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

Memorandum by Bath & North East Somerset Council (RTS 32)



  The role of illegal and inappropriate speed is well established in respect of its influence on the frequency and severity of crashes. The contribution that speed has upon the quality of life is well understood.

  Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) is a local authority with both urban centres and rural villages. The majority of requests and enquiries from the public received by the Traffic & Safety team relate to problems caused by speeding traffic, both in urban and rural areas. In many cases, these requests relate to sites with a low or non-existent "accident" record. This makes it difficult to justify expenditure on these schemes on the basis of traditional "rate of return" criteria. However, the sheer volume of such requests suggests that speed is perceived as a significant problem, while the lack of casualties implies that people deal with the danger by avoiding certain locations or journeys.

  The restriction of the independent mobility of children and elderly people due to traffic danger has enormous implications for the health and development of both groups. The stress experienced by those living in areas exposed to speeding traffic, together with the impact on social cohesion from roads which sever the community, are likely to have a negative impact upon the quality of life.


  Urban design needs to be predicated on the principal that the safest access for all road users is essential. As the least protected of road users pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users need to receive priority. Therefore safe access on foot needs to be ensured in the design of amenities and road design needs to reflect this by reducing the capacity for motor vehicles to endanger other road users. As research shows that traffic speeds above 20 mph pose a significant risk of severe injury or death to vulnerable road users in collision with motor vehicles, then a 20 mph limit should be the norm in mixed use and residential areas. Roads need to be designed to eliminate the possibility of faster traffic.

  On the same principle, the Home Zone concept needs to become established as a standard for new residential developments.


  There is a considerable amount of consistent research about the consequences of speed on crash frequency and severity. Less is available on the "quality of life" impact as discussed above.

  There has been useful research on the causes of excess speed, (including useful recent research from the AA Foundation). While such research looks at aspects of road design and the attributes of various driver types (by age, gender, etc) which are correlated with anti social driver behaviour, there is a lack of analysis of the background cultural assumptions which legitimise aggressive or irresponsible driving. As these assumptions go deep, including the cultural meanings attached to various aspects of driver behaviour, and are transmitted and reinforced through everyday experience of the media (films, TV, newspapers, advertising, etc), any analysis that leaves such factors out of account will be less effective as a guide to remedial action.


  Better enforcement—enforcement is the clearest indication of the social unacceptability of speeding. However, enforcement is hampered by lack of public support (eg the perception that police should be catching "real criminals") and a perceived leniency in terms of sentencing by the courts. In this light, the use of "Driver Improvement Programmes" for convicted offenders has been shown to be helpful in raising awareness that speeding is not a trivial or victimless offence.

  Unfortunately, the soft line taken recently on speed camera signing and location has not been helpful. The lack of emphasis on traffic policing in the recent White Paper on policing has also sent out the wrong message.

  Road redesign and traffic calming—there is an unhelpful legacy here in as much as road design in the past has often encouraged speeding by making life easier for the driver (longer sight lines, removal of "aggressive" objects, roads designed to high speed specifications in areas where limits apply, etc). The recent emphasis on, for example, self enforcing 20 mph zones is helpful, but traffic calming can be a very expensive option. Recent increases in funding have been helpful, but the "rate of return" criteria can be a limiting influence, making it difficult to justify spending where fear of traffic, rather than a casualty record, is being addressed.

  Road reclassification—The AA Report (cited above) shows that, for many drivers, a perception of inconsistency in speed limits undermines their credibility and therefore the degree of compliance. A robust system of road classification could help in this regard, related to the range of uses of a particular road or street. Residential roads would therefore normally have a 20 mph speed limit, for example, on the clear principle that higher speeds would pose an unacceptable threat to vulnerable road users.

  Pedestrian barriers—such devices, while offering some protection for pedestrians send out the wrong signal. In a situation where vulnerable road users are threatened by motor vehicles, it seems absurd to place the restriction on the vulnerable, especially when we want to encourage more people to walk. A better policy would be to address the source of danger.

  Technology—the fact that a large proportion of drivers admit to regularly ignoring speed limits suggests that they feel themselves to be the best judges of what constitutes "appropriate speed". The correlation between speed and collisions shows this judgement to be flawed. Technology which takes the choice of whether to comply with limits away from the driver is both available and potentially very useful. Either through the use of roadside transponders or satellite technology, variable speed limiters on vehicles are probably the most likely means of eliminating excess speed as a social problem. They would need to be more sophisticated to eliminate the problem of inappropriate speed, but there is no reason in principle why this could not be done.

  Education—this is the key to the effectiveness of all the other approaches. Unless public perception about the impact on speeding is changed, lack of public support is likely to undermine strategies based on speed cameras, new speed limits, traffic calming and new technology.

  There is an apparent paradox here. Whilst a majority of drivers regularly break speed limits and there is considerable opposition from motorists and the media to the use of speed cameras and enforcement in general, the problem of traffic speed features highly in surveys of the public, particularly in the context of Crime and Disorder surveys or Safer Routes to School projects.

  What this suggests is that people perceive speed differently depending upon whether they identify themselves as a driver, a resident or a parent. In the B&NES area, this has become evident as we have worked more closely with the police to target areas for speed enforcement in response to resident's concerns. When police have carried out enforcement activity they usually find the majority of offenders are local residents. In other words, these communities are looking for the local authority to solve problems they are creating themselves.

  In response to this phenomenon, we recently piloted an approach whereby, in exchange for providing speed reduction measures the community was required to disseminate information about the impact of speeding, both in general and within the locality. Residents were also asked to sign a "no speeding pledge". We are still trialling this approach to see if it has any longer term impact.

  In general, education is the most appropriate means of challenging the cultural values and peer pressures which make speeding such a normal and accepted part of driver behaviour.

Are relevant bodies taking the right action?

  Local Authorities—there is a tendency to address speeding as a problem only where there is a proven speed related casualty record. This means that investment in remedial measures can be easily prioritised and justified. But is also shows the weakness of a casualty reduction approach, If our objective is to make roads safer for everyone, then remedial action can free up previously suppressed travel demands, encourage the greater use of sustainable modes and enable groups such as children and the elderly to have more equal access to amenities.

  An approach which targets road danger at source is likely to have a much broader impact and to address many policy objectives simultaneously. It would also address sites where speeding was perceived as a problem for local residents but there is no casualty record because people avoid it.

  Speed management strategies are a very useful means for local authorities to examine their approach to speeding problems and to develop a more consistent approach. The most effective strategies would be those which involve the wider community, including drivers, in its development and which disseminate the content and rationale as widely as possible.

  DTLR—recent policy developments such as Safer Routes to School, 20 mph zones and Home Zones have greatly increased the range of measures that local authorities can take to address speeding problems. However, the continuing emphasis on rates of return can still be an impediment as discussed above.

  Police/Home Office/Courts—it is important that there is consistency on the part of the various agencies of the state in respect of speeding. Whilst there is welcome emphasis on speed in the DTLR Road Safety Strategy, the watering down of the approach to speed cameras, together with the low profile given to traffic policing in recent policy statements, send mixed signals. Similarly, the lenient attitude in the courts towards speeding offences, even where these result in injury to third parties, serves to undermine the road safety strategy.

  Motor Manufacturers—whilst there has been a move in recent years to increase the crashworthiness of vehicles through in-car safety aids, this has proved to be a mixed blessing as it protects drivers against some of the consequences of their own folly. These innovations do nothing to decrease the risk to vulnerable road users and may even encourage drivers to drive faster (as in "it's OK, I've got ABS"), therefore increasing the risk to those outside the vehicle.

  Variable speed limits and perhaps black box technology to establish driver behaviour in the lead up to a crash, would help ameliorate the negative effects of in-car safety measures.

  Above all, if we are serious about speed, why are manufacturers allowed to produce vehicles with top speed and acceleration performances far above the level needed to carry out their function?

  National Press/TV—The recent largely negative response on the part of the press to speed cameras demonstrates the danger of not challenging the consensus. The newspapers believe themselves to be representing the common sense assumptions of their readers. This relates to the point made earlier about the need to address the widespread cultural consensus, which requires the political will to persuade, and if necessary take on, the motorist lobby.

  Advertisers—Whilst references to speed as an overt selling point for vehicles has declined in recent years, it is often still there in a more subtle form. References to speed are generally subsumed under references to performance. In some cases, such as with Volvo fairly recently, clear references to speed still emerge. The problem is not helped by the process whereby complaints against adverts can only be acted upon once the campaign is underway and the damage has already been done.

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