Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Slower Speeds Initiative (TLE 20)


  The Slower Speeds Initiative was founded in March 1998 by the Children's Play Council, CTC, the Environmental Transport Association, Pedestrians Association, Pedestrian Policy Group, Road Danger Reduction Forum, RoadPeace, Sustrans and Transport 2000. We believe that lower speeds are essential to encourage sustainable transport modes and to reduce the impacts of our transport system, including excessively dispersed development, pollution, fuel consumption and noise as well as the overall number and severity of road casualties and their wider social costs.

Is the law on traffic offences appropriate?

  It would be surprising if the law on traffic offences were entirely appropriate. The policy context for managing motorised traffic has changed significantly in the last decade in recognition of the need to contain and reverse the impacts of a century of traffic growth. In addition to official casualty reduction targets in road safety, wider policy seeks to promote walking and cycling, reduce CO2, make the best use of the road network, address health inequalities and create liveable communities.

  Road traffic law and its interpretation have helped to distance motorists from the consequences of their actions and to reduce the gravity of offences. Special categories of killing and maiming have been created because the "weapon" is a motor car and because victims are selected casually and at random. (See Pearce et al 2002) Intimidation and high levels of risk for everyone not "armed" or armoured with a motor vehicle are now standard features of access to the most important public open space, the street.

  The status of the duty of care owed by drivers is reflected in levels of speeding and media controversy over speed limit enforcement as well as in pedestrian and cyclist casualties. But central and local government and employers also have a duty of care to prevent road violence.

  We discuss four areas where changes in the law are needed: lower and properly enforced speed limits, road danger reduction, driver and employer responsibility and vehicle construction and use regulations.


  Our present system of speed limits has no evidence base. It has not been developed to restrain traffic growth or support alternatives to the car. While there is a legal basis for defining "excessive" speed there is no basis for agreeing appropriate speed. Some speeds may be considered inappropriate rather than excessive simply because the speed limit is too high. This is the case for much of the rural single carriageway road network. A system of evidence-based speed limits is necessary to underpin respect for limits and maximise voluntary compliance. Clearly this means not only having an accepted methodology, appropriate to wider policy goals, for setting speed limits but also a programme for educating drivers, the police and the courts on the rationale for speed limits and the determinants of appropriate speeds.

  Speeding is a strict liability offence, so lower speed limits would also have implications for the frequency, enforcement and prosecution of other driving offences. Whether due to lapses, errors or violations, all moving traffic offences occurring at lower speeds would have less potential for harm. The ability to use automatic detection for the strict liability offence would free police time for detecting other qualitative offences.


  A new default limit of 20 mph should be introduced for built-up roads. The evidence base for this is crash survivability for vulnerable road users, including children, and the reduced frequency of crashes. Higher speeds would be possible for routes where sufficient road space could be allocated to both pedestrians and cyclists. Lower speeds would be possible for residential areas, Home Zones and Quiet Lanes, supported by legal priority for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

  For all other roads there should be systematic trials of lower and properly enforced speed limits, assessing casualties, vehicle operating costs and fuel consumption, journey time and reliability and other factors such as noise and severance. We recommend testing a range of speeds from 30 mph to 50 mph for single carriageway roads depending on quality and a 60 mph maximum limit for dual carriageways and motorways.

  This should lead to a complete review of national and local speed limits with new limits and the means of signing them established through primary legislation within an agreed time period of no longer than five years.


  Road safety interventions, including reduced speed limits and speed limit enforcement, are usually triggered by casualties having occurred. This requirement for people to have died or been seriously injured seems contrary to the duty of care one might expect of local authorities and police. The focus on casualty reduction as opposed to prevention seems to be the result of crash causation having been poorly understood in the past and a reluctance to commit resources to preventing unpredictable `accidents'. The speed crash relationship shows that it is possible to assess risk according to both average speeds and the spread of speeds and to predict a given decrease in the risk of a crash occurring with a given reduction in speed. (Taylor et al 2000).

  This crash prevention approach could be applied to the network under existing patterns of use. However, the changed policy context, particularly the need to promote walking and cycling through Local Transport Plans, would make it applicable to desired future use. There should be a duty to reduce road danger in line with overall LTP targets and objectives and in association with specific schemes, such as safe routes to school. Funds could then be allocated on the basis of projected crash prevention for a given level of use by vulnerable road users. Benefit to cost ratios of road safety measures are well above those for other areas of transport expenditure. Road safety measures also support other objectives such as public health and urban regeneration.

  This requirement would overcome the obstacle of resource starvation which has skewed the use of roads to motorised vehicles and safety improvements to their occupants. Until casualty prevention by danger reduction is built into traffic management and law enforcement, there is a de facto toleration of excessive and inequitable levels of risk for the most beneficial road users. This excessive risk is borne out by high levels of pedestrians and cyclist casualties on the "safest" roads in Europe.


  Road transport authorities would be required to assess road danger through collecting and analysing data on traffic speed and volume. Speed is one aspect of the road environment about which surprisingly little is known, in contrast to current monitoring of traffic flows, air quality, road condition (100% of the network is monitored each year; Department for Transport 2003(a) and the incoming requirement in some places to map noise. Data collected should include average speeds and the spread of speeds as well as 85 percentile speeds and would be used to construct speed profiles for the complete road network. This would have value in targeting maintenance and enforcement and investigating crashes, as well as prioritising danger reduction schemes. It would also assist in the task of assigning new speed limits.

  Communities should be involved in identifying road danger through local strategic plan processes including Crime and Disorder audits.

  The information would be used to draw up Road Danger Reduction Plans supporting Local Transport Plan objectives and schemes for safe routes to school, modal shift, etc.

  An accompanying Best Value Performance Indicator of speed limit compliance should be introduced for local authorities and the police. Government should develop guidance for highway investment with priorities set according to rates of return calculated on appropriate time periods (ie, the effective life of a traffic calming measure rather than the three year period now used).


  Our rates of pedestrian and cyclist casualties, worse than European averages and far worse than the best, demonstrate that sufficient priority is not given to these road users. In 1998 a pedestrian was 2.5x more likely to be killed in the UK than in the Netherlands, despite much lower levels of walking. (DETR 1999) The government recognises the need to tackle unequal traffic impacts by improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists but so far the effort has been directed at localised road safety measures and education. (Social Exclusion Unit 2003) Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer has observed that building walking and cycling into daily life "will be key" to meeting a target that 70% of the population should be physically active by 2020. (Department of Health 2003) The most effective way to achieve this, as demonstrated in European best practice, is the introduction of area-wide 20 mph (30 kph) limits, covering up to 85% of the road network in settlements. (Atkins 2001)

  But the differential ability to inflict harm and the resulting differential burden of risk for motorists and vulnerable road users should also be formally acknowledged through forms of strict liability in both civil and criminal law. (Davis et al 1998) In addition, drivers should be regularly reminded of their duties to other road users, communities adjacent to the roads they use and to the wider environment, as well as the standard of driving expected of them. This is a matter not only of skill but of attitude.


  There should be strict liability offences in criminal law, with prescribed defences, for injuring pedestrians and cyclists, varied according to the age of the victim. These should be accompanied by strict civil liability offences restricting (or eliminating) the use of the defence of contributory negligence with automatic 100% liability for injuring or killing children.

  Some Highway Code rules relating to vulnerable road users should be made legal requirements. These would include giving way to pedestrians crossing the road into which you are turning, slowing down to no more than 20 mph (where the speed limit is not already 20 mph or lower) in the presence of pedestrians and cyclists and no more than 10 mph in presence of horses and their riders, and leaving a car's width between your vehicle and a cyclist or horse and rider in the carriageway when overtaking. Non-motorised road users would have legal priority over motor vehicles in Home Zones and Quiet Lanes.

  Drivers should be regularly retested to ensure that they are fit to drive, their skills are not deteriorating and they are made aware of changes in road traffic law and expected standards. A five year cycle would probably be the maximum period if supplemented by a communications strategy to inform drivers of changes between tests. Regular retesting for all drivers would enable wider use of retraining and retesting in association with penalties for speeding and other offences.

  The two-tier penalty system for speeding should be brought in without further delay. (Home Office et al 2002)

  Insurance companies should have the right to recover compensation paid to third parties in cases of speeding (and drink driving) offences. The provision of insurance cover to drivers disqualified for speeding should be outlawed.


  It is estimated that between a quarter and a third of all serious and fatal road traffic incidents involve someone driving in the course of work. The claims rate per vehicle for delivery fleets is nearly twice the average, strongly suggesting that pressure to speed is an important factor. (Work-related Road Safety Task Group 2001) Employers have a duty of care to insure the safety of the public as well as their own employees. At-work driving should properly be covered by health and safety legislation. Company fleets should be adapted to guarantee greater compliance with speed limits. (We discuss this below.)


  Health and Safety legislation should be modified to require the HSE to investigate work related road crashes involving death and serious injury, with costs being met either in part or in whole through an industry levy on employers.


  Speeding offences constitute 27% of all offences dealt with by the police. (Ayres et al 2003) This enforcement burden is entirely a matter of vehicle design. Car numbers are increasing and so is engine power, vehicle speed and acceleration.

  Most of the technology to ensure accountable drivers and speed limited cars is already available. "Smart card" ignition could carry the driver's licence and insurance details. This would cut car theft and reduce the number of uninsured drivers. Black boxes (or event data recorders, now standard with air-bag protection for car occupants) lead to lower crash rates and greater speed limit compliance. (PACTS 1999) Top speed limiters are already used on heavy good vehicles to reduce crashes and improve environmental performance and fuel economy. At the higher end of the car market some cars come already fitted with top speed limiters. Perversely, GPS systems are now in use to warn drivers of the location of speed cameras and so facilitate speeding. The same systems could be used to enforce speed limits.

  Between 50 and 60% of people polled support the introduction of speed limiters in some form. All injury crashes would be reduced by one third and fatal crashes by two thirds if 60% of the UK fleet were fitted with the most complete form of Intelligent Speed Adaptation (both mandatory and dynamic). (Slower Speeds Initiative 2003)


  All vehicles driven in the course of business should be fitted with smart card ignition systems, black boxes and top speed limiters.

  Smart card ignition, black boxes and top speed limiters should be introduced into the entire vehicle fleet as a preliminary step for making variable speed limiters compulsory within by 2010. The government should work with the insurance industry to establish incentives for voluntary fitting of smart card ignition, black boxes and speed limiters in advance of their compulsory introduction.

  All speed detection alerting systems whether GPS, laser or radar based, should be made illegal to fit and use.


  The use of camera detection has enabled a very welcome step change in speed limit enforcement, with prosecutions for speeding up by nearly 400% since 1996. (Ayres et al 2003) Instead of freeing traffic police time, however, the use of automatic detection has been accompanied by a long term fall in the numbers of road traffic police, down by 12% over the same period. Road traffic police now make up only 5.45% of the entire force. (PA Consulting 2003) Last year, possibly as a result of increased enforcement effort, speed limit compliance increased slightly but speed limits continue to be flouted by the majority of drivers. (Department for Transport 2003b)

  A new system of evidence-based speed limits together with a duty to reduce road danger would help greatly to reorder priorities. In the interim however, the following case illustrates a number of problems which should be addressed.

  D, a nine year old boy, was killed by a speeding driver in a 30 mph residential area. The crash investigation established that the driver was travelling 38 mph when D was hit. It was concluded that the collision would still have occurred had the driver been travelling at 30 mph. The police decided that it could not be known whether the crash would have been fatal or not had it occurred at 30 mph.

  The driver was not prosecuted for speeding because the enforcement threshold for a 30 mph limit at the time (2001) was in excess of 38 mph. The case was referred by the police to the CPS for advice on a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. This requires establishing "beyond reasonable doubt that [for careless driving] the driver departed from the standard of the reasonable prudent and competent driver, or for dangerous driving, fell far below that standard". It failed the evidential test of there being a realistic prospect of a conviction and therefore was not subject to the public interest test. The police did not seek CPS advice on a speeding prosecution since the law prohibits taking a conviction on the basis of the unsupported evidence of one witness, in this case, the crash investigator who established the collision speed.

  D was effectively blamed his own death for "allowing" the driver "little or no time to respond" to his presence. He was in the company of a group of children both older and younger, including siblings, who were the only witnesses to the crash, apart from the driver and a passenger. The testimony was very unclear as to whether D had actually stepped into the road or was still standing on the side of the carriageway when the crash occurred.

  D's death raises the following issues:

    —  an inappropriately high speed limit where children are present, accompanied by apparent acceptance that collisions with children could be fatal;

    —  the difficulty of proving a speeding offence even where it threatens the life of children and where they might be the only witnesses;

    —  the fact that neither a death nor the nature of the injuries sustained can be taken into account as evidence of speed;

    —  callous attitude to, or perhaps ignorance of, the speed/crash and speed/casualty severity relationships on the part of both the police and the CPS, demonstrated in both the extremely lax threshold for enforcement of the 30 mph limit and the failure to acknowledge that although the crash might still have occurred there was a 50% chance that D would have survived;

    —  definition of dangerous driving—notwithstanding D's death and the estimated speed in a residential area, the standard of driving apparently could be regarded as "reasonable, prudent and competent". Speed limits are not targets but maxima, set according to current notions of what is dangerous. It cannot be right that it can ever be reasonable, prudent, or competent to break the speed limit. (See Pearce et al 2002)

    —  a standard of behaviour and vigilance expected of the child that was in effect far higher than that expected of the driver, despite the location and evidence of driver fault.

  These demonstrate that current priorities and standards of evidence set for the police and the CPS sometimes offer no protection or redress for the most vulnerable members of our society. The ability to balance public interest against the interests of drivers who commit acts of violence, however inadvertent, is clearly limited since no corrective steps at all were taken.

  The Home Office is ultimately responsible for police priorities. While local policing plans should include "targeted and intelligence led strategies for reducing deaths and injuries on the roads and achieving a safe environment for all road users", road policing still does not appear in Home Office Public Service Agreements. However, PSA1 commits the police to a 30% reduction in vehicle crime on 1998-99 levels by 2004. (Home Office 2002) Given the connection between detection of road traffic offences and tackling wider criminal behaviour, this concern for property crime over crimes of violence is doubly unfortunate. If road policing were a core objective one would expect lower enforcement thresholds and police support for lower speed limits, rather than the objections which are all too frequent. Better information about the relationship between offending and crashes could help to justify road traffic policing as a core priority.


  The guidelines for safety camera partnerships requiring that detection effort should be highly visible and that camera enforcement of speed limits should wait until casualties occur demonstrate deep ambivalence within the government about the status of speeding as a crime and a lack of understanding of the speed crash relationship. The requirements send misleading messages to drivers about their duty to observe speed limits at all times and about the dangers of speeding. The casualty requirement makes it appear that crashes have more to do with road layout than driver behaviour. (This is borne out by persistent media stories and comment from motoring organisations that cameras are merely revenue raisers because they are positioned on "perfectly safe" stretches of road.) The conspicuity rules encourage law breaking by effectively posting where enforcement is being carried out. This can be predicted to result in speeding and crashes on roads without cameras and "surfing" (dangerous acceleration and braking) on roads with cameras. In addition, the rules have forced the shelving of promised legislation to outlaw fitting vehicles with radar detection devices and have helped to create a booming market in all kinds of speed detection warning devices.

  The visibility rules turn the speed camera into a traffic warning sign and new kind of traffic calming device. By removing the threat of sanction, they make a nonsense of law enforcement and further contradict the message about the seriousness of speeding as an offence, regardless of where it occurs.


  The Home Office should increase the priority and resources given to road traffic policing by making it a core objective with a related PSA in the National Policing Plan. Speed limit compliance should be made a Best Value Performance Indicator for the Police.

  The resources for speed limit enforcement should be expanded to match the scale of the problem. This should include the reinvestment of all "netted off" funds into road safety, including a high profile national publicity campaign explaining the scheme, its impacts and objectives. The increased funds should enable speed limit enforcement wherever speeds are excessive and not only at casualty sites. All police forces should join the netting-off scheme. Trials should be undertaken to compare the effectiveness of conspicuous and inconspicuous enforcement and the guidelines amended accordingly. Speed limit enforcement thresholds of all police forces should be regularly monitored to ensure steady progress to lower thresholds. Crime and Disorder Audits should include questions about speed limit

  Speed profiles should be collected for roads where fatal crashes have occurred. Casualty statistics should be related to prevailing speed limit; socio-economic group; vehicle engine size; and prosecutions.

  The standard of evidence to convict for speeding should include physical evidence, including injuries of pedestrians and cyclists when there are insufficient eye witnesses.

  The police and courts as well as drivers should be educated about the dangers and impacts of speed in general and targeted programmes. There should be unequivocal guidance on speeding as one aspect of careless and dangerous driving.

  All child road deaths, currently over three per week, should be reported to the Road Safety Minister in the Department for Transport to be taken into account in policy development and monitoring.


  Lower speed limits, tighter enforcement thresholds, regular re-testing and speed limited vehicles with driver verification smart cards would all help to contain the problem of dangerous driving.


  Atkins, W S (2001) European Best Practice in the Delivery of Integrated Transport, Summary Report, London: Commission for Integrated Transport.

  Ayres, M, Hayward, P and Perry, D (2003) Motoring Offences and Breath Test Statistics 03/03 England and Wales 2001.

  Davis, Eden and Stein (1998) Options for Civilising Road Traffic, London: Environmental Law Foundation.

  Department of Health (2003) Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2002.

  Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1999) Pedestrian Casualties in Road Accidents: Great Britain 1998.

  Department for Transport (2003a) Production of TTS-based Best Value Performance Indicator Report for BV96—condition of principal roads Technical Note 30/2003.

  Department for Transport (2003b) Vehicle Speeds Great Britain 2002.

  Home Office (2002) The National Policing Plan 2003-2006.

  Home Office, Department for Transport, Lord Chancellor's Department (2002) Report on the Review of Road Traffic Penalties.

  PA Consulting Group (2003) Highways Agency/Association of Chief Police Officers Roles and responsibilities report 20 June 2003.

  PACTS (1999) Road traffic law and enforcement: a driving force for casualty reduction, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

  Pearce, L M, Knowles, J, Davies, G P, and Buttress, S (2002) Dangerous Driving and the Law, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  Social Exclusion Unit (2003) Making the Connections: Final report on Transport and Social Exclusion.

  Slower Speeds Initiative (2003) Taxing Vehicle Speed and Weight.

  Taylor, M, Lynam, D, and Baruya, A (2000) The effects of drivers' speed on the frequency of road accidents, TRL Report 421, Crowthorne, Berks: Transport Research Laboratory.

  Work-related Road Safety Task Group (2001) Preventing at-work road traffic incidents Discussion Document, Health and Safety Executive

October 2003

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