Majority of drivers continue to exceed 20mph limits

08.02 | 28 September 2018 | | | 18 comments

New statistics show that during 2017, 86% of cars exceeded the speed limit on roads with a 20mph limit – with 18% breaking the limit by more than 10mph.

The DfT statistics, published on 27 September, measure speed and compliance at sites where the road conditions are ‘free flowing’ – for example roads with no junctions, hills, sharp bends, speed enforcement cameras or other traffic calming measures.

The figures show the percentage of cars exceeding 20mph limits rose year-on-year by 5% in 2017 – with the percentage of those breaking the limit by more than 10mph rising by 3%.

However, the DfT acknowledges that free flowing conditions are not typical of most 20mph roads.

Single carriageway roads where the national speed limit applies (60 mph) had the highest levels of compliance, with only 9% of cars exceeding the limit.

However, this figure represents a 1% rise on 2016 when only 8% exceeded the speed limit.

On motorways, 48% of cars exceeded the 70mph speed limit, with 12% exceeding it by more than 10mph. Again, these figures show a year-on-year rise; compared to 46% and 11% respectively in 2016.

On 30mph roads, 52% of cars exceeded the speed limit with 6% exceeding it by 10mph or more – 1% fewer than in 2016.



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    Interesting what Graham Hill has apparently said. Drivers of convertibles do seem to have a self-conscious air about them (when in topless mode) and this may well influence their driving, if they feel they are being noticed and their faces can be seen, although by the same token, it doesn’t seem to work with cyclists!

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Noted, Charles. In my view the reasons common sense often disappears when people get into cars are principally two-fold. One is anonymity. It was Graham Hill who said that if you want to make roads safer then all vehicles should be topless. In other words you remove their isolation within tin boxes. People often behave in vehicles in a way that if they were face to face in a social environment they would likely be ostracised. Civilisation is a thin facade, as ably illustrated in the 1963 film, Lord of the Flies. This conveniently leads to my second point: accountability. Because of the anonimity factor and the lack of police traffice presence nowadays, cum action, drivers generally do not feel accountable for their behaviour. It might be different if everyone had to have their telephone number writ large on the sides of their vehicle.

    Actually, there is a third element; risk assessment. This is combined with a creep factor. One example of this is drivers under time pressure i.e , getting to appointments or urgency to get jobs done, as in delivery drivers. A small risk is taken and nothing untoward happens, so as this is repeated a driver becomes more comfortable with the behaviour and the creep factor takes another step forward etc. All the while the driver believing he or she is a safe driver because a crash hasn’t happened but, in fact, they are merely increasing their vulnerability to a crash. Combine these three factors and, yes, you do often find levels of stupidity on the roads which are, quite frankly, staggering. So, yes, in some instances they might just as well be walking blindfold across a junction like Hanger Lane . The risk factor is going to be about the same. Problem is they often get away with it because as someone once said, ‘For some bizarre reason the law of averages favours fools and idiots’. Therein are my reasons for the why, Charles and they are the product of being interested in safety on the roads and observing drivers for something over 40 years.

    Nigel ALBRIGHT
    Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

    Nigel, if we think that the “common sense” that the laws of human nature bestow upon us suddenly disappears when we get behind the wheel of a car, then I think we need to try to understand why, rather than just assume bad faith and try to force unnatural and unworkable practices to take place by introducing ever increasing amounts of legislation and ever increasingly draconian punishments for non-compliance.

    Adrian, you are making the classic mistake of assuming that when something becomes illegal it stops happening. However, experience tells us that the only thing that happens when such new laws are introduced is that those who didn’t do the “bad” thing anyway, are even more diligent about not doing it, whereas those who never cared about it before still don’t care about it, and carry on doing it. Such laws are not just useless with regard to improving road safety, but they also cause unnecessary inconvenience, stress and anxiety for the good guys.

    Charles, England
    Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

    It’s about harm caused and to whom. In the case of seat belts, I might agree with Charles because it’s mainly me that would suffer, except for the fact that it’s also a cost to the emergency services, to the NHS, to my family and friends and to society. On drink drive and use of mobile phone, there HAS to be a law, because the person suffering is likely to be an innocent victim and they deserve society’s protection.

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Us, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (1) | Disagree (3)

    It’s because of “.. those who are totally selfish and wantonly reckless..” that we need the man-made laws Charles. As a civilised society we shouldn’t tolerate it and for every one of these taken off the road (via the laws) it’s that little bit safer for the socially adept majority, as you call them.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

    Charles, you only have to look back at the removal of the 20mph universal limit in 1930 and the resultant chaos on the roads resulting in the Road Traffic Act, driving test,30mph limit in urban areas and much more control exercised on drivers generally.

    Unfortunately, Charles, history shows that people can’t be relied on to use their common sense on the roads. Indeed, my own view (for what it’s worth) is that most drive like the next crash waiting to happen but, are blissfully unaware of this. A single example, of course, is close following in as much as anything less than two seconds means they have no chance of stopping in time if things suddenly and dramatically go wrong in front. Most seem to drive at less than two seconds in my experience and it seems the current Highways Agency campaign has made little or no difference. So that was a waste of time, money and effort because they approached it with kid gloves on.

    Could the general level of common sense shown on the roads be equated to walking blindfold across the Hanger Lane junction? Well, given the level of stupidity and general lack of awareness often seen on the roads I would say, quite possibly in numerous cases, yes.

    Nigel ALBRIGHT
    Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

    Hugh, as collisions have always been very rare, it seems more likely that the laws of human nature can prevail and survive to some extent, despite the man-made laws which conspire to undermine them. And you hit the nail on the head in your last sentence – man-made laws and regulations which rely on humans being infallible (e.g. always and unfailingly obeying all laws, regulations, rules, signals, signs and lines) to be fully effective, do not work because humans do not have that prerequisite super-human ability. For as long as the safety at road junctions relies on a regulation-defined priority system (whether signaled, signed or lined), we will continue to see crashes occurring at those junctions. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed the almost miraculous transformation that occurs to driver courtesy, traffic speeds, traffic flow, and general friendliness in road user interactions when traffic lights fail, or where there are no clear road markings and the laws of human nature once more take precedence. Of course there will always be those who are totally selfish and wantonly reckless, but our society is surely big enough and civilised enough not to let the desire for revenge against that anti-social minority compromise the safety and enjoyment of the socially adept majority.

    Charles, England
    Agree (1) | Disagree (2)

    As I’ve said elsewhere on a different thread, perhaps the reason that collisions are still very rare is that we have had man-made laws regulating how we design, build and use our highways for a long time now and where collision have occurred, it is down to human failing(s), which I suppose could be called a law of human nature.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Adrian, I’m not convinced that we do need laws to make us wear seat belts, or not drink and drive or not use mobile phones. After all, we don’t have laws telling us not to ambulate diagonally across the Hanger Lane junction with a blindfold on, or not to ambulate anywhere near motorised traffic whilst daydreaming or making a video call. The fact that we have ill-conceived and knee-jerk laws does not mean that they are just, necessary or of any value. In fact many of them probably cause more problems than they were ostensibly created to tackle.

    If we really want sustainable, safe, and user-friendly roads, we need to provide a system that takes advantage of the givens of the laws of human nature, and not pretend that we can override those natural laws (anymore than we can override the laws of gravity for bridges) with man-made laws. Work with, rather than against them.

    Charles, England
    Agree (1) | Disagree (5)

    I am not saying that in some cases 20mph limits are not pertinent but, given the general drift and the increasing obsession with lower speed limits, it would not surprise me if we ended up back in the red flag days. There are some wonderful pros and cons in this thread of this statistic verses that statistic being banded about and examined in intricate detail, but the baseline really is that until drivers are motivated to take ownership of their safety nothing much is going to change in the broad picture. (Take the current campaign on close following, I see no change in the general driving pattern in my area). But perhaps what it really points to is the incompetence of many drivers to adjust speed to the conditions and that again might say much about the general standard and competence in driving. Additionally, a rule or law which can’t, where necessary, substantiated by enforcement is a pretty hollow object. So, if it can’t properly be enforced it seems a self-defeating exercise to have it in the first place – or, if you are going to have it, to place it (i.e position, say the 20mph limit) where it is unlikely to be enforced, because that is only encouraging abuse of the law. And who, I wonder, thought of heading a thread on 20mph limits with a picture of driving on a 70nph motorway?

    Nigel ALBRIGHT
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

    I wish you were right, Charles. We wouldn’t then need laws to make us wear seat belts, or not drink and drive or not use mobile phones…which we seem to. The evidence so far, is that it’s the faster roads on which speed reduces most when the speed limit comes down.

    Adrian Berendt, 20s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (2) | Disagree (8)

    If the modal speed on a road “with no junctions, hills, sharp bends, speed enforcement cameras or other traffic calming measures” is kept down to 24mph that looks pretty successful to me. A few hidden speed cameras to jump heavily on the tail of idiots driving grossly over the limit would make roads considerably safer. (and probably inconvenience a lot of career criminals )

    Paul Luton, Teddington
    Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

    Charles, you said ” The measure of success is not what the absolute speed is after we implement new limits, it is what the difference in the before and after traffic speeds are.”
    That is an important point and COULD BE a measure of success. Any project should define what success is in its terms of reference at the outset. However that is not how the justification currently works for the funding streams for many road safety schemes. I’m not defending the status quo, just pointing out the assessment criteria government uses at present, which is primarily based on road casualty reduction not speed reduction. Time for a change? Possibly.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

    Rod, Hugh, clearly the mistake here is the assumption that speed limits have any significant influence on traffic speeds. In fact the opposite is more likely to be the case in most places. If 20mph limits are set where the natural road speed is around 20mph, or less, then there will be the illusion of compliance – and similarly where 30mph limits coincide with 30mph traffic or 40 with 40, etc. And sure, if a 30mph limit is replaced with a 20mph limit in places where the traffic speed is closer to 20mph, then we might, misleadingly, claim an effect. But as we know, if we replace a 30mph limit with a 20mph limit in places where the traffic speed is 40mph, we do not see any significant slowing of traffic, let alone a reduction to 20mph. The measure of success is not what the absolute speed is after we implement new limits, it is what the difference in the before and after traffic speeds are.

    And BTW, we shouldn’t lose sight of what the real objective should be here: to reduce casualties and make the roads more user friendly. To do that we need to accept that speed limits alone are not, and cannot be the solution – it is sociable traffic speeds that make roads safe. So let’s concentrate on identifying the measures that work to make traffic safe rather than being obsessed with introducing more useless speed limits.

    Charles, England
    Agree (14) | Disagree (4)

    Be aware that these figures are from automatic counters from a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of roads within those classifications. The Dft seem to think its acceptable to simply use those figures factored-up, to represent all roads in those classifications – which is not the case. Some single c/way roads with national limits have 100% compliance as do some urban 30s – some 20s will have very poor compliance but some will have very high.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (12) | Disagree (1)

    One has to question – if those roads that have had a 20mph restriction placed upon them are free flowing and not typical of most 20mph limit areas – then why was the limit reduced to 20 in the first place? They presently tend to be in urban residential areas and some villages with ribbon residences alongside the highway.

    That question asked, it also looks like some drivers can see no reason for there being such a reduction and indeed by the figures presented the vast majority appear to drive over the limit – but below the older 30mph limit.

    As we have had 20mph limits now in some areas for over 10 years, isn’t it about time that it’s realised that some motorists are disregarding the new limits in certain instances or locations – and in order to be make them comply then enforcement may become necessary. With a police service that is now at its lowest numbers for over 30 years that possibility doesn’t seem likely.

    Alternatively one could possibly look at to the original justification of making such a road into a 20mph limit and possibly consider reverse the decision. After all the Government and the DfT recently increased the limit for HGVs by 10mph to make our road ‘safer’ didn’t they?

    Agree (14) | Disagree (5)

    Perhaps we should look at this a little more objectively.

    How can it be said that “New statistics show that during 2017, 86% of cars exceeded the speed limit on roads with a 20mph limit – with 18% breaking the limit by more than 10mph.”

    This implies that this refers to all 20mph roads when in fact it is only for 8 sites which have been chosen specifically because they are free-flowing. We had this a year ago when the stats were released and we did a FOI and identified the exact locations. These are shown at

    Take a look and decide if these in any way reflect most of the 20mph limits being set on residential roads and high streets.

    And why single out 20mph with the headline and graph. The stats on a much larger set of representative locations for motorways show 48% of cars exceeding 70mph.

    And even with 30mph roads 52% exceed 30mph. Somehow I would prefer to live on a free flowing road that now has a 20mph limit where only 18% exceed 30mph than have it like it was before when 52% exceeded 30mph. Reducing the number of cars above 30mph by nearly two thirds seems positive to me.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (10) | Disagree (12)

    > it has not been entirely possible so some sites with limited traffic calming are also used

    How about: create a new statistic that samples only 20mph limits with traffic calming?

    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

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