Memorandum by The Traffic and Children
Coalition (RTS 47)
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
The Traffic and Children Coalition is a new
alliance of charities concerned about the impact of traffic on
children. Its members are the Child Accident Prevention Trust,
the Child Poverty Action Group, the Children's Play Council, the
National Children's Bureau, the National Family and Parenting
Institute, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Children, RoadPeace (the National Charity for Road Traffic
Victims) and Sustrans (Safe Routes to School). The Coalition aims
to ensure that children's views and needs are properly recognised
in transport policy.
The Traffic and Children Coalition welcomes
the opportunity to give a submission to this new inquiry into
the nature and effects of illegal and inappropriate road traffic
speed in the United Kingdom. Our submission focuses on the impact
of inappropriate and illegal speed on children, and on the key
measures needed to tackle the problem.
There is overwhelming evidence that children
suffer greatly from speednot just as the victims of road
crashes, but also through loss of freedom and independent mobility.
But there is also strong evidence about the ways forward, namely
measures to reduce speeds in areas where children live. Hence
our key recommendation is for well enforced 20 mph speed limits
around all schools and parks as the first step in making villages,
towns and cities safer and healthier for children.
2. THE PROBLEM
We do not think that we can set out the problems
more clearly than Professor Sian Griffiths OBE, President of the
Faculty of Public Health Medicine, in her recent open letter to
the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the
Our response draws extensively on Prof Griffiths' letter, quoted
in indented paragraphs throughout this submission.
2.1 Excessive speed is a major cause of deaths
and injuries, especially in children
"Speeding is dangerous for the driver (for
whom it is a self-imposed risk), passengers and other motorists,
but it is especially dangerous for vulnerable road users such
as cyclists and pedestrians, particularly children and older people."
According to the Government, inappropriate and
excessive speed on the roads account for 1,200 deaths a year and
over 100,000 injuries. It is also recognised that speed is a major
contributor to road crashes.
"Trauma is the most common cause of death
among children, and road traffic injuries account for half of
these. Two thirds of deaths and serious injuries among children
involve child pedestrians injured in road crashes."
The massive impact of road casualties on children,
families and costs to society as well as the lack of support systems
to deal with the consequences have been described in many studies.
The number of children killed and seriously injured in car crashes
is many times higher than the number harmed by strangers, another
child safety issue of major public concern. It is our view that
in relation to strangers, the key issue is the perceived fear
of abduction or assault, not the actual level of risk (which is
extremely low). This is tackled in large part by persuading more
people to share the streets, through a reduction in the overall
level of environmental danger. Reducing traffic speeds clearly
has a key role to play in this.
However, the situation is almost certainly much
worse than officially reported. It is generally accepted that
there is significant under reporting of serious and slight injuries
as many road traffic incidents are not reported to the police.,
There is also evidence of injury severity misclassification by
the police within reported casualties. Finally, reporting rules
ensure that anyone dying more than 30 days after a collision is
classified as seriously injured. A major national study comparing
hospital and police casualty data indicated that "to take
account of the differences between police and hospital recorded
data, it was estimated that the number of seriously injured casualties
in national casualty data should be increased by a factor of 2.76
and the number of slight casualties should be increased by 1.70".
"The death rate from road traffic injuries
for children in the UK is twice the European average. Most of
these injuries occur in urban areas".
Government research shows that lack of speed
restrictions, rather than increased exposure to traffic, accounts
for the excess deaths among child pedestrians in the UK compared
with other European countries such as France and the Netherlands.
Some key findings indicate that child pedestrian casualties peak
at about the age of 12 and child cyclist casualties at about the
age of 14. For this particular group, exposure levels may have
changed little over decades and it has been shown that the risk
of being killed nearly doubled between 1955 and 1987.
Overall, nearly a fifth of these casualties happen on the school
journey, but this proportion increases for secondary school aged
children. It also appears that children in Britain spend more
time near or crossing major roads, wide roads, roads with higher
traffic flows and roads of higher speeds. In Britain fewer crossings
are made using marked crossings than in France and the Netherlands.
In addition, traffic calming and special measures to slow traffic
are more common in the Netherlands.
Their current goal is to have 50 per cent of all potential living
zones with a 30 km/hr speed limit by 2002.
"Even apparently low levels of speeding
pose significant risks. For each 1 per cent increase in speed
there is a 5 per cent increase in mortality; in many urban and
residential situations travelling at the legal speed limit may
be too fast".
2.2 The adverse health impacts of speeding
extend far beyond deaths and injuries
"The commonly held view among some members
of the public, and especially among lobbying groups for motorists
(is) that traffic speed is only a problem if someone gets killed
or seriously injured. In contrast, we take the view that excess
traffic speed has many adverse health effects and that a more
holistic approach that promotes safer driving and reduces the
social acceptability of driving at excessive speed is needed.
Road traffic injuries are, however, only one manifestation of
the health impacts of excessive speed. Fast traffic on busy roads
impairs pedestrian and cyclist access to goods and services, and
leads to community severance. Access is a particular problem for
those with impaired mobility, such as the elderly and people with
A major deterioration in children's quality
of life has been the increasing loss of their independent mobility
with many harmful consequences on their development, as highlighted
in Mayer Hillman et al's classic "One False Move" study.
"Social support networks have a positive
protective effect on both physical and mental health, and low
levels of social support are strongly associated with excess premature
mortality. Excess speed, especially when associated with late
braking, increases local air pollution and noise levels with potential
adverse effects on respiratory, cardiac and mental health".
2.3 Physical inactivity is a major public
"Across the United Kingdom physical inactivity
now has a greater absolute effect on levels of coronary heart
disease than smoking, and the problem is increasing, with dramatic
increases in overweight and obesity; this is particularly worrying
among children. One of the main reasons for reduced activity levels
is the decline of walking and cycling resulting from perceptions
of danger from fast traffic".
Studies of children's changing travel patterns
have shown that in 1990 only 7 per cent of seven year olds went
to school alone and 47 per cent were taken by car, compared to
1971 when 72 per cent of seven year olds travelled to school unaccompanied
(ibid). The latest National Travel Survey data reveals that walking
to school among 5-10 year olds between 1985-86 and 1998-2000 has
reduced from 67 per cent to 56 per cent respectively. Such a reduction
in routine physical activity is reflected in a marked decline
in fitness and increase in overweight and obesity. In England
between 1984 and 1994 overweight among primary children increased
from 5.4 to 9 per cent among boys and from 9.3 to 13.5 per cent.
2.4 Speeding causes health inequalities and
"Speeding contributes to some of the biggest
health inequalities in the United Kingdom, particularly in relation
to child pedestrian deaths. The Chief Medical Officer has highlighted
health inequalities as one of the main themes of his Annual Report.
Tackling the problems suffered by disadvantaged people as a result
of excess speed and traffic will make a major contribution to
meeting the inequalities targets and creating a more equitable
society. Children in social class V are four times more likely
to die from road crashes than those in social class I; this gap
The 1998 Acheson Report into health inequalities
made a specific recommendation for measures to reduce speed. Levels
of exposure are greater for children in low income families. It
was found that they cross more roads
and are more likely to be unaccompanied.
A very recent study by the Guild of Experienced Motorists indicates
that in the Edinburgh and Lothian region of Scotland youngsters
from the poorest districts were almost eight times as likely to
be knocked down as those from richer areas. As a result, another
study will be conducted to map road incidents and deprivation
across the whole of Britain.
Furthermore, research also shows that in the UK children of Asian
ethnic origin are more at risk, and it is assumed that this may
be the case for other ethnic groups although no data is available.
"People living in deprived areas are the
most likely to suffer the adverse health effects of traffic, such
as deaths and injuries, respiratory problems from air pollution,
stress from noise pollution, and community severance. These problems
are all made worse by excessive speed. People without access to
cars, especially children, mothers of young children, and those
who are unemployed, and older people, are particularly affected".
2.5 Many Families are living in fear
The present traffic conditions are a major cause
of concern not only for the public at large and many parents but
also for children themselves with adverse effects on mental health
Crime and Disorder Strategies have highlighted
strong community concerns about road danger and speeding traffic.
A review conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers
revealed that, when audits asked local people about road safety,
86 per cent of partnership areas rate it as an issue of concern
to rank alongside burglaries and muggings. Research by the North
Yorkshire Constabulary also found that of the 6,747 people who
answered the question "Do you feel your neighbourhood is
a safe place for children?" 41 per cent said "No",
and of those who said "No" 81 per cent stated that this
was due to speeding or other road safety reasons.
These are indications that speeding is not just perceived as anti-social
but a crime. Adults themselves find it difficult to cope and put
up with such high levels of road danger. Parental fears fully
A 1992 report for the Transport Research Laboratory
commented on the threat to pedestrians of narrow pavements; speeding
traffic, vehicles ignoring red traffic lights, rarely stopping
at pedestrian crossings, and going onto the pavement; and of the
hazard to cyclists of speeding traffic. In the three areas of
London studied, between one-third and half of comments by respondents
concerned perceived risk, particularly for children and the elderly.
In 2001, CAPT surveyed a representative sample
of parents of children aged 7-14 about their views and concerns
on outdoor play.
38 per cent did not let their children play outside on their own.
When asked why, 44 per cent of these cited traffic worriessecond
only to fear of strangers (73 per cent). 72 per cent of the total
sample supported 20 mph zones in residential areas to improve
child safety. In Spring 2001, the Children's Play Council and
the Children's Society surveyed 800 children aged 4-16 attending
holiday playschemes about their outdoor play.
Over 60 per cent were worried about playing out of doors. Nearly
one in six (17 per cent) cited danger from traffic as the main
factor stopping them from playing where they wanted toin
their list of concerns, second only to bullying (25 per cent)
and ahead of their parents' fears about strangers (15 per cent).
Previous research from work carried out in Birmingham with 9-11
and 13-14 years old also found that children themselves perceive
that their ability to lead healthy lives was significantly constrained
due to fear of traffic, with serious implications on local travel
choices and play.
Such findings indicate that road danger and speeding, whether
casualties have occurred nor not, have serious detrimental effects
on individuals and communities as a whole. They see their rights
to exercise freedom of choices and movement curtailed and there
is a strong sense that the current environment is far too hostile.
3. WHAT IS
3.1 A change of attitude: Stop blaming the
In his paper on "Independent mobility and
children's rights" Martin Rosenbaum suggested that in the
narrower area of children and road safety two principles should
The first is not just to blame the victim. He reported that according
to a study of road incidents involving young pedestrians in Birmingham,
it was estimated that drivers were exceeding the speed limit in
46 per cent of 50 fatal incidents which occurred in 1983-88. The
author of the report pointed out however that the child pedestrian
is normally blamed for a road incident by the police and others.
He says ". . . those who report accidents on society's behalf
(the police) usually see young pedestrians as mainly "at
fault", as indeed does society itself . . . Society does
not seem to be very critical of the conduct of drivers and so,
when an accident occurs, unless the behaviour of the driver is
atypical and extreme, it is the typical and often childlike behaviour
of the young pedestrian where blame is directed". Blaming
children for their own deaths has also been shown in the way inquests
presume in favour of the motorists.
A 1998 report from the Environmental Law Foundation called for
changes to the law to protect vulnerable road users.
Rosenbaum's second principle is "not just
to make the potential victims even more terrified of the threat
. . . although this fear has a rational basis. Road traffic is
extremely dangerous for children . . . But the aim of policy should
be to reduce the dangers which underlie the fear, not treat them
as normal and inevitable".
Mayer Hillman put the present dilemma very clearly:
"In terms of children's quality of life as it is affected
by the rising volume and speed of traffic, there appear to be
two alternative responses: either we can continue to withdraw
children from the growing threat that is posed, and inculcate
fear in parents and children about the risks, or we can withdraw
that threat from the children by `taming' traffic."
3.2 A first step: introduce well-enforced
20 mph speed limits around all schools and parks
In the face of this major public health crisis
with drastic consequences on the life expectancy and quality of
life of children, the Traffic and Children Coalition takes the
view that there is a very strong case for more widespread lower
speed limits in the areas where children live and travel. As a
first step we recommend the adoption of well-enforced 20 mph speed
limits around all schools, parks and other public open spaces
where children play. Effective 20 mph limits are very successful
in reducing casualties. There is also evidence, particularly based
on experience from elsewhere in Europe, that they play a positive
role in improving mobility and quality of life. The measure should
also achieve strong public support based on the findings of opinion
polls and attitude surveys.
There is a wealth of evidence that lower speeds
and 20 mph zones can benefit vulnerable road users with respect
to casualty and speed reduction. A TRL review from 250 zones in
England, Wales and Scotland
shows that average speeds had fallen by 9 mph; the annual total
of crashes fell by 60 per cent, the number of crashes involving
children fell by 67 per cent and crashes involving cyclists fell
by 29 per cent within five years. The 20 mph zones programme launched
by Kingston Upon Hull has been particularly successful, notably
in 13 zones where the total number of crashes has fallen by 56
per cent while the number of people killed and seriously injured
has fallen by 90 per cent within about four years. Feedback after
of lower speeds has been positive and there were
over 70 petitions for traffic calming, as well as three requests
for home zones (one from an existing 20 mph zone). The Scottish
Trial Programme of advisory 20 mph speed limits shows that even
"signs only" measures have been successful in bringing
or keeping average speed under 20 mph. However, it is generally
recognised that to be more effective, 20 mph speed limits have
to be well enforced.
The experience from Buxtehude in Germany not
only shows a reduction in casualties (by 60 per cent) but comprehensive
traffic taming measures also led to increases in pedestrian and
cycle traffic in the areas of 17 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.
In Austria, in the City of Graz as part of a wider integrated
transport programme, substantial safety and environment benefits
The report that describes this case study, funded by the Commission
for Integrated Transport, singles out area-wide coverage of 20
mph speed limits as a key best practice lesson from other European
A recent report93 which examined the effects
of six 20 mph zones in NW England showed that the zones had a
positive effect upon the environment, though there is less evidence
of an effect upon walking, cycling and street activity. The quality
of life appears to have slightly improved and residents generally
liked the zone measures. The zones were generally standard in
terms of the measures used but better results were found where
high quality measures were used.
In the zones where a speed of 20 mph was achieved
residents were happier. A high proportion also supported the idea
of speed limit of 10 mph in their area. The study concluded that
the introduction of 20 mph zones on their own may not be enough
to encourage walking and cycling, and that to instil confidence
to undertake such activities a further reduced speed limit or
reallocation of road space may be necessary to create a safer
environment. However research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
in 1996 does provide some evidence of an impact on child mobility.
It was found that estates with traffic calming and good space
in the front street gave the best environment for promoting children's
independent outdoor activity. Where estates had these features,
nearly one child in four engaged in all kinds of healthy activitiesthree
times the level in poorly designed estates
There are reasons to believe that there could
be widespread support from the public at large for 20 mph speed
limits. A recent opinion poll by MORI
for the Commission for Integrated Transport found that 68 per
cent of those questioned would like to see traffic calming measures
in residential areas compared to 19 per cent who opposed this.
Another survey in London
shows that 56 per cent of people would support the Mayor "imposing
a 20 mph speed limit on London streets", while 38 per cent
would oppose such an action.
There is huge irony in the fact that due to
traffic danger, to which speed is an integral element, the section
of the population most eager to travel by environmentally sustainable
and health-promoting modes of travel is restricted from doing
so. This is evidenced by the high demand for cycling and walking
among school children surveyed for safe routes to schools surveys.
Government has it in its power to achieve health, environment,
and transport policy goals by reducing the dangers posed to children
and young people through policy change and concomitant resourcing
to alter the traffic environment in favour of children. Their
needs and expectations and those of the local community should
be of paramount importance, rather than those of passing motorists.
Our submission singles out the introduction
of well-enforced 20 mph speed limits around schools and parks
across the country as a major step to protect children and improve
their environment. This is not to ignore other measures which
may also play an important part in redressing the balance on our
streets in favour of children. But in our view the evidence and
arguments in favour of this measure are so strong that its complete
omission from any government strategy is all the more striking.
If the Committee were to add its weight to the growing call for
action, the benefits for children now and in the future could
The Traffic and Children Coalition is grateful
to the following for their help in preparing this response:
Professor Sian Griffiths OBE; Dr Maggie Barker;
Dr Adrian Davis; Paige Mitchell; Dr Ian Roberts; Lynn Sloman;
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