Memorandum by the Slower Speeds Initiative
ROAD TRAFFIC LAW AND ITS ENFORCEMENT
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.
A DUTY TO
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
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
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 drivingnotwithstanding
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
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
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 enforcement.cc
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
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
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