Government should review national speed limits ‘as soon as possible’

14.00 | 2 July | | 36 comments

A new report has recommended that the 60mph speed limit should be lowered on thousands of miles of rural roads.

This is one of the key findings in the Road Safety Management Capacity Review, which was commissioned by the DfT and carried out by the Systra consultancy, which provides research and advice on transport to central, regional and local governments across the globe.

The report recommends reviewing national speed limits, with a particular emphasis on single carriageways in the countryside – suggesting that a 5% decrease in mean speed could produce a 30% reduction in deaths on these roads.

The report also calls for more average speed cameras to be introduced, pointing to figures which suggest average speed cameras reduce fatal and serious collisions by 36%, and a reduction in the threshold for speeding prosecutions.

In terms of vehicle safety, the report encourages the Government to promote technologies including Intelligent Speed Adaptation and Autonomous Emergency Braking, and to introduce improvements in crash tests for front and side passenger protection, and pedestrian protection.

Among the report’s other recommendations are lowering the drink-drive limit, reintroducing casualty reduction targets and ensuring that at least 10% of road infrastructure investment is devoted to road safety intervention.

A DfT spokesperson told the Times: “The UK has some of the safest roads in the world but we are constantly looking to do more. We are considering the findings of the review.”


 

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    My final post on this item. I accept that some may want to interpret my initial post as concentrating on speed but I had hoped, R Craven, that my follow-up post made it clear that I am not fixated on speed. I repeat “By having effective (evaluated) interventions which together address all factors in collisions then the maximum casualty reductions can be achieved.
    As for “bitter critical attack”? I will leave that to others.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)
    0

    Nick, you mentioned speed 13 times in three paragraphs and it was maintained throughout your critical attack and somewhat obvious that speed was definitely your main focus and concern. Your argument was full of references regarding speed and that speed was a main causation of the vast majority of collisions and as a result you drew the conclusion that all speeds should therefore be reduced. This was obviously in line with the headline and content of the item shown. It’s also in general what the 20 is plenty scheme wishes to happen. You merely mentioning other causes in passing and obviously thought of them to be being somewhat ancillary to speed. By the way, my dictionary sites ‘diatribe’ as a ‘bitter critical attack’

    Hugh, you and I agree on similar problems but I have seen over many years the fixation that many have when it comes to speeding in excess of the speed limits and their desire to do something about it. That has been going on since before this website was started and we are still singing the same tune about speed. Why is that, its because to date no intervention has as yet succeeded in eradicating speed as the main concern of many within and outside the profession. I truly believe that many have still got it wrong as we still suffer, argue and debate about this one singular entity or cause and further that many fail to see the need to look at and in a new perspective and that is one of safe distance. Something that our elders way back in history new about and well before we had such a thing as speedometers.


    R.Craven
    Agree (2) | Disagree (2)
    0

    Bob (Craven) I know that safe distances is your main issue, but it is inexorably linked to speed and to say people have a ‘speed fixation’ is as unfair as saying you have a ‘safe distance fixation’. To me, being able to stop in time for anything is down to speed AND distance from the thing you’re trying to avoid. Whilst you say it’s no good slowing drivers down if they’re too close to stop, then equally, maintaining a safe distance is no good if one’s speed is too fast to stop within that distance – they do go together and whilst some like me think slower speeds is a priority and you think safe following distances are a priority, they are both equally important and they each determine the other.

    You refer to maintaining safe distances from the vehicle you can see ahead of you – obviously quite right – but you can’t maintain a safe distance from what you can’t yet see, but which might suddenly appear – that’s where your appropriate speed comes in i.e. being able to stop for what you can’t yet see, but which you should expect.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (4)
    --2

    To R Craven – I read your comment with bemusement I’m afraid. So much so I took to the internet to get a definition of diatribe and came up with “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.” I had set out to post a reasonable attempt at suggesting that collisions have multiple factors and therefore multiple complimentary solutions, but perhaps I got the tone of my comments wrong? Just so I am sure you read the whole comment please can I point you towards the last paragraph in my post?

    I may be wrong but I am perhaps the only person who has used the word “collaboration” in these comments multiple times (apologies to others of a similar mind-set to mine, who I know are out there, if I have not seen your use of the word).

    Finally, please note my use of the word “space” in the second paragraph and the phrase “Speed can be a factor, as can driver inattention, poor driving skills/choices” which was meant to be a catch-all for the many factors involved, which I was not prepared to list to avoid reaching the maximum number of characters in my post!

    I categorically deny being fixated on speed or ever saying it is the “main danger”.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (3) | Disagree (2)
    +1

    Where is the lack of safe stopping or following on distance in your diatribe Nick? Nowhere, that’s where – and therein lies the problem. Speed fixation! It’s no use slowing drivers down if they fail to give at least the decent safe distance to be able to see and be seen in. Tailgating is not just being far too close to the rear of another vehicle, it’s all to do with what advanced drivers call positioning. Not just laterally across a road from one side to the other but in safe following distances where all or most of the road can be seen and one can see most of what is happening. Speed is not the main danger, a lack of safe space is.

    Just today I was following a driver behind a transit van and at 50 mph. This driver was only giving some 30 ft of stopping distance and what could he see? He was losing about 95% of the road vision that he should have been having. If he had pulled back to 150 or 175 ft then his visibility would have been about 95% of the road ahead and peripherally. Same speeds but a massive distance in safe driving. All due to safe space.


    R.Craven
    Agree (7) | Disagree (5)
    +2

    To solve a problem (or more realistically reduce it in the case of road casualties) the causes of the problem need identifying followed by the identification of interventions to remove the cause or mitigate their effects.

    Stats 19 data is by no means perfect but it appears to be the main source of data to be used to identify causes/types of collisions for the majority of road safety professionals. From my experience the vast majority of collisions are the result of several factors occurring together in time and space. Some factors and causes appear to be more prevalent than others. Similarly some causes are easier/cheaper to remove than others.

    Speed can be a factor, as can driver inattention, poor driving skills/choices (in no particular order. There are many other factors which appear in the collision reports some relating to vehicles, road environment, weather conditions, illness, drink/drugs etc.(one person’s pothole can be another resident’s inverse speed hump)

    I think it is true to say that if speeds are reduced then the collisions that would have been caused by the higher speeds won’t occur and in the other collisions there would be less kinetic energy to transfer to human bodies so reducing the severity of the injuries suffered. This leads to a rationale that “Speed Management” is an area where casualty prevention/reductions can be achieved.

    However, “Speed Management” is not simply putting up a sign with a lower “speed limit” but is the use of techniques that are aimed at getting drivers of vehicles to travel on the highway at appropriate speeds. Other than physical traffic calming measures and enforcement sites/lengths are there any techniques available to Highway Authorities that drivers are not free to avoid the effects of? (assuming the vehicles have the correct number plates on)

    If all, or the majority, of vehicles travelled at a slower speed then it is very likely that there would be fewer and less serious casualties on the roads if all other factors remain the same. This leads to a concentrated effort to try to reduce speeds. It is finding effective speed reducing techniques which is the challenge. We have to be able to stop seeing a reduction in speed limit, in isolation of other interventions, as one of these effective techniques. Residents campaigning for lower speed limits are actually wanting lower vehicle speeds – two different outcomes.

    By having effective (evaluated) interventions which together address all factors in collisions then the maximum casualty reductions can be achieved.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (5) | Disagree (3)
    +2

    Speed limits are not the problem, poor driving standards are the major problem. Following some drivers they must have sent somebody else to pass their driving tests. 20 mph Zones are a danger, people taking more attention on trying not to speed than trying to concentrate on the road ahead. Major problem, Third World road surfaces that the Goverment should have sorted out years ago that we previously paid for by excessive taxes. Don’t reduce speed limits, improve the road system and drivers!


    Mike, Bromley
    Agree (16) | Disagree (3)
    +13

    I would expect regular drivers of Rolls-Royces (and similar) to have very good safety records, whereas drivers of hot-hatches (are they still called that?) and cars with an image to uphold, possibly not so good – just an observation.. no stats I’m afraid. I think it’s to do with not having anything to prove, nor needing certain vehicle types to reinforce one’s status possibly? Again not a hard and fast rule, just an observation. No doubt the insurance companies could enlighten us.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (5) | Disagree (2)
    +3

    It was meant as a wholly serious point.

    I don’t own, but have daily/weekly access to a vehicle whose safety features are limited; a loud horn, a four point racing harness and a dashcam to name most of these safety features – hence why I asked the question.

    > [the more comfortable the driver] the better the attitude of the driver

    …but has the driver’s attentiveness approved? All well and good trundling along down a road below any proscribed speed limit, but if a driver cannot react to that tractor because they’re enjoying the radio just a bit too much, well, what can I say.


    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (5) | Disagree (0)
    +5

    Can’t figure out if David Weston’s comment was to suggest that such a vehicle would be fun to drive or not.. irritating and difficult yes… fun? hardly. Although this is not a car enthusiast’s forum, I would say that the more convenient, comfortable and easy to drive a vehicle is, the better the attitude of the driver – might explain white van man’s behaviour. The more relaxed and happier one is behind the wheel the more restrained one is and the less heavy footed on the gas possibly. (A neat tie-in there with speed limits -the actual point of this news item).


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (4)
    --3

    For me its the standard of driving and awareness more than the speed reduction on the rural roads. Bad driving can be at low or high speeds – there seems to be more ignorance by some as they push in or rush past with no care for hazards or consequences of their actions. Add to that the alcohol and drug use prior to driving and you have a volatile mental mix, its the mental culture of drivers needs to change, not just speed restriction limits.


    David Lisk
    Agree (19) | Disagree (0)
    +19

    If the question is ‘how to prevent unnecessary deaths?’ Then raise the cost of a unit of alcohol by 50p, or ban smoking. If the question is about road safety then then improve driving standards.


    Ant Clerici, Worcester
    Agree (11) | Disagree (3)
    +8

    > A far simpler solution is to restrict the agility (not the power) of vehicles to make the operator feel less safe. Do away with power assisted steering, servo assisted brakes, ABS, TCS, air conditioning and satellite navigation and watch the accident rates tumble

    So… you wish to make a vehicle that is… fun to drive?


    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (2) | Disagree (16)
    --14

    Interesting idea from Mr Gladstone, although I can’t help thinking there were probably more collisions before we had pas, pab, ABS, A/C etc. On that last point, I’d be interested to find out if there have been more collisions over the last few weeks of heatwave, involving drivers without A/C, who were irritable, uncomfortable and possibly impatient. Being comfortable and relaxed behind the wheel is important for collision avoidance and restricting the power, but not the agility and comfort, would be my approach.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (3) | Disagree (8)
    --5

    Why make more criminals?
    This law would be virtually unpoliceable at this time.
    A far simpler solution is to restrict the agility (not the power) of vehicles to make the operator feel less safe. Do away with power assisted steering, servo assisted brakes, ABS, TCS, air conditioning and satellite navigation and watch the accident rates tumble. But no, that would stop the revenue stream from fines on drivers and taxation on the vehicles as they would be much cheaper and safer reducing repeat business by insurance replacement.
    The speed limits are right. Leave them alone. The vehicle in combination with the human mindset is the problem. The human mind set is inherent. See the Peltzman effect. Therefore the vehicle must change.
    Speeding is meant to be approached by the three “E” methodology.
    Engineeing.
    Education.
    Enforcement.
    Let’s engineer the car to educate the driver to adhere to the law.


    Kevin Gladstone, Denton
    Agree (7) | Disagree (7)
    0

    A 60 mph speed limit on most rural roads is inappropriate so I support lowering the speed limit on such roads. Many are narrow with bends, and with cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians there is a risk of fatalities.

    I have been lobbying for compulsory vehicle technology that audio warns drivers if they are starting to speed or tailgate before directly reporting the vehicle if the driver makes no positive response. Such technology would cover every UK road cost-effectively making all roads safer. The technology could also monitor drivers’ skills that can then be officially improved to make roads safer.

    Also if road fines are higher and driving bans longer, prevention of law breaking driving would become a priority. I also think drivers should have regular eye sight tests for safer roads, just like vehicles have MOTs.


    Paula Collingwood
    Agree (11) | Disagree (44)
    --33

    On the A road from Preston to Blackpool they have recently installed ASC and I have just realised that within the first to the last, a distance of about 3 miles there are three sets of traffic lights and one roundabout so any vehicles using this road may have to stop and a wait at theses lights or drive off at a tangent at the roundabout and that to my mind make these cameras worse than useless.

    These devices are designed to slow drivers down and capture them to the police for possible prosecution. They have certainly slowed drivers down as I am now tailgated far more than ever before. Where I was at one time driving at the limit of the road some other drivers would overtake me and cause me no problems in doing so. However now they see the yellow posts and the camera and now they drive close up to the rear of my vehicle, some so close that they may as well be siting in it with me and then they tailgate me for mile after mile rather than exceed the limit by overtaking,

    Nice on that one, its designed to make the roads safer but instead its making them ten times worse.


    R.Craven
    Agree (20) | Disagree (3)
    +17

    Rod,
    Keeping to the point of financial viability of more enforcement cameras. The type approval process is there for use and if manufacturers /suppliers want to seek approval for their latest gizmos I’m sure they can submit applications.

    My guess is that with new technology and more economies of scale costs will come down but by nowhere near the levels of cost reduction you are hoping for.
    So long as quality standards/thresholds for new kit are maintained, I’m happy to see lower costs coming through.


    Pat, Wales
    Agree (5) | Disagree (0)
    +5

    I note Bob, that you are acknowledging and possibly condoning, people driving “..at speed, relatively safely..” which they may be, but you seem to have a problem with people doing all those other equally annoying things you’ve mentioned in your fourth paragraph – might they not be doing all those things ‘relatively safely’ as well?


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (7)
    --5

    Pat

    You are making the mistake of not recognising that speed detectors are expensive because of the very low numbers sold. Increase the number tenfold and the costs will drop dramatically. If in addition you use standard commodity technology such as a mobile phone with speed detector attached and you probably have all the power required for ANPR and camera. This brings the cost down even further.

    As for the idea of “covering the country with cameras”, well at the moment we have a country covered in drivers in vehicles travelling above the legal limit. Personally I prefer to cope with static cameras rather than speeding vehicles.


    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (11) | Disagree (9)
    +2

    I checked out the road fatality statistics when a midlands paper announced the roll out of “Smart Motorways” near me. It would appear that camera based speed enforcement is being applied to the safest, “fastest” roads, motorways and dual carriageways.

    To me, it appears that finances are playing too great a part in the decisions to deploy these measures. They’re deployed where people may drive at speed, relatively safely, (and thus provide revenue to finance the cameras) but where there are accidents, the cost is (admittedly) high. Does the data show a great reduction in accidents/fatalities where cameras are deployed? If it does, then surely deploying the technology where most fatal accidents occur would make sense. That would be on rural and urban roads, then…

    Where I live, I experience, on a daily basis, drivers who tailgate me through our small town, then fail to keep up when we pass the NSL signs. The converse is also true, in that when returning to our town, those who couldn’t maintain a reasonable speed outside town continue to travel at more than 30mph when they enter the 30 zone… I’m guessing they’re afraid of driving at reasonable speeds away from the street lighting, but are more confident in town.

    It’s time, (in my opinion) for periodic retesting of drivers, improving their driving skills and hazard awareness, so achieving greater road safety. I’m tired of contending with poor lane discipline, failure to indicate, inappropriate indication, indicating as I’m overtaking them, and am on their rear offside quarter, lack of awareness of priorities (or drivers who simply put themselves first, regardless of who has priority) people who slow down unnecessarily to leave the dual carriageway or motorway, who join motorways without having accelerated to an appropriate speed, those who return to lane 1 as others are joining motorways and dual Carriageways, those who drive at speeds lower than the limit for large commercials, forcing them to join lane 2 to overtake, those who cut up commercials, having just realized they need to leave the motorway, but are in lane 2, five feet ahead of a 44 tonne truck… (the list is not complete…)

    I’d like to see the testing and retraining conducted by a government body, too, rather than by businesses such as existing driving schools. Training and testing need to be conducted by separate bodies. Establishing better driving standards is a better way of achieving safety improvements on our roads than high tech enforcement systems, I believe. Higher standards and periodic testing may force the incompetent off the road. Totting up and temporary disqualification only keeps some people off the road for a short time. Periodic testing of competence to drive, including eyesight checks, may get some off the roads permanently.


    Bob Lawson, Kettering
    Agree (21) | Disagree (4)
    +17

    Type approved cameras of a suitable standard to be used for enforcement (and fines) are still astronomically expensive, even today. The back office support functions don’t come cheaper either.

    Apart from the serious discussion of whether we actually want the country covered in cameras or not, it is most definitely not financially viable at present.


    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (2)
    +5

    Surely the point is that it is detecting speed along a whole road that is more effective than detecting it at a single point along a road. Hence multiple cameras would be just as effective and perhaps more effective than average speed cameras.

    With the cost of speed detectors with ANPR reducing then surely we are in a position whereby whole networks of roads can have speed detectors at random positions to maximise compliance.


    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (6) | Disagree (11)
    --5

    It doesn’t matter if the speed limit is down to 40 mph as in some cases locally it now is. There are drivers who just don’t care and others who approach and take bends far too fast and at a far lower speed than the limit. Others overtake when and where they want with impunity so its not just a case of reducing the speed limit at all. Without enforcement of any kind it will not work and then all they will be reported for is speeding and the collisions and incidents as previously mentioned will still be happening.


    M. Worthington.
    Agree (14) | Disagree (1)
    +13

    Speed measurements giving us an average would not include that of vehicles too close to the one in front anyway Pat as they would not be free-flowing and the following driver would not be doing their ‘preferred’ speed and would not be included.

    I agree that driver alertness and attentiveness tend to be the biggest factor influencing individuals’ speeds and where these two factors are present, as expected, we would find the greatest number centering around the average, this being the optimum, determined by alertness and attentiveness (and other factors obviously) but excluding tailgaters and unsafe following distances!


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (8)
    --6

    That summary is a bit to simplistic Hugh. Appropriate speed is also linked to safe distance to the vehicle in front as other regular contributors frequently remind us. Driver alertness and attentiveness to the driving task figures as well as I am sure other factors do.

    Does anyone know which is less risky, a driver at 80mph with lots of room in front and very alert or a driver on the same bit of road at 60mph, tailgating and day-dreaming? These are just two of countless permutations. Stats 19 certainly won’t tell us. Collisions are often multi faceted problems that don’t have a simple answer.


    Pat, Wales
    Agree (22) | Disagree (2)
    +20

    In the context of traffic speeds, what often isn’t appreciated or realised is that the measured average speed correlates to what the optimum speed is i.e. reasonable progress with an acceptable margin for safety and is the speed most drivers travel at, including most, if not all of readers of this forum I would hope and is usually the best indicator of appropriate speed.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (3) | Disagree (10)
    --7

    Anyone who has been on the free flowing sections of the M4 in both England and Wales recently will know that averages can hide a multitude of sins.


    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)
    +8

    The average speed on M-ways is about 65 mph Guzzi so one could say that 70 mph is a reasonable limit, whereas across ALL single c/way roads (with current national speed limits) it’s 35-45 mph, but obviously this will be a lot less on single width country lanes for example and higher on modern A-roads, but even then, typically no more than 50-55 mph. Not everyone wants to go as fast as they possibly can… safety margin or not.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (7) | Disagree (7)
    0

    As many single carriageway roads are very appropriately signed to have a 60mph speed limit, it is not logical that motorways have only a 70mph speed limit. The reasons are more to do with historical and political matters than logic – as with many highway and road safety issues.


    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (18) | Disagree (5)
    +13

    We all as individuals practice our own speed management anyway, every time we drive and/or ride – the problem is that some are better than it than others. If everyone had the required skill and judgment to do this properly, the authorities would not feel obliged to cap the speeds of those who can’t do this for themselves to the required level, so as to keep them from hitting trees, bridges, walls, other vehicles, people, cyclists etc. etc.

    Damon Hill famously said – as was reported in this news feed a few years – ago: ‘..most people are not safe to driver over 55mph..’ meaning they can’t control their vehicles properly and cope with hazards at these speeds.. and that was with regard to motorway driving, let alone single c/way roads. If M’ways are capped at 70mph, bearing in mind their superior design and limited scope for conflict, then it is absurd for single c/way rural roads to be just 10mph lower than that.


    Hugh Jones
    Agree (6) | Disagree (20)
    --14

    The breaking away from speed limit guidelines has led to some detrimental effects relating to speed reduction. Many drivers will actually go faster in a 50 limit than they might have done on a national speed limit as they see a sign ‘telling them what speed to travel at’ as they have become detached from the concept of ‘drive according to the conditions’.

    Sadly speed reduction is often a cheap solution to better education, enforcement and engineering – not to mention more appropriate sentencing; yet to see a driver get near the maximum 14 years for death by dangerous driving.

    For speed limits to work they have to be appropriate, and they can’t possibly work for every situation as road use is by it’s very nature a dynamic risk.

    Ben Graham, Fleet Driver Trainer


    Ben Graham, Reading
    Agree (25) | Disagree (3)
    +22

    Just reading section 13 on Safe Speed indicates that this is another bunch of worthies in cloud cuckoo land.

    The issue of driver non-compliance of speed limits and the inability to legislate and fund adequate enforcement are not likely to be solved any time soon.

    The majority of their recommendations are unlikely to be delivered in the foreseeable future, even if SOME of them are sensible. Obviously there’s no reality check for deliverability as part of the document review.


    Pat, Wales
    Agree (13) | Disagree (4)
    +9

    You lead with the headlines but I read in what is a pretty balanced report on speed – “The lack of alignment with Safe System is evident particularly on the single carriageway rural network where 60 mph is the national speed limit for road use by low and high-speed vehicles, motorised and non-motorised vehicles, farm and leisure traffic. Here, inappropriate speed by users within the posted speed limit is typically cited as a regular contributory factor in road crashes, rather than inappropriate road design and speed limit which does not encourage appropriate speed.”


    Trevor Baird
    Agree (6) | Disagree (1)
    +5

    I’d like to disagree with at least a part of the report:

    Firstly, a fair amount of rural roads – when driven with safety in mind – are most certainly safe for speeds in excess of 60mph, so where is the call for speed limits on these rural roads to be increased?

    Secondly, where is the call for the flattening of crests, removal of trees and bridge supports (hitting these things are not advised) or the removal of visibility reducing hedges or walls from the side of carriageways? I’m sure horse riders, pedestrians and the like would appreciate the ability to be seen around a corner or within a dip in advance.

    The rest of the 384 pages I’m sure I’ll look at some time over the next few days…


    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (13) | Disagree (6)
    +7

    I would urge all to support the main proposed interventions, if they are implemented within RCT scientific trials:

    1) another round of speed limit reductions
    2) yet more AS camera systems (Average Speed)

    Currently, and for the past 20 years, there has been vigorous debate over what effect speed management has. There are a vast number of inaccurate reports suggesting there might be benefits, but there are a small number of accurate reports suggesting otherwise. Why don’t we stop allowing opinions to be the basis of argument and instead provide the quality of evidence the British people have a right to expect?

    If RCT scientific trials prove that speed cameras and speed limit reductions do save lives, then we will gain support and make great strides forward. The problem is, what happens if the trials find more dead and injured? Failure to run the trials might suggest that the authorities would prefer to hide the truth. If we have confidence in the policies, let’s run the trials and prove it?


    dave finney, Slough
    Agree (15) | Disagree (8)
    +7