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Proposed motorway speed increase panders to the 'Die-Hards'

Monday 5th December 2011

Government proposals to raise motorway speed limits would please a vocal minority of just one in five voters, according to Dr Jillian Anable (pictured), senior transport research expert at the University of Aberdeen.

Speaking to policy makers at the annual Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) Westminster Lecture in London, Dr Anable warned that the Government ignores the vast majority, at its peril, when aiming to change travel behaviour.

She outlined some key traits that distinguish the wide range of types of drivers, and non-drivers, and explained that attempting to ‘nudge’ the population into driving responsibly or using other forms of transport will fail with many types.

Dr Anable said: “The vocal minority who seek a higher speed limit on motorways are the Die-Hards: passionate and knowledgeable about cars in general, and with a strong emotional and physical attachment to their own car. These drivers – predominantly but not exclusively male – believe they are superior drivers, and that their car reflects their status, intelligence and wealth.

“Any restrictions on their driving – such as car parking regulations and charges, pedestrian and cyclist priorities, or speed limits – are seen as infringements of their freedom.

“Such drivers believe that climate change is not their responsibility and are not willing to use any alternative forms of transport.

“The macho attitude of the Die-Hards is heavily ingrained in our culture, through advertising, film, sport and music, so appears disproportionately represented. In fact, more than half of all drivers travel at speeds of around 70mph or lower on motorways, and if the speed limit were to be raised, many would feel pressurised into driving faster.

“Speed differentials would also increase if the speed limit was set at 80 mph. Lorries and buses would travel at much lower speeds, causing bunching and sudden braking and increasing the risk of collisions. This would lead to slower journeys overall.

“What gets overlooked is that one in four households does not use a car, and while they may not have a strong view on speed limits, they are paying for any investment in the road network, for the cost of crashes, and paying the environmental cost.”

For more information contact David Armstrong/Becky Hadley on 020 7808 7997.

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If we live in a democracy, and if more than 50% of people want to drive on motorways at 80mph, then safety aside, the speed limit should be 80. That’s what democracy is all about, the majority rules, even if those rules are not the safest option.
Adam, Hants

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Now that this problem is identified “The macho attitude of the Die-Hards is heavily ingrained in our culture, through advertising, film, sport and music, so appears disproportionately represented", what is the solution?

Should film, sport and music be censored (advertising is regulated already)?

Should James Bond films and 5th gear and Top Gear where fast cars are driven recklessly be banned? Should Formula 1 and the World Rally Championships be at least banned from TV, if not banned altogether?

I'm not sure how music has led to people wanting the limit to be raised to 80mph though.
Dave Finney - Slough

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Dr Anable's research highlighting different driver types that map onto the driving subcultures that exist is likely to be valid and repeatable.

Speed is not the biggest accident causation factor, those to do with awareness and observation account for more collisions, but does have an impact on whether collisions happen and their severity so the use of speed variable is worthy of investigation.

Those who are involved in collisions more than others, when speed is a factor, tend to choose a higher speed relative to the average speed of the traffic (with a 1% change in relative speed leading to between a 8% and 13% in the individual's collision risk (TRL, 2000)). Often the drivers who choose to drive at high speeds relative to the majority are the types of drivers Dr Anable is referring to. I think it's safe to say people belong to this type of driving sub-culture would like higher speed limits as they can then engage in the style of driving they enjoy with less risk of being prosecuted.

Regarding changing the speed limit on the motorway, prosecution would probably still start at the current recommended 10% + 2, which would be 90mph with an 80mph speed limit. I feel that many modern superminis will easily go at these sorts of speeds but how much grip have their tyres got and how powerful are their brakes?

Greater spreads of speed does lead to more collisions (TRL, 2000) and another factor to consider is many drivers have spent years judging where the traffic is behind them by how quickly the image increases in their mirrors - some will not be used to judging the looming effect at 90mph and some will struggle to be able to do the task reliably (especially at night).

There was a time when I would have loved the idea of raising the speed limit on the motorway as I enjoyed driving fast, and it must be said speed can be enjoyable and the feeling is addictive (just look at how some people enjoy fairground rides), but now that I know more about driving and have some idea of the complexity of driver behaviour I would be very wary of increasing speed limits on motorways.
Dr James Whalen, Wolverhampton

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Put simply. If we increase the legal limit to 80 mph then those that exceed the limit will add ten to their usual figure, so instead of 85 mph they will do 95 mph. Leave it at 70 but change the policing policy instead.
Jim Mennie, Aberdeen

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If the average law breaker on the M road is driving at 80 anyway and if there is little or no police presence on the motorway anyway, why is there a need to go through a costly process to increase the limit to let law breakers do what they re already doing? It is a waste of time and money and if we listen to the Doctor and I am in full agreement with her, we should be leaving it alone.
Alan Hale - South Gloucestershire Road Safety Team.

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We know from reducing speed limits that a 10mph reduction in the limit usually results in a reduction of around 1 to 3 mph in average speed so, if the reverse is true, any increased accident risk may be small.

If speed limits are set at or above the natural safe speeds of a driver throughout the journey she undertakes, then that driver can fully concentrate on the hazards she encounters along the way. It is only if speed limits are set below the natural safe speed at any point that “adjusting to the speed limit” is required. Since most drivers currently drive around 80mph where safe, raising the limit to 80mph may result in a small reduction in accident risk.

But the motorways are a special case as they tend to be uninteresting and long distances are often covered. This may be why tiredness is a major factor in accidents. Allowing a greater range of speeds where it is safe can both make the journey more interesting (maintaining concentration on hazards) and shorten journey times (tiredness may be a time exposed related risk) therefore raising the limit to 80mph may reduce the accident risk slightly.

It looks like a 50/50 argument. 80mph could make motorways slightly less safe or slightly more safe but, at the end of the day, these are all opinions. The real test is in making the change and measuring the result.

PS: was anyone exceeding 70mph in the recent M5 crash? I haven't seen the Police accident report.
Dave Finney - Slough

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Sorry Dave, but how would increasing the speed limit reduce tiredness and prevent drivers "being distracted by adjusting to the speed limit"? Surely, greater speeds need MORE concentration so potentially more tired drivers and they will still have to adjust to the sped limit, albeit a higher one.
Andy, Warwick

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The most dangerous siuations on motorways are generally associated with differential speeds. The recent M5 disaster illustrates this very well.

The emphasis on psychology when analysing behavour is absolutely correct ,we are all influenced by our attitudes that derive from genetic and cultural roots.

All human activity stems from this source and it is only by recognising the fundamentals of driver behaviour in this way that real progress can be made.
malcolm whitmore,loughborough

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There is no road safety argument for increasing speed limits, no environmental argument and the economic justification is, shall we say very weak. So what is the reason for even considering it?
Ian Edwards, Doncaster

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This seems a very one-sided report.

What did Dr Jillian Anable's research into the personalities of people who oppose giving a wider range of freedom to drivers to select an appropriate speed on the motorway reveal?

Also, is it possible that, after years of the "speed management" mantra, some professionals are worried that increasing any speed limit might NOT produce the expected carnage?
Dave Finney - Slough

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This Government seem determined to pick a fight with academics, environmentalists, the emergency services and a whole range of road safety organisations, charities, victim support groups, sensible drivers and lobbyists by experimenting with an increase to the maximum speed limit on the motorways in England and Wales. I understand the basis of this proposal is that by increasing speeds by 10mph on the Mway this 'might' boost the economy (as well as be seen to 'stopping the war on the motorist?) It makes one wonder why any Government would flirt with such a proposal in the face of overwhelming and well informed opposition?
Susan, Northamptonshire

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There has been some research and perhaps Dr Anable has done more, into the psychological profiles of offenders, drivers and so on. Far from being a personality attack, it is a perfectly legitimate investigation into the psychology of road users and how these factors influence their interaction with the road network, vehicles and other road users. This is essential knowledge if we are to design roads and vehicles which we can use more effectively and thereby reduce the incidence of crashes, This use of human factors research evidence must also extend to aid informed decision making about road traffic law - it would be remiss not to do so.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

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Wow. Did Dr Jillian Anable really say that, or has she been misquoted or quoted out of context?

This looks like an attack on people by using scientific language to discredit the personalities of people whose views are different. Rather than attack personalities could the discussion focus on the actual evidence?

Raising the m/way limit to 80mph might result in more collisions due to the reasons stated, but also fewer collisions due to tiredness and motorists being able to spend more attention on the other road users around them rather than being distracted by adjusting to the speed limit.

In the end it may well be a 50/50 safety argument.
Dave Finney - Slough

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