Memorandum by The Automobile Association
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED
The wrong speed on the wrong road kills around
1,000 people a year. We need to manage speed better. The key lies
in defining the right speed limit for each stretch of road. There
must be a system that people understand and "buy into"
because they know it reduces death and injury. The clear safety
message with universal appeal must not be diluted.
The AA represents people who are responsible
motorists and for more than 90 years road safety has been at the
heart of AA policy.
Few people in the United Kingdom do not have
a view about speed. Many feel that vehicles travel too fast, particularly
past their homes and the places they use for their leisure. Others
feel that many of the speed restrictions applied to our roads
are unrealistic, unnecessary and improperly enforced. Some quite
openly fall into both camps.
AA views are based on extensive research, most
particularly the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research report
What limits speed? Factors that affect how fast we drive. Publication
of an interim report was brought forward to July 1999 to assist
the government's speed review. In its research the AA looks at
the views of people who drive, not people as drivers. In addition,
the views of people who write, e-mail or telephone us are taken
The single most important point the AA makes
is that any changes to the way speed is handled have to win the
support of the driver. There is every likelihood that measures
that drivers can understand, and that they consider are reasonable,
will be respected. Changes must be communicated carefully: many
people still need to be convinced that the present arrangements
2. SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
2.1.1 The role of illegal and inappropriate speed
in respect of causing crashes, and the severity of accidents;
It is likely that the role of speed in accidents
will always be a moot point. Much of this will be because of the
different methodologies used in accident studies.
Perhaps the best methodology used to date has
been that developed in the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research
Report Urban accidents: why do they happen? This is best
explained in the following table analysing a fictitious accident
where a driver hit a telegraph pole.
|1||The immediate failure that precipitated the
|Loss of control|
|2||A failure that increased the likelihood of the accident|
|Driving too fast for the situation
|3||The road user behaviour or lack of skill that led to|
|Lack of motor skillsbraking.|
Lack of motor skillssteering.
Lack of judgement speed/distance
|4||The explanation for the failure or behaviour
Poorly positioned street furniture
As one third of driver faults at level 2 involve driving
too fast for the situation it seems reasonable to consider that
this can be applied to all accidentssuggesting that one
in three have speed as a contributory factor. Unfortunately, many
different methods are used to determine causation, and it could
be considered reasonable for any of the factors in the examples
column to be deemed the "cause" of this accident. In
all the Foundation methodology allowed 137 individual factors.
While it can be argued that speed is a significant contributory
factor in around one third of all deaths and serious injuries
other factors will determine whether someone is killed or seriously
injured, in particular the EuroNCAP crash rating of the car and
the crash protection features of the road. This is discussed further
later in this memorandum.
2.1.2 The role of illegal and inappropriate speed in respect
of reducing the quality of life in urban areas.
Conventional wisdom is that traffic speeds affect quality
of life in urban areas. It is a major concern of residentsespecially
in areas with little or no crime. There is much research showing
that those in deprived areas (and particularly children) suffer
more road accidents than those in more affluent areas. It is an
important issue of public policy whether scarce road safety resources
should be allocated to areas where they counter quality of life
issues for the articulate and politically active, rather than
prevent accidents to the socially deprived.
It is also difficult to assess the way vehicle speed affects
quality of life. It may be that people drive their children to
school (possibly exceeding the speed limit in doing so) because
they feel that the average speed of traffic on the route is too
high. But it is possibly because they are scared of the occasional
vehicle that travels at ridiculous speed while being driven in
an outrageous manner. Similarly it may be because of fears raised
by the behaviour of motorists in general on all types of road.
Recent DTLR research has shown that 20 mph limits do not increase
the number of pedestrians and cyclists even though the residents
claim lifestyle improvements.
2.1.3 The consequences of illegal and inappropriate speed
for urban design.
For more than 25 years new residential areas have been designed
for a mix of car, pedestrian and cycle use, and for slow speeds.
Road hierarchies have been a fundamental part of this design conceptaccess
roads servicing individual homes and local distributor roads with
no housing frontage and with higher vehicle design speeds.
These design principles have been successfully applied in
other European countries to older residential areas. The character
and environment of the roads have been physically changed to make
speeding difficult and uncomfortable. In the UK, however, the
focus for "traffic calming" has been to achieve reduced
speed through cheap physical measures such as road humps and chicanes.
These are very often unpopular with both local residents and drivers
from outside the area and they do not enhance the character and
environment of the area.
The UK policy on traffic calming and 20 mph zones needs to
be reviewed and new funding and guidelines developed to both reduce
vehicle speeds on roads which are purely residential and to improve
the local environment, all as part of urban regeneration. The
techniques and skills are already available, all that is needed
is a change in policy, good guidance and funding.
2.1.4 Rural Roads
It must not be forgotten that speed affects rural roads too.
Although serious and slight casualties continue to be dominated
by those on urban roads, more people, and particularly more car
occupants die on rural roads. Rural communities also suffer from
reduced quality of life due to traffic, even though they may be
wholly car dependent themselves. It is an area of concern that
the public still sees speed as an urban problem and one that is
concentrated around schools. This is not the case, but to many
perception is reality.
The developing European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP)
rates roads outside built up areas for the risk of traffic accidents
that cause death or injury. It also highlights improvements that
could be made to the road to reduce the likelihood of an accident
or make those that do happen survivable. The system looks at roads
in two ways. Firstly it looks at the historic data showing the
death and injury rates on individual roads while secondly looking
at the levels of protection offered to road users by roads. This
data can be used to select appropriate speed limits for roads
taking the historical casualty record and the protection afforded
by road design into account.
2.2 The availability and reliability of research on the
consequences of, and reasons for, illegal and inappropriate speed,
and in particular, the reasons for the very high pedestrian casualty
Generally the research into the consequences of illegal and
inappropriate speed is available and sound. Research into the
reasons for speeding is less common, and in many ways the work
carried out by Ross Silcock Limited on behalf of the AA Foundation
for Road Safety ResearchWhat limits speed? is unique and
There seem to be two groups of speeders: those who do so
within what they may claim are accepted social norms; and those
who do so extravagantly to seek thrills, to take risks or to show
The majority of drivers fall within the first group and is
well explained by Ross Silcock. They drive at what they see as
a safe speed for the road:
their decision to do this is based on a complete
failure to understand the peculiarities of the UK speed limit
they cannot see why almost identical roads have
different speed limits;
they may well not know the national speed limits
(some 50 per cent of drivers think the speed limit for a single
carriageway is 50 and a dual carriageway 60);
many of them think that motorways are the most
dangerous roads, yet they see the limit there ignored by both
drivers and the police;
they almost certainly fail to understand the links
between street lighting and 30 mph limits, and struggle to understand
other areas of signing procedure.
Most of these drivers would probably support measures against
speeding on roads near their homes.
The second groupthe recklesshas to be tackled
by enforcement and by punishment, and in the longer term by attitude
change. Like the hard core of drink drivers they will not be influenced
by advertisement, they believe that their driving is not made
riskier by speed and they think that they will not be caught.
It is quite likely that they also share with hard core drink-drivers
a disregard for the law in general. This group which constitutes
a smaller proportion of speeding has attracted less attention
in the media or in enforcement targeting.
The AA believes that all drivers bear a responsibility to
other road users, particularly in respect of speed and on urban
roads. But it is incorrect to blame speed for all pedestrian accidents.
There are many other factors involved, not least the masking of
pedestrians from drivers (and vice versa) by parked cars, the
role of residential streets as important routes, the age and road
layout of many of our inner city areas, and social deprivation
in many of the older urban areas.
Additionally it must be remembered that nearly 40 per cent
of adult pedestrians killed are over the legal alcohol limit for
drivers, and that the training of pedestrians has a role to play.
Child pedestrians need to learn how to deal with roads, and elderly
peoplethemselves a significant proportion of casualtiescan
also benefit from learning how to cope with their limitations.
Most sites with accident records have now been modified to
improve safety and the emphasis has now moved to areas being tackled
to stop almost randomly occurring accidents, and the role of each
of the factors mentioned earlier in this paragraph has to be considered.
Each of them provides its own challenge.
Possibly the most important research findings on pedestrian
accidents is the link between deprivation and accidents. Ethnic
minority groups are over represented in accidents. It is important
that these areas, which are not necessarily the most politically
influential or vocal, are those treated.
2.3 The extent to which the problems associated with speed
should be tackled by the following and what specific policies
should be implemented
2.3.1 Better enforcement
Enforcement is crucial to preventing speed-related accidents.
It should be aimed to deter speeding where speed causes accidents,
rather than to maximise the numbers caught speeding those who
speed. The whole focus of speed enforcement should be to reduce
death and serious injury and so help achieved the 2010 target.
Cameras must not be deployed in a way that the enforcement
of speed limits is perceived to be for revenue raising rather
than casualty reduction. It is to be regretted that many drivers
now perceive that cameras are there to raise money. The decision
to require cameras to be visible is a vital step in changing this
perception but the change will take time to achieve.
The enforcement practice on motorways must not change without
a further review of the speed limit.
2.3.2 Road re-design and traffic calming;
Where the use of the road permits, lower speed limits can
reduce casualties and improve the quality of lifebut mandatory
20 mph limits should be self-enforcing through investment in the
streetscape, as set out in para 2.1.3.
2.3.3 Road re-classification;
Road hierarchies should be more clearly defined, and linked
to how a road is usedas a through route, a local distributor,
a residential access road, and so on.
The aim should be to raise the design standards of a road
to meet its place in the hierarchy, and not to lower the road's
classification in the hierarchy to meet its design shortcomings.
Changes to the road classification must not provide a "bolt
hole" for authorities with poor standard roads to simply
make unreasonable speed limits that drivers won't obey and that
the police will find it hard to enforce.
As an example, the goal should be that strategic roads should
be subject to the national speed limit when away from settlements,
and by-pass those settlements where substantial lengths of low
speed limit road become necessary. Limits of less than 50 on these
roads should be looked upon as a departure from the expectation
of users and should over time be minimised, if not eliminated.
Similar goals should be applied to other road groups.
It is also important that the classification of roads can
evolve to take advantage of developments in road assessment. The
European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) which is currently
being developed will produce new techniques for assessing the
safety of roads and the speeds appropriate to them that can in
future have wider applications. It would be unfortunate if these
new techniques either could not be used because of any new classification
system, or required the development and introduction of a totally
new system. The EuroRAP framework is very advanced in its development
and could well be adapted for speed limit purposes.
2.3.4 Physical measures to separate pedestrians and cars (e.g
These should be encouraged on heavily trafficked major roads
or very major pedestrian routes. In most other places barriers
can only be used to prevent road crossing at very inappropriate
places. Street design should allow for safe use of residential
and shopping roads by pedestrians and cars without the need for
2.3.5 Technology (eg through Intelligent Speed Adaptation
and car designs which promote pedestrian protection);
Innovative approaches to speed limit signing, variable speed
limits, and helping the driver adopt the right speed for the road
should be researched and developed.
The AA supports the Government's programme of researching
and developing intelligent speed adaptation. It has much to offer,
but should not be introduced in mandatory form. It should develop
from being a voluntary aid to ensure acceptance and technical
dependability before it can be proposed in a mandatory form.
2.3.6 Education to improve drivers' and motor cyclists' behaviour
and pedestrian and cyclist awareness;
There is always a role for education in these areas, be it
for drivers or pedestrians.
But an education-based approach is not likely to achieve
much until all drivers understand the speed limit system. It is
little use educating them in the dangers of speed and speeding
while the basic system is inconsistent (possibly even with the
training) and incomprehensible to many.
2.3.7 Changes to speed limits;
All speed limits should be reviewed in a formal programme
with a timetable and budget. Getting the right speed on the right
road is the single most pressing road safety issuethe benefits
of a review are more than proportionate to the costs:
Speed limits should be reconciled to the character
of the road (and vice versa).
Where the character of the road and the speed
limit must be at odds, there must be an explanation of why the
limit is what it is (eg. "deceptive bends").
The link between the 30 mph limit and streetlights
should endit is not understood by most drivers and it can
be confusing to many in understanding what the current speed limit
Repeater signs should be permitted where it is
not obvious that the speed limit is 30 mph. Improved signing should
be a precursor of automatic camera enforcement.
The "derestricted" sign should go and
be replaced with the speed limit in force.
The National maximum speed limits should be retained
at their present levels.
Authorities must implement speed limits that respect
the integrity required of a national system. If they set speed
limits too low and ignore police objections, they undermine motorists'
Formal quality assurance processes, including
audit, should be applied to all speed limits.
2.4 The extent to which relevant bodies are taking the
2.4.1 Whether local authorities DTLR, the Highways Agency,
the police and Home Office are providing a co-ordinated approach
to speed management, and what they should do.
By and large there are improvements in this area. However,
many of the points highlighted in 2.3.7 above have yet to achieve
the prominence they deserve. Particularly important in this is
the effective signing of limits. Nobody should be unaware they
are committing an offence.
2.4.2 Whether the sentences imposed by magistrates and judges
on those convicted of speeding offences have in all cases been
appropriate and what other approaches ought to be considered.
It is difficult to answer this question on the basis of
informed understanding. There is a huge difference between "error"
or "misjudgement" speeding and deliberate or foolhardy
or reckless speeding. This was to some extent accepted in the
Home Office consultation on penalties. Unfortunately, distinction
cannot be made on recorded speed alonethere is a great
difference between a driver doing 60 mph early in a 30 mph limit
because he has missed a sign, and one wilfully exceeding an urban
limit by the same margin. The key is to ensure that every speed
limit is properly signed so that there can be no misunderstanding.
2.4.3 Whether motor manufacturers, the national press, TV
programmes about motoring and advertisers have shown an appropriate
attitude to speed, and how they should change.
Research by the AA nine years ago suggested that around 15
per cent of car advertising was inappropriate to the then guidance
of the Advertising Standards Authority on car advertising. As
a result of the work the ASA introduced a car specific code, similar
to those developed by the Independent Television Commission. The
AA is not aware of any recent research on car advertising and
its effect on behaviour.
2.4.4 The role of speed management strategies
We need to manage speed better. The key lies in defining
the right speed limit for each stretch of road. There must be
a system that people understand and "buy into" because
they know it reduces death and injury. The clear safety message
with universal appeal must not be diluted, particularly by introducing
arguments about emissions that are not well understood and accepted.