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

Memorandum by Birmingham City Council (RTS 42)


  Birmingham City Council welcomes the decision by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee to hold an inquiry into speed, and the opportunity to contribute towards the inquiry. The points which we wish to raise are prefaced by the following observations.

  Birmingham, like other major cities, has good cause to be concerned about speeding. Based upon the estimate that speed is a major factor in around one third of all accidents, this would account for around, 1,500 injury accidents in Birmingham each year. In addition to the suffering and grief resulting from the deaths and injuries sustained in traffic accidents, these accidents also represent a drain on our community, for example:

    —  time spent by the Police attending traffic accidents, preparing reports, and at inquests and other court proceedings.

    —  the demands on the Ambulance Service and hospitals. Traffic accident casualties make significant demands on health service resources, not only immediately following an accident, but also as a result of long term disabilities (research has shown that over 25 per cent of hospital in-patients resulting from traffic accidents suffered some form of permanent disability).

    —  the costs and time involved in repairing damage to street furniture, vehicles and property.

    —  the lost out-put as a result of injuries sustained.

  (The "value of prevention" of these accidents is calculated as being in excess of £60 million, using the DTLR accident values. This rises to nearly £95 million if an allowance is made for damage only accidents).

  Not surprisingly, concern about speeding remains an important local issue. The City Council continues to receive a large correspondence from its residents about speeding traffic and the implications for actual and perceived safety. This includes many more requests for traffic calming measures than we have the resources to provide.

  Speeding is also damaging to other aims we have for the city, which are shared by the Government. For example, we are keen to encourage walking and cycling, for reasons of sustainability, improved health, reduced pollution, and reduced congestion. However, research undertaken for the Government shows that in urban areas, pedestrians and cyclists are the majority of speed casualties. This is apart from the deterrent effect to these activities from the presence of speeding traffic. Speeding traffic is also seen as a specific obstacle to the regeneration of communities, by discouraging walking, and more generally detracting from the quality of life.

  Finally, we would draw attention to the fact that if drivers were to travel at speeds appropriate to the location in which they are travelling, then the significant amount of resources spent in Birmingham on traffic calming and other road safety measures specifically aimed at speeding could be used for other purposes.


  Speeding, as a problem, has been around for some considerable time, and has been the subject of much discussion. The City Council welcomes the more recent work undertaken by the Government into speed management, in particular the input within the Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010 "Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone", and in the review of policy "New Directions in Speed Management", and now through the Netting Off initiative for the recovery of costs associated with speed and red-light enforcement cameras. It should be acknowledged that there has been a considerable advance in the body of knowledge on this issue.

  Whilst this is resulting in more direct action, we consider that there are some specific aspects where further consideration would be worthwhile, and we would wish to raise the following points:


  We would ask the Committee to give serious consideration to the merits of introducing national, mandatory 20 mph limits, or less, for certain categories of urban road, on the basis that higher speeds on such roads are no longer appropriate (if they ever were). We have in mind residential roads (residential roads in this context are seen as cul-de-sacs and minor residential roads, not local distributors bordered by housing). The aim would be:

    (a)  to improve the actual safety of all road users.

    (b)  to improve the quality of the living environment for local people, by improving the perception of safety and reducing the feeling of intrusion of the motor vehicle, leading to increased walking and cycling. This is seen as particularly important to the regeneration of local communities, and forms part of the initiative to give roads back to the people.

  We recognise that this proposal could meet with the following objections:

    (1)  Existing measures such as Home Zones and traffic calming measures can be used in such locations to achieve lower speeds.

    (2)  This proposal does not accord with the Government's stated view in the road safety strategy, which proposes only selective use of 20 mph limits. Section 6.25 expresses concern that a wide spread use of lower speed limits would have a negative effect on air quality.

    (3)  The Police have made it known that they are not able to enforce such speed limits.

  Our responses to these points are as follows:

    (1)  Home Zones and traffic calming measures are a valuable tool with which to tackle speeding problems, however, the level of resources required for their use in all such areas within Birmingham would be prohibitive.

    (2)  We share the Government's concern regarding air quality but would suggest that changes to vehicle and engine design, and engine management and gearing systems could be introduced enabling vehicles to travel more efficiently and "naturally" at 19 mph and 28 mph. Indeed, the motor industry should be encouraged to introduce such changes. After all, such developments are likely to follow if intelligent speed limiters are introduced to all vehicles.

    (3)  We do not consider that Police resourcing problems should form an obstacle to the introduction of lower speed limits. Indeed, it re-enforces the importance of the early introduction of vehicle speed limiters for speed management on such residential roads. Research undertaken for the Government confirms that there is significant potential for casualty reductions. Findings suggest collisions could drop by 20 per cent if all vehicles kept within present speed limits. We would wish to be assured that they can be used safely and reliably, and cannot readily be de-activated by anti-social drivers. However, subject to these points, intelligent speed limiters would seem to offer a significant opportunity for speed management in the future, particularly in urban areas, and would be welcomed accordingly. Whilst there is someway to go before they can be introduced, we would strongly suggest to the inquiry that consideration be given to the adoption of a formal timetable for their introduction. This would both help local authorities to take this into their longer term planning, and would help to focus the Government and the motor industry.

  For the interim, we would ask the Committee to consider whether the introduction of mandatory 20 mph limits for residential roads is the sort of bold measure which is now required if we are to achieve a step change in the attitude to speed in general, and in speed management in urban residential areas in particular. Carried out at a national level and accompanied by widespread publicity and education, such a step would serve at the very least to make a "statement" of intent. However, there is evidence from research undertaken in Scotland that some real changes in driver speeds could be expected (although the extent may necessarily be difficult to predict).


  Awareness by drivers in urban areas of the specific speed limit of the road on which they are travelling does not appear to be high (if driving behaviour is anything to go by). The regulations governing road signs and markings do not allow much flexibility to local highway authorities to provide physical reminders in the form of signs and markings, in particular for the 30 mph speed limit.

  We would ask the Committee to consider the relaxation of these regulations, thus enabling highway authorities to provide reminders, either temporary or permanent, to drivers of the maximum speed at which they should be travelling. This might include a sign similar to the "RAPPEL" sign used on signs in France to remind drivers.

  I hope these comments form a useful contribution to the Inquiry, and look forward to the publication of the findings of the Committee.

Councillor Stewart Stacey

Cabinet Member—Transportation, Street Services & Sustainability

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