Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Slower Speeds Initiative


  A systems approach to reducing CO2 emissions from transport indicates that speed control should be a priority. We discuss the rationale for lowering both the top 70 mph speed limit and the urban 30 mph speed limit in order to reduce car use, curb emissions and restrain longer journeys.


  The Slower Speeds Initiative was founded in March 1998 by the Children's Play Council, CTC, the Environmental Transport Association, the Pedestrians Association, the Pedestrian Policy Group, the Road Danger Reduction Forum, RoadPeace, Sustrans and Transport 2000. We work to raise awareness of the benefits of lower speeds in controlling the adverse impacts of our transport system and enabling the use of sustainable transport modes.

  The best way to cut CO2 emissions from road transport is to replace as many fossil fuel powered journeys as possible by non-fossil fuel modes, reduce total mileage and increase the fuel efficiency of the remaining mileage by regulating vehicle design and use.

  CO2 emissions from road transport are increasing with increasing road travel which, in the UK, has accompanied increasing car ownership. Travelling further because you can travel faster is an important driver of traffic growth. Between 1992-94 and 2005 the average distance travelled per person per year increased by 5%, average trip length increased by 12% but the time spent travelling has remained about an hour a day (Department for Transport 2005a).

  Traffic on motorways has been growing faster than on other parts of the network (Department for Transport 2005c) and this trend is expected to continue (Department for Transport 2003b). This makes motorway speed limits an obvious and urgent point for intervention.

  Increasing average journey lengths increase both car dependence and CO2 emissions. But cars are also increasingly displacing the non-fossil fuel modes of walking and cycling for short journeys.

  The acceptance of the dominance of the private car in transport, with the entire system designed around it, stimulates traffic growth directly. The accompanying deterioration in conditions for more sustainable modes, walking and cycling in particular, also stimulates traffic growth. This pattern of traffic growth is an example of positive feedback (Clayton and Radcliffe 1997).

  Positive feedback amplifies growth, forcing change in a direction that makes further change more likely. Its system effects include erosion, overshoot and collapse. Negative feedback checks and controls growth. Climate change is occuring as a result of this form of positive feedback in human systems overwhelming Earth's homeostatic, negative feedback systems of regulation (Odum, 1975; Lovelock, 1979). Every day there are signs that we are now approaching, and may even have arrived at, system overshoot (going beyond a "target value" for the system, eg the atmospheric concentration of CO2 which would avoid runaway climate change) and collapse. As the Committee recognise, forecasts of CO2 emissions by sector show that it is the transport system that is most out of control and most urgently needs negative feedback. The question is, are there any effective and immediate points of control?

  Volume, mix of modes and vehicle types and speed are the three dynamic and interacting characteristics which directly determine the impacts of our transport system. Recent transport policy has focused primarily on volume (congestion) and has acknowledged the relationship between mix and volume with policies to reduce congestion through modal shift. So far these policies have failed.

  The importance of speed control in reducing the impacts of transport (Plowden and Hillman, 1996) and in influencing volume and mix has so far not been recognised within government policy. This is unfortunate because there is an existing regulatory framework/the system of speed limits/which potentially enables immediate and comprehensive control of the road transport system to reduce CO2 emissions.


  CO2 emissions from motor cars are a function of speed, mileage, vehicle weight, fuel and engine type, driving style and to an increasing extent optional features such as air conditioning.

  Recent improvements in fuel efficiency have meant that CO2 emissions from transport have not risen as quickly as traffic. However efficiency improvements have also lead to a trend of increasing vehicle weight, size and power. As a result, the International Energy Agency has warned that "even a strong uptake of efficient technologies may not significantly reduce average fuel consumption per kilometre unless these trends turn around" (International Energy Agency 2004, p 15).

  Moreover, fuel efficiency improvements make travel cheaper, encouraging traffic growth.

  Despite improvements in fuel efficiency, the optimum average speed for all motor vehicles for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions remains around 50 mph. Bringing interurban speed limits closer to this optimum would reduce emissions.

  It is possible to use official statistics on vehicle speeds (Department for Transport 2005e), mileage (Department for Transport 2005d) and fleet composition (Netcen 2003) to estimate how CO2 emissions would change under different speed limit regimes (Plowden and Hillman 1996). The Slower Speeds Initiative has carried out simple calculations for cars and taxis on motorways using 2003 emissions coefficients from National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (Netcen 2003).

  19% of Britain's total annual mileage is driven on motorways, less than 1% of total road length. 75% of the mileage on motorways is driven by cars and taxis. These vehicles do 18% of their mileage on motorways. We estimated that they emitted around 4.08 MtC, or 10% of annual emissions by source from the road transport sector.

  We found that a properly enforced 60 mph limit would cut CO2 from cars on motorways alone by 0.82 MtC a year, reducing their emissions by 18% and overall emissions from road transport by 2%. This limited measure would reduce the recent annual 2MtC increase in UK emissions (European Environment Agency 2005) by about 40%.

  A 60 mph speed limit would deliver within a year about half the savings expected from the Ten Year Plan by 2010 and 20% to 40% of the savings expected by 2010 from the EC voluntary agreements with car manufacturers on average fleet efficiency.

  In 2004 56% of cars exceeded the motorway speed limit. Simply enforcing the 70 mph limit would reduce CO2 emissions from cars on motorways by around 0.45MtC a year.

  We have developed this work with the UK Energy Research Centre using more comprehensive modelling with more recent data to show that the total carbon savings would be far higher. These results inform a joint submission to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership's Challenge for proposals to accelerate the shift to low carbon vehicles and help meet climate change targets. The UKERC/SSI proposal has been accepted as one of the four leading options and will be published in June.

  A lower top speed limit has several advantages over all other transport policy measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Above all, it is certain/no technological development or innovation is required. It could be introduced overnight while other measures remain in the pipeline. A lower motorway limit would require less behavioural change than other non-technological measures and would be far less costly than the technological measures for hybrid engines and biofuels and hydrogen (International Energy Agency 2005). Reducing average speeds on motorways would significantly reduce casualties as well.

  A lower top speed limit would have three other very important advantages for damping positive feedback in the transport system.

Optimising existing capacity

  A lower top speed limit would enable much better use to be made of existing capacity, reducing the demand for traffic-generating increases in road space. 60 mph is the highest speed for maintaining maximum motorway capacity. A lower motorway limit would reduce congestion (Highways Agency 2004). By smoothing traffic flow, it would reduce CO2 emissions resulting from hard acceleration and braking. It would also reduce crashes and incidents and the resulting congestion.

Getting traffic growth under control

  By increasing journey times a lower top speed limit is the only fuel efficiency measure which would help to restrain rather than stimulate demand for travel, so curbing the tendency for annual mileage to increase.

  We have carried out calculations of the potential savings if a fixed travel time budget and increased travel times curbed the distances driven. Using scenarios of moderate or maximum restraint, we have estimated that a lower top speed limit would reduce or even reverse traffic growth, further boosting carbon savings in the transport sector. This step would point the transport system towards sustainability.

Reducing waste in vehicle design

  Modern cars are far more powerful than they need to be or should be. Most have top speeds far in excess of the national limit. Lower top speed limits, properly enforced, would help to reverse the trend to heavier and more powerful cars by removing their relative utility. Lighter weight construction would deliver the same safety levels at lower speeds and the demand for powerful acceleration would be reduced. By limiting vehicle speed and power through design, the enforcement burden would be minimised and it would be harder for drivers to develop wasteful and dangerous driving styles. These changes at the top end would make cars less damaging, wasteful and intimidating for the short journeys for which they are most often used.


  In the short term enforcement would be by automatic detection. Time over distance technologies would be the most effective. In the longer term enforcement would be through adapting the vehicle to ensure that it underpinned rather than undermined system goals.

Other inter-urban speed limits and CO2 reductions

  Reducing the 70 mph limit for motorways and dual carriageways would have implications for the 60 mph national speed limit for single carriageway roads. Average speeds on these roads are below 50 mph, so it is likely that much of the mileage is being driven much closer to the optimum efficiency. But a lower limit could help to reduce emissions associated with hard acceleration and braking by drivers attempting to drive at or above the current limit. Rationalising speed limits for the whole interurban network would assist management of the network, including the targeting of resources for enforcement, engineering and maintenance in order to control demand and reduce levels and impacts of traffic.


  In 2004, 39% of all motorised mileage was driven on urban roads. 22% of all mileage was driven on minor urban roads. 58% of urban mileage is driven on minor roads (Department for Transport 2005d).

  The amount of car use in built up areas, especially for shorter journeys, makes it an obvious candidate for transfer to non-fossil fuel modes. Here the role of speed management is not to set a system boundary but rather to control operating conditions, to ensure that the road environment is conducive to sustainable road users. Road safety has an essential role to play in carbon reduction strategies.

Current travel patterns show the potential for modal shift

  In 2004, 68% of all trips, regardless of mode, were under five miles. 42% were under two miles and 22% under one mile (Department for Transport 2005a). Cars are now the most commonly used mode for all but the very shortest trips. 58% of car trips are under five miles and 25% are under two miles. 20% of trips under one mile were made by car in 2004.

  These shorter car journeys could be walked or cycled as current trip lengths show. In 2004 77% of trips under one mile, 32% of one to two mile trips and 5% of two to five mile trips were walked. While 54% of bicycle trips are under two miles, 36% of bike trips are between two to five miles. About 34% of car trips fall within the two to five mile band. This last comparison shows that the bicycle competes well with the motor car for trips up to five miles long.

The public are aware that much car use is unnecessary

  Numerous surveys demonstrate public understanding that the car is not always needed for such short journeys. 58% say that they currently use a car to make journeys within walking and cycling distance (Department for Transport 2003a). Nearly 40% of people agree that "many of the short journeys I now make by car I could just as easily walk/cycle if I had a bike" (Department for Transport 2006). The 1998 Transport White Paper found that 30% of trips were judged by car users as "hardly necessary at all" or ones for which a "perfectly good alternative [was] already available but ignored" (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 1998, paragraph 2.47).

  People may also be prepared to make changes in their mode choices: over 90% agreed that people should be encouraged to walk to help their health (97%), help the environment (94%) and ease congestion (92%) (Department for Transport 2003a).

Walking and cycling are in decline

  However, walking and cycling are in continuing decline in spite of policies to increase the use of these modes. Between 1990 and 2003 the number trips made on foot fell by 25% while those made on a bicycle fell by 30% (Department for Transport 2005a). In the late 1990s the UK car mode share was the highest in Europe while we had the second lowest level of walking per person in the EU and the sixth lowest level of cycling (Atkins 2001c).

Road danger is a pervasive and serious deterrent to the use of sustainable modes

  The greatest deterrent to the uptake of sustainable modes is danger. A MORI study for the Commission for Integrated Transport found 44% of people "said they would cycle more if the roads were safer and 26% would travel less by car if the conditions for walking locally were better (Hutton and Klahr 2001).

  The DfT research into attitudes to walking and cycling (Department for Transport 2003a) has found that 37% of those asked would use car less if there were safer walking routes. When asked what cycling measures would encourage people to use their cars less those who cycle most frequently (once a week or more) score the highest in wanting cycle tracks away from roads (55%) or more cycle lanes on roads (55%). This indicates that current road conditions intimidate experienced cyclists. About half of cyclists use roads without cycle lanes for their trips. Only one in 10 used mainly on-road cycle lanes or cycle tracks away from roads. Three quarters of adults agreed with the statement, "The idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me" and nearly half (47%) agreed strongly.

  A more recent survey by Brake and Green Flag (2006) reveals that 68% worry about being killed on foot and 36% of people who never cycle on the roads do so for reasons which include a fear of traffic.

  Road danger was spontaneously mentioned as a barrier to cycle use in another survey (Department for Transport 2004a). Speed featured in the top eight of unprompted local concerns in yet another (Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions 2001b).

Sustainable road users disproportionately bear the casualty burden: this demonstrates that safety concerns are well founded

  The road casualty record for built up areas bears out these concerns. 40% of road deaths, 59% of road deaths and serious injuries and 68% of all road casualties occur on built-up roads. Of these pedestrians and cyclists account for 45% of the deaths, 43% of the deaths and serious injuries and 26% of casualties of all severities (Department for Transport 2005b).

  31% of all road deaths, 50% of road deaths and serious injuries, and 59% of all road casualties occur on roads with a 30 mph speed limit. The breakdown for vulnerable road users is not published but one would expect it to be even higher than for built-up roads as a whole.

  In the UK in 2003, per unit of exposure measured as distance travelled, pedestrians were 16 times and cyclists were 20 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than car occupants.

  These figures do not take into account the problem of under-reporting and under-recording of casualties, which are thought to lead to underestimates of serious injuries by a factor of three for all road users and nearly six for cyclists (Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions 2001a; Aeron-Thomas 2000).

Speed is the single most important factor to control when reducing danger for non-fossil fuel modes

  Speed is the most important risk factor in road safety and in terms of injury severity the next most important is vulnerability (Elvik et al 2004).

  Injury severity is related to impact speed. At an impact speed of 30 mph the probability that a collision will be fatal to a pedestrian is about 50% (Elvik et al 2004). The transition from minor to non-minor injuries occurs at around 20 mph (Elvik et al 2004; Ashton and Mackay 1979). Reducing travel speed from 30 mph to 20 mph reduces the risk of killing a pedestrian by about 95%: in addition to reducing injury severity should a collision occur, the lower speed allows more time to reduce speed still further (Ashton 2004).

  All before and after studies of 20 mph zones indicate a very large potential for casualty reduction. 20 mph zones have reduced injury collisions of all severities by 60% and those involving child deaths and serious injuries by 70% (Webster and Mackie 1996). A recent study by the Transport Research Laboratory for Transport for London shows that 20 mph zones reduce all casualties by 42% and deaths and serious injuries by 53% (Transport for London 2003). 20 mph zones in Hull have reduced the number of people killed and seriously injured by 90% (Kingston-upon-Hull City Council 2000).

A 20 mph speed limit is a necessary precondition for the expansion of sustainable modes

  "Retrofitting" direct, convenient, safe, coherent and comfortable networks to enable appropriate levels of walking and cycling in built-up areas would be expensive, impractical and probably impossible if it depended on segregated paths, tracks and lanes to achieve levels of risk acceptable to the majority of the travelling public. It would take an enormously long time. It would completely cede the road network to motorised traffic in urban areas, resulting in . . . positive feedback.

  A 20 mph speed limit for most urban roads, on the other hand, would allow the safe mixing of motorised and non-motorised modes and would give pedestrians and cyclists the same direct and safe routes for their journeys as those enjoyed by motorists.

  This is approach is increasingly adopted in European countries where rates of walking and cycling are much higher and casualty rates for sustainable road users much lower than in the UK (Atkins 2001c).

    ". . . the upper speed limit of 30 km/h [19 mph] is a fundamental condition from the traffic safety point of view . . . Where the integration of such incompatible travel modes is aimed for, the 30 km/h speed limit acts as the prerequisite for avoiding detrimental effects of the speed and mass of motorised traffic." (Wouters 2001, p 19)

  Area-wide 20 mph zones were found to be the one critical success factor underpinning best practice in the balanced use of road space in the Commission for Integrated Transport 2001 study of European Best Practice:

    "Lower speed limits—blanket 30 kph speed limits on non-strategic roads were common to all case study areas and, with effective enforcement, were particularly important in achieving more conducive conditions for non-motorised travel, reducing the perceived journey time differential between the car and other modes, creating safer conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, and reducing traffic noise." (Atkins 2001c, p 22-23)

  To achieve these results between 65-85% of the network has 30 kph limits. In Munich, with a "pedestrian friendly city" policy, 80% of the road network has a 30 kph limit. Some residential areas have even lower limits. Strategic roads with higher limits (50 kph, or 31 mph) have segregated cycle tracks. In Graz, Austria, over 80% of the network has 30 kph limits. Cycle usage increased by 17% while cycling casualties fell. Munich also has very low casualty rates for vulnerable road users. Graz and Munich exemplify best practice because they have stabilised or reduced the use of the car, despite increasing levels of car ownership. Parking restrictions, high quality public transport and public relations also play an important part in getting car use under control (Atkins 2001a).

  The use of 30 kph speed limits for roads in residential, shopping and other "mixed use" areas is nearly universal in Germany. In Hilden, a town of 50,000 people near Dusseldorf a 30 kph speed limit was introduced over most of the road network to improve safety and quality of life and to avoid the expense of providing a comprehensive network of cycle lanes. 60% of trips to the town centre are made on foot or by bicycle (Groll 2005).

Potential reduction of CO2 emissions

  In its 2000 review of speed policy the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions argued against a reduction in urban 30 mph limit on the basis of the potential increase in CO2 and other emissions, but did not provide evidence for this position.

  The trade offs for CO2 at the urban level are complicated. It is true that engines of current design are less efficient at lower speeds. But driving style is responsible for 10-15% of emissions (Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 1994). Slower urban speeds would help to smooth traffic, reducing fuel consumption and pollution. Cold start short journeys are also excessively polluting but many of these would be eliminated by the shift to walking and cycling. The arguments for and against a 20 mph speed limit for the majority of built-up roads have not been considered in the context of reducing speeds on the interurban network where the fuel inefficiencies resulting from current speed choice are very much greater. In the longer term, as explained above, limiting speed at the upper end would reorientate vehicle design so that cars would become more fuel efficient at lower speeds.

  Graz's Tempo 30 policy has reduced the wider environmental impacts of motorised transport. Based on measurements of their results, it has been estimated that a one third reduction in the modal share of the car would reduce congestion by 30% and fuel consumption by 25% (Dekoster and Schollaert 1999).

  The CO2 reducing effects could be much wider if a 20 mph speed limit allowed more efficient land use. The Urban Task Force recommended that 20 mph should become "normal" in residential areas and high streets and commended it as an example of a policy that discriminates in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, would attract people back into urban areas and reduce the need for travel (Urban Task Force 1999).

Enforcement and public support

  There would have to be a commitment to securing compliance with a 20 mph limit through a combination of engineering, enforcement and public information. But there is already evidence of public support for a 20 mph urban speed limit. In a British Social Attitudes survey in 2000 two thirds of people said that pedestrians and cyclists should be given priority in towns and cities, even if this makes things difficult for other road users. 80% favoured 20 mph speed limits in residential roads to ensure this priority (Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions 2001b). The 2004 MORI attitudes survey found that "motorists recognise the need to enforce speed limits, although there are suggestions that 30 mph is too fast for dense urban areas" (Department for Transport 2004a, p 6). We assume that the high stakes and a government information campaign to explain the need for lower limits would help to justify enforcement but also would encourage widespread voluntary compliance.

Economic rationale

  Spending on road safety, including on 20 mph limits and zones, is irrationally limited. Road safety interventions typically achieve a return on investment of 3:1 or higher. Department for Transport guidance on value for money considers a return of 2:1 or more as "high" and advises that most if not all schemes with this rate of return, or higher, should be pursued (Department for Transport 2004b). Schemes with "significant non-monetised impacts relative to costs can be placed in a higher category. Because of their very significant non-monetised costs, it can be argued that road safety schemes with a lower rate of return, near the Treasury's suggested 1.25 on opportunity costs, would be justified (Ward et al 2003).

  Transport for London have estimated that introducing 20 mph zones on 60% of the borough road network (8,000 km) would cost £230 million and would save an estimated £313 million in casualties prevented in the first year, a return of 1.36 (Transport for London 2003). If engineering works are assumed to have a lifetime of 15 years and require minimal maintenance, then the return on investment would be nearer 20:1. The return on Hull's 20 mph schemes has been estimated at 10:1 (IPPR 2002). Safety cameras have a benefit to cost ratio of 2.7:1 (Gains et al 2005).


Is the DfT's strategy coherent?

  The Government lacks a coherent speed policy. The reason for this may be an unwillingness to accept the need for constraints on mobility. Promoting mobility while seeking to reduce the impacts of the transport system maintains positive feedback. Policies to promote walking and cycling modes that do not fully accept the need to reduce danger and ensure complete networks for these modes will not achieve meaningful modal shift from the car for shorter journeys.

Does the expenditure balance adequately reflect the challenge?

  As we have indicated, road safety expenditure should be considerably increased. Safety and environmental objectives are mutually supporting and need to be given very much greater priority in order to "balance the need to travel." The current lack of balance significantly exacerbates the problem of traffic growth and emissions.

What realistically could be achieved by 2010 and 2020?

  If introduced immediately, a 60 mph limit on motorways and dual carriageways would prevent at least four mega-tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere by 2010. If lower speeds curbed or stopped traffic growth the benefit would be much greater. More detailed calculations to be published in June indicate a much higher figure for reductions. In the longer term (to 2020) the carbon reducing effects of lower speed limits would be far-reaching: reduced annual mileage, reduced motorised travel in built-up areas, more appropriate vehicle design, more compact land use.

What specific steps should the Department take?

    —  Reduce the top speed limit to 60 mph maximum, reduce the speed limit for single carriageway roads to 50 mph maximum, reduce the urban speed limit to 20 mph maximum, with higher speeds the exception for strategic routes with enough space to accommodate full width pedestrian and cyclist routes.

    —  Incorporate national carbon reduction targets in the forthcoming speed limit setting guidance to local authorities.

    —  Treble, at minimum, expenditure on road safety for high quality traffic calming and street design and speed limit enforcement.

    —  Reinstate the national target to treble cycling by 2010, and commit to an equivalent target for walking.

    —  Introduce legislation requiring top speed limiters for all cars and incentives for the adoption of variable speed limiters, including Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Bring forward legislation to outlaw the sale of cars without speed limiters.

Powering Future Vehicles

  The Powering Future Vehicles strategy does not recognise the effects of vehicle power, speed and intimidation on modal choice and therefore transport impacts. It concentrates too much on fuel substitution and fuel efficiency and not enough on the energy intensity of transport systems which promote hypermobility. It prioritises very expensive solutions before fully specifying system parameters and using appropriate system goals to optimise the behaviour of the system with current vehicles. The existing fleet would be very much greener if driven more conservatively.

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March 2006

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