Committee, methods by which road safety objectives can be achieved on rural roads without damaging the character of the countryside through clutter.


  23.  It is in villages where significant progress can be made in reducing the effects of speeding traffic on communities. Over five million people live in settlements of less than 3,000. CPRE believes all villages should be safe villages. In its Ninth Report, Integrated Transport White Paper in the 1999 Session, the ETR Select Committee recommended that speed limits should be set at 30 mph in villages. It noted "speeding is a serious problem in the countryside. We recommend that a speed limit of 30 mph or less should be established in all villages, including those on major roads".

  24.  CPRE welcomed, therefore, the Governments statement in its Road Safety Strategy that 30 mph should be the "norm" for villages. The Prime Minister, referred to how "villages are cut in half by speeding traffic" in his key note speech on the local environment (24 April 2001) and went on to say, "we intend to press ahead with the roll out of 30 mph speed limits for villages—where there are bureaucratic obstacles to making these improvements we will tackle them". The commitment to 30mph speed limits in villages was contained in the Guidance to local authorities on Local Transport Plans (DETR 2000), and reflected in the recent report to Government on developing a rural road hierarchy. In giving evidence to the ETR Select Committee on the Road Strategy the then Road Safety Minister, Lord Whitty, made the Government's position clear:

  ". . . for rural roads, rural lanes and for villages, we would hope to bring down significantly both the official speed limit and the actual speed, therefore beginning to take out the speed element from accidents on those roads"

  Road Safety Minister, Lord Whitty

House of Commons Transport Sub-Committee 19.4.2000

25.  While welcoming this policy commitment, CPRE has been concerned that there remains significant inertia which is hampering its implementation. To investigate the response to this policy commitment, we commissioned consultants Steer Davis Gleave to examine the road safety policies of 30 rural local authorities. This revealed that less than one in five authorities had (or were intending to introduce) a policy of 30 mph for all villages. Our report, Village Speedometer (copies enclosed) provides more detail. In particular, it highlights the reasons given for not introducing such a policy. These included:

    —  a reliance on Government guidance in Circular 1/93 Speed Limits, which places heavy emphasis on casualty reduction and the existing speed of vehicles and so leads to a focus on spot treatment on the basis of "worst first" rather than a more consistent or area based approach;

    —  a failure on the part of highway authorities to adopt a "whole route" approach to rural speed management;

    —  lack of support from local police on enforcement and no target date for implementation of the 30 mph village speed limit commitment; and

    —  lack of data on speed management which means many officers had to rely on paper based systems which makes it harder to plan strategically or develop a whole route approach to speed management.

  26.  There are, however, highway authorities who have successfully adopted a 30 mph limit in villages policy. Suffolk County Council, for example, successfully implemented over 450 new 30 mph speed limits on an area basis within a two year period at a cost of £1.19 million. Post project monitoring has shown a 20 per cent reduction in accidents in 2000. Other authorities who have, or are planning, similar initiatives include Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Bracknell. There would be distinct advantages, however, in applying a national 30 mph village speed limit compared to this lengthy and piece-meal approach and these authorities remain the exception rather than the rule.

  27.  An examination of one large rural county, Dorset, is illuminating. An average of 25 children a year were killed or seriously injured from 1994-98 in the County, and the actual numbers have been rising, to 30 in 1999 and 37 in 2000. The County, has allocated £8,500 to each of 12 schools to improve safety in their vicinity. At that rate it would be 2028 before each of the 338 schools in the County were to benefit from road safety funding. In contrast, the County Council was able to allocate £728,000 to further the case for the proposed A354 Upwey and Broadway Bypass (otherwise known as the Weymouth Relief Road) Scheme.

  28.  Separately, discussions with the Highways Agency at a national level have revealed that it does not interpret the Government's policy as 30 mph in all villages. Rather, an incremental approach is being followed. This would seem at odds with the clear statement in the DTLR's Road Safety Good Practice Guide that " Government policy is now that speed limits in all villages should be 30 mph".

  29.  CPRE recommends that:

    —  the Government set a date by which 30 mph should be the norm in villages so as to spur action, provide consistency to road users, and allocate the necessary resources to local authorities to deliver on this commitment;

    —  the Home Office issue directions to the police explaining the importance which the Government attaches to reducing speeds through villages and requiring higher priority to be given by police forces to their enforcement; with additional funding for the task; and

    —  the committee press the Highways Agency on how they intend to ensure 30 mph is the norm for villages on the Trunk Route network.


  30.  CPRE believes that reducing inappropriate and excessive speed in rural areas is an essential component of improving the quality of life for rural residents and all those who use and appreciate the countryside. Speeding on rural roads and through villages has attained a higher profile in recent years, and is likely to continue to do so as traffic levels increase. Progress on delivering commitments to lower speed limits in villages, however, has been lack-lustre. The prospect of a new rural road hierarchy offers the opportunity of introducing a new approach to road safety which will benefit rural areas and contribute to a range of Government policy objectives. This requires strong political leadership from the centre and CPRE has been disappointed that the Government is not moving more quickly to introduce such a hierarchy. We hope that the Committee's timely inquiry will shine light on the opportunities available to improve speed policy so that, in future, roads are safer and less intimidating for all road users, whether in town or country.


January 2002

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