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

Memorandum by Mercian Transport Consultancy (RTS 52)



  This Memorandum, submitted by the Principal of the Consultancy, puts forward observations and proposals based on over 40 years experience and studies of transport planning and traffic management, including 25 years working on local authority schemes. The matters to be considered by the Committee are examined in the order in which they are detailed in the Press Notice. The final section of the submission summarises conclusions and recommendations.


  A useful way to start an examination of the problems caused by excessive speed is to review the main reasons for the introduction of highway and vehicle speed limits, these being:

    (1)  To improve road safety by reducing the number and severity of accidents.

    (2)  To reduce community severance, noise levels and other environmental nuisances.

    (3)  To assist with the regulation of traffic flows, particularly by reducing the disparity between vehicle speeds.


  The main causes of injury road accidents have been extensively studied. The evidence strongly suggests that a clear majority of accidents are mainly due to driver error, with much smaller numbers being attributable to the external environment (weather, temporary obstructions of the highway, etc), lack of road maintenance or vehicle faults. Driver errors may be due to a variety of causes, some of which may be permanent (aggressive temperament, chronic illness, etc), whilst others may be transitory (alcohol, drugs, fatigue, etc). The perceived high rate of pedestrian injury accidents also appears to be due to several factors, including:—

    (1)  Impatience of pedestrians with the increased waiting time for crossing roads, due to the progressive growth in road traffic, with a resultant increase in risk taking.

    (2)  The concentration of pedestrian crossing movements onto designated crossing points resulting in drivers being less prepared to encounter casual crossing movements elsewhere.


4.1  Better Enforcement

  A basic principle in deciding the levels of highway speed limits is that they can only be effective and enforceable where the overwhelming majority of drivers are willing to comply with the limit. Enforcement can then be targeted at the small minority who deliberately contravene the restriction.

4.2  Road Design and Traffic Calming

  A crucial objective of highway design and any subsequent traffic calming measures is that the design speed for the new or revised road alignment has to be approximately the same as the regulatory speed limit. This principle applies throughout the range of speed limits from 20 mph to 70 mph.

4.3  Road Re-Classification

  As a general guide, speed limits on rural and inter-urban roads should usually correspond to road classifications. This principle has been endorsed in a recent DTLR sponsored study that has been undertaken by consultants, supported by a working group drawn from a wide range of organisations that have an interest in highway safety. This report, Developed of a Rural Road Hierarchy for Speed Management, advocates that generally speed limits should be based on 70 mph for dual carriageway A roads, 60 mph for single carriageway A roads, 50 mph for B roads and 40 mph for unclassified roads, with lower speed limits, usually 30 mph in villages. The report accepts that extensive new regulatory signing could be needed and that either new primary legislation or a large number of local authority speed limit orders would be required for implementation of the proposed changes.

4.4  Physical Separation of Vehicles and Pedestrians

  Physical separation of vehicles and pedestrians can be achieved either by grade separation (bridges and subways) or by barriers such as guardrailing. Physical separation is essential in areas with very high levels of both vehicle and pedestrian activities (eg the central core of large cities and towns). Where grade separation is needed, it is important that vehicles rather than pedestrians should be required to descend and ascend at conflict points. Guardrailing can create an unpleasant constrained environment for pedestrians and should usually be confined to locations where it can be of greatest safety benefit, including the approaches and exits at Pelican and Zebra crossings, outside schools and, in certain cases, around the radii at road intersections, in order to discourage pedestrians from attempting to cross diagonally. It is perhaps useful to mention that trams, and possibly some other vehicles with a fixed guidance system, can penetrate pedestrian areas in relative safety at moderate speeds.

4.5  Technology

  A major difficulty with the use of technology for speed detection and enforcement is the need to effectively counter the concept that drivers are being "spied upon" by speed detection equipment. Nevertheless, there are some measure that could be adopted to use technology to reduce the number and severity of speed related accidents. Probably one of the most straightforward measures is that all motor vehicles used on a public highway, except emergency vehicles and these already controlled by a lower limit, could be governed to a maximum speed of 80 mph, which would still enable drivers to exceed a 70 mph limit for a short period, in order to get out of a difficult situation. A longer term possibility, which could usefully be researched, would be the fitting of all motor vehicles with an external digital speedometer, mounted alongside the rear vehicle registration plate.

  The need to maximise pedestrian safety in the event of a collision, has to be a primary requirement in the design of all road vehicles.

4.6  Education of Road Users

  The use of any vehicle on a public highway has to be generally accepted as being a serious social responsibility, if there is to be any major reduction in the number of injury accidents. It seems to be illogical that a teenager can take a driving test on quiet suburban roads and be given a full driving licence that is valid for over 50 years! On the contrary there appears to be a strong case for periodical testing of drivers' abilities. It is suggested that initially driving licences should be of, say, 10 years' duration, before retesting is required, although, for younger drivers this period might usefully be reduced to five years. If this suggestion were to be adopted, it would be desirable to allow a period of, say, two years for retraining and retesting before the old licence became invalid, in order to reduce the risk of a retest failure resulting in a loss of livelihood. Similarly, cyclists, including children, should be required to take a proficiency test before being allowed to travel along roads used by motor vehicles. As with other road users, cyclists would need to be retested at regular intervals.

4.7  Changes to Speed Limits

  A proposed structure for highway speed limits has been outlined in paragraph 4.3. As circumstances alter over a period of time, local authorities should be required to review all speed limits within their respective areas at regular, say 10 yearly, intervals, in order to take account of changes in land-use and other developments. Local traffic authorities need to liaise with the Highways Agency and the regional planning body, in respect of major through traffic routes.

4.8  Specific Policies

  Various policy proposals have been suggested in earlier paragraphs and are summarised under Conclusions and Recommendations in the final section of this submission. One further policy that could result in a significant reduction in the severity and number of speed related injury accidents would be to progressively raise the minimum driving age to 21 years and possibly even, at a later date, to 25 years. In order to minimise inconvenience to individuals, the policy could be implemented by making the minimum age for new driving licences 18 years on, say, 1st January 2004, and then progressively raising this age by one year every two years (eg minimum age 19 years from 1 January 2006, 20 years from 1st January 2008, 21 years from 1st January 2010). In addition to the potential for accident reduction, which can be clearly illustrated by the insurance premiums charged to young drivers and by examination of accident statistics, this change could also offer a range of social benefits. Potential benefits include:

    (1)  Breaking the exclusive car-using lifestyle for young adults, particularly men, in favour of using alternative transport modes (cycle, train, bus, etc).

    (2)  The provision of extra passengers to support the development of higher standard public transport services.

    (3)  The encouragement of exercise for young adults, in terms of increased cycle usage and walking—if only to and from the nearest bus stop!

    (4)  Greater appreciation by new drivers of the social exclusion difficulties experienced by those people who do not have access to a car.


5.1  A Co-ordinated Approach to Speed Management

  For many years, local authorities have worked closely with the police and, where necessary, the Highways Agency and its predecessors in respect of the preparation and implementation of Speed Limit Orders. In future, speed management policies will also need to be assessed in the context of the Local Transport Plan and relevant local land-use policies.

5.2  Sentences for Speeding Offences

  As with many other forms of offence, penalties for speeding must be largely determined by their effectiveness in dissuading offenders from repeating the offence and of discouraging other drivers from offending in a similar manner. Brief assessments can be made of the main forms of penalty that can be applied to drivers, these being:

    (1)  Speeding fine—the effectiveness of this form of penalty is largely dependent on the size of the fine in relation to the financial circumstances of the offender.

    (2)  Prohibition of driving for a period of time—in theory this ought to be the most effective form of penalty, but unfortunately it is probably the most difficult to enforce.

    (3)  Imprisonment—in view of the financial and social cost of imprisonment, this form of penalty can only be used as a last resort, either for deliberate dangerous speeding or for repeated offenders where other penalties have proved to be ineffective.

    (4)  Other possibilities—other penalties that may be worthy of further research include "aversion therapy" (showing speeding offenders the results of injury accidents) and "naming and shaming" persistent offenders.

5.3  Speed Representation in the Media

  Advertisements in the mass media, particularly television, do not encourage a mature approach to driving on the public highway. If road safety is to be improved, there is clear need to set specific standards for media car advertisements, requiring the main emphasis to be placed on the provision of practical information (eg safety of operation, reliability, fuel consumption, maintenance), rather than on speed and acceleration. Motoring programmes and press reports should also help to promote this approach. The effects of the predominance of "speed chases" in television, video and film dramas on impressionable minds, particularly young drivers, need to be the subject of urgent investigation.


  The role of speed management strategies can be summarised as being to improve road safety for all road users, to reduce environmental nuisances and to complement traffic management and land-use policies.


7.1  Conclusions
  (1)  If speed limits are to be enforceable, acceptance by the majority of drivers is essential. (4.1)

  (2)  Guardrailing should only be used sparingly and for specific purposes. (4.4)

  (3)  Highway design speeds should approximate to speed limits. (4.2)

7.2  Recommendations
  (1)  In rural areas, speed limits should generally correspond to the following road classifications:

    (a)  Dual carriageway A Roads 70 mph

    (b)  Single carriageway A Roads 60 mph

    (c)  B Roads 50 mph

    (d)  Unclassified roads 40 mph

    (e)  Roads within villages 30 mph. (4.3)

  (2)  Local traffic authorities should be required to review all speed limits within their areas at regular intervals. (4.7)

  (3)  Motor vehicles on public roads that are not already controlled to a lower limit should be mechanically or electronically governed to a maximum speed of 80 mph. (4.5)

  (4)  The minimum age for new driving licences should be progressively raised to at least 21 years. (4.8)

  (5)  Drivers should be retested at regular intervals. (4.6)

  (6)  Cyclists should be required to take a proficiency test before using public roads. (4.6)

  (7)  Standard criteria for motor vehicle advertisements should specify that they do not emphasise speed or acceleration characteristics. (5.3)

  (8)  "Speed chases" in television, video and films dramas should, at least, be strongly discouraged. (5.3)

  The figures in brackets after each conclusion and recommendation refer to the paragraph numbers in the submission in which the respective points are explained in greater detail.

Ken Durnell


January 2002

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