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

Memorandum by Brake (RTS 50)



  Brake is the national, not-for-profit road safety organisation, dedicated to stopping deaths and injuries on roads and to caring for people bereaved and affected by road crashes.

  As part of its work, Brake has carried out research into the nature and effects of illegal and inappropriate road traffic speed. This includes background research for publicity and promotional work as well as original research into public attitudes towards speed. Brake's most recent report, Slow Down, which investigates the excuses drivers give for speeding and recommendations for action on the problem, is being published in January 2002.

  Brake uses this research to produce information on speed for policy makers, members of its Fleet Safety Forum (who are mainly company managers with vehicle fleets), and the general public. Information produced on the topic of speed includes:

    —  mentions in the policy document How many more lives must we lose?;

    —  a leaflet for company drivers;

    —  information for company managers in the Guide to Fleet Safety;

    —  banners in city centres, displayed in the run-up to and during Road Safety Week 2001, with information on local road deaths and injuries and the message "Slow Up";

    —  information on how the public can campaign to reduce speeds in areas where it is a problem in the guides Road safety in urban communities and Road safety in rural communities;

    —  bus back posters, produced in partnership with the Department of Health, with the message "Road crashes: a drain on the NHS. Slow down" (These will be displayed on bus backs in major UK cities from 15 January 2002).

  Brake also asks drivers to "Slow Up" as one of the promises in its Pledge to Drive Safely Campaign, launched in April 2001.

  Brake also carries out policy work on speed. In February 2001 it organised a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for road safety to inform MPs and other policymakers about how speed reduction can be achieved through enforcement and engineering measures. Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers, released the first results from the Government's self-funding safety camera project at that meeting.

  Brake regularly carries out both pro-active and reactive media work on speed, including carrying out press, radio and television interviews; disseminating press releases; organising photo calls, including photo calls with sports stars such as Olympic gold medallist rowers and cyclists to promote the message "Keep Speed in Sport"; creating a coalition of organisations to counter negative media coverage of speed cameras (see page 240); and liasing with key journalists and broadcasters to encourage them to show appropriate attitudes towards speed.[98]


  Brake's report Slow Down (pub January 2002) summarises research on the extent of the problem of speed on the road. It found that:

    —  The majority of drivers regularly break speed limits, justifying speeding to themselves and others with a range of excuses. They regard speeding as one of the least serious traffic offences. Certain groups of drivers, including male drivers, young drivers, and high mileage drivers are most likely to speed.

    —  Crash figures are directly related to speed and are sensitive to even a small change in average speed. While it is obvious that the faster you go, the harder you hit, it is not as widely known that just a few miles per hour can make a big difference to a drivers' ability to stop. The latest Government advertising on the dangers of speed promotes this message.

    —  Reducing speed reduces both crashes and casualties. This has been proved in theory: researchers have devised a general rule that for every one mile per hour reduction in average speed, crashes are reduced by between 2 and 7 per cent. It has also been proved in practice. Analyses of 20 mph zones before and after implementation and of the Government's self-funding speed pilot have shown that crashes and casualties are reduced by at least this amount, if not more, in practice.

  The report also details a survey, coordinated by Brake, of 429 drivers caught speeding by Leicestershire, North Wales, South Wales, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire police forces in October/November 2001.

  Brake found that the three most common excuses for speeding given by drivers (some gave more than one excuse) were:

    1.  they did not realise that they were speeding (179 of 441 excuses)

    2.  they were late/in a hurry (107 of 441 excuses)

    3.  they had forgotten, or did not know, what the speed limit was (59 or 441 excuses).

  Other findings from Brake's survey include:

    —  male drivers are more likely to speed than female drivers. Of the 429 drivers stopped by police, 113 were female (26 per cent) and 316 were male (74 per cent);

    —  drivers are most likely to say they do not know the speed limit in 40 mph zones, then 50 mph zones, then 30 mph zones. They are most likely to know what the speed limit is in 70 mph zones;

    —  drivers are most likely to say that they are speeding to keep up with other drivers in 70 mph zones and 30 mph zones;

    —  drivers are most likely to say that they are speeding because they are late on higher-speed roads;

    —  female drivers were more likely to admit that they were speeding because they did not know what the speed limit was (18 per cent of female drivers, compared to 12 per cent of male drivers);

    —  male drivers were more likely to admit that they knew that they were speeding and were doing this for a reason, such as being late (26 per cent of male drivers, compared to 19 per cent of female drivers).

  Previous reports by Brake containing relevant information to this inquiry include the Green Flag report on road safety. This report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 drivers by Brake, included the following findings:

    —  four out of ten drivers (40 per cent) admit to breaking speed limits in built-up areas and 55 per cent of drivers admit to breaking speed limits in rural areas (in fact, more do);

    —  some drivers do not realise that driving at speeds above 30 mph radically reduces a pedestrian's chance of survival if hit. A third of drivers think the chances of a pedestrian dying if hit at 40 mph is 50 per cent or less. In fact, it is much higher at 85-90 per cent;

    —  72 per cent of drivers feel pressured by other drivers to go quicker;

    —  male drivers, young drivers and high-mileage drivers are all more likely to say that they break speed limits.

  The Green Flag report on road safety also includes information on:

    —  how drivers adjust their speed to bad weather, bright, or night driving;

    —  excuses drivers make for speeding;

    —  what drivers say would make them take more care on the road.

  The report also demonstrates that popular opinion would support a tougher charge and penalty structure for dangerous drivers, including speeding drivers.

    —  73 per cent of drivers said that drivers who have killed someone when speeding should go to prison for five years to life.

    —  70 per cent of drivers said that tougher penalties for driving offences would make them take more care on the road.

  In 1998, Brake researched 22 verdicts of careless driving and 34 verdicts of causing death by dangerous driving following a total 104 deaths on the road and found that:

    —  out of 22 verdicts of careless driving brought against drivers (who had caused a total 42 deaths), the average fine was £500.

    —  Out of 34 verdicts of causing death by dangerous driving brought against drivers (who had caused a total of 62 deaths), 28 sentences were less than four years in prison. The lowest prison sentence was four months.

  Sentences for causing death by dangerous driving that approach the maximum are rarely imposed on speeding drivers. They are mostly imposed on drivers who were drunk, or cases such as killing because of road rage. Maximum driving bans also tend only to be imposed for some drink or drug-related and road rage cases.


  In August 2001, Brake set up a coalition of organisations to counter negative media coverage of speed cameras. These include: Brake, Direct Line, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the Slower Speeds Initiative, Association of London Borough Road Safety Officers, Institute of Road Safety Officers, and Transport for London.

  The coalition aimed to dispel arguments that speed cameras were being installed as a "stealth tax" on motorists and explain that cameras are:

    —  saving lives—latest-available statistics from the Government's self-funding pilot scheme areas show that numbers of people killed and injured on roads with cameras have dropped significantly approximating to a five per cent reduction for every one mph reduction in average vehicle speeds.

    —  saving drivers' and motorbikers' lives as well as pedestrians' and cyclists' lives—through declines in high-speed crashes at sites with cameras, as well as declines in collisions with vulnerable road users.

    —  increasingly being targeted—positioned in the right places to save the most lives, eg at accident black spots and particularly where children and other vulnerable road users are at greatest risk.

    —  raising valuable funds, through the fixed penalty revenue, for speed cameras in appropriate locations and cameras to catch people running red lights. The funds also pay for the administration of the cameras and the processing of the fines. The money doesn't go on parties for police officers! Also, the cameras may free-up officer time to catch other types of offenders;

    —  supported by most of us. A MORI poll of 2,000 drivers by Direct Line shows that a significant seven out of 10 of us accept that cameras reduce crashes and save lives, and make us keep to the speed limit when we know they are there;

    —  not sneaky. The purpose of cameras is to catch offenders who break the law and whose speed could make death or injury more likely;

    —  an important crime-prevention measure. More than five times as many people are killed on roads as by all crime put together. Many of these deaths are due to offences, such as breaking speed limits in towns. If we accept CCTV in our towns as a security measure, we should accept speed cameras that are genuinely positioned to save lives;

    —  desperately needed as part of a package of measures to stop endemic levels of speeding in dangerous places. Two thirds of us still break 30 mph limits. A third of us break 30 mph limits by more than five mph, more than doubling the chance of killing a pedestrian we hit, and contributing to the 1,800 deaths a year on urban roads, more than half of whom are people on foot and bicycles. Many of us also still go far too fast on bendy rural roads, when we have no idea what is round the corner. None of us like speeding on roads near where we live, but most of us still speed in built-up areas.


  Speeding is endemic in our society (DTLR statistics show that 69 per cent of cars drive above the speed limit in 30 mph areas) but this is not a legitimate reason for letting speeders "get away" with a small fine such as the fixed penalty system offers. Brake is very concerned that speeding is dealt with under the fixed penalty system, as speeding is not only serious, it also threatens and costs life. The Government estimates that one in three deaths on the road (more than 1,000 every year) could be prevented if everyone drove within the speed limits.

  Brake believes that speeding is included in the fixed penalty system not because it is a minor offence (which it clearly is not), but because of the sheer numbers of offenders, and the burden it would place on the legal system if these offences were dealt with by the courts. At present, only a tiny minority of speeders are charged through the court system with careless driving (which carries a fine of up to £2,500) or dangerous driving (which can carry a prison sentence) and this is usually only when a death has occurred.

  Brake believes that it is wrong only to punish speeders if they actually kill—all speeders are risking lives by the risks they are taking. All speeders should, therefore, be prosecuted with dangerous driving. To enable this to work in practice, special courts could be established to deal with cases very rapidly. These courts should be advised by road safety officers. High fines (none below £1,000) should be imposed, along with prison sentences and loss of licences, depending on the severity of the offences.

  Alternatively, if the fine system is kept (in order to cope with the high numbers of offenders), high fines should be implemented of no less than £1,000 for anyone caught driving above a speed limit. They should also receive at least six points (or 10 points if a new 20 point system is adopted) on licences.

  To support this tough approach towards speeders, it is essential for the Government to provide the necessary resources and require the relevant authorities to ensure that all limits are appropriate and clearly marked on all roads.


  1.  The Government should carry out further research into who speeds and under what circumstances, including their reasons for speeding and the excuses that they give for speeding. This research should feed into education and enforcement campaigns that are targeted at specific groups of drivers, such as male drivers, young drivers, or high-mileage drivers.

  2.  The Government needs to respond to editorial and advertising in the media that promotes speed, or provides negative coverage of measures to tackle speeding, such as speed cameras. It is particularly important that the Government refutes information based on misquoted research through press releases and statements. The Government should also encourage positive media coverage with regular press releases and pro-active contact with the media. Specific responsibility for this should be given to a named civil servant in the road safety division or press office at DTLR.

  3.  The Government should encourage police force areas to take up the self-funding speed camera project as soon as possible, in order to save most lives. It should continue to combine this enforcement project with appropriate education initiatives, locally and nationally, to retain drivers' support.

  4.  Year-round publicity campaigns on speed through TV, radio, cinema, billboards and leaflets should be funded by Government. These campaigns should be prepared by Government in consultation with relevant academics and organisations such as Brake. At present, such campaigns are intermittent, particularly on TV.

  5.  The Government should also fund targeted publicity campaigns with messages aimed at company fleet managers on the importance of creating a company culture which prioritises safety and does not pressure drivers to speed, such as the messages promoted through Brake's Fleet Safety Forum.

  6.  The promise to review speed limits, made in the Government's road safety strategy, should be implemented as soon as possible, to give drivers more confidence that speed limits are not arbitrary and are there for a reason and to ensure that the limits are right.

  7.  The Government should also review speed limit signing in areas where drivers may be unsure of the speed limit and consider extra signs, such as vehicle-activated "Slow Down" signs, in areas that have a problem with speeding drivers.

  8.  The Government should not paint speed cameras bright colours simply to appease the motorists lobby. When cameras are painted bright colours, drivers know where cameras are and consequently and dangerously know where they are not. Cameras are an enforcement measure, which should be "plain clothed", as well as visible, to stop people breaking the law everywhere.

  9.  Instead of spending money on painting cameras bright colours, the government should spend any budget for paint on clearly marked speed limit signs. If drivers know what speed they should go at there can be no excuse for breaking the law and there can be no legitimate reason for resenting visible or hidden speed cameras.

  10.  The Government should urgently consider the life-saving potential of different types of speed limiters and how best to promote them to drivers and manufacturers.

  11.  The Home Office review of road traffic penalties should lead the way in recognising that speeding drivers are endangering lives. Research shows that only substantial penalties, commensurate with the risk that these drivers pose, will deter drivers from speeding and these should be introduced.

  Brake welcomes this inquiry by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and strongly recommends that the Committee calls Mary Williams OBE, Brake's chief executive, as a witness. Brake believes that its extensive experience of working to ensure that the problem of illegal and inappropriate speed is tackled in a positive way would be of value to the inquiry.

Cathy Keeler

Policy Officer

January 2002

98   Note: all Brake publications and documents mentioned are available from Brake by calling 01484 559909. Back

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