Report reveals that drivers are slowing down

12.00 | 10 October 2012 | | 6 comments

The number of drivers breaking the 30 mph speed limit dropped by a third in the period 1998-2010, according to a report co-published by the RAC Foundation and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS).

The report, Speed and Safety: Evidence from published data, found that in 1998, 69% of cars on 30 mph roads were travelling above the limit, but by 2010 the figure had fallen to 46%.

The report – published in August and authored by Dr Kit Mitchell – also shows that speeds on motorways have reduced. The percentage of cars exceeding 70 mph fell from 57% in 2003 to 49% in 2010.

Dr Mitchell notes that speed limit offences (fixed penalty notices, convictions in court and written warnings) in England and Wales have declined rapidly in the past few years after a large rise in the 1990s.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “There are two significant things about the fall in speeds. First, they predate the economic downturn and the recent high fuel costs. Second, there is an association between falling speeds in urban areas and falling fatality rates. It is particularly strong for pedestrians. The conclusion is clear. Whatever the cause of an accident the speed at which it happens will determine its severity.

“There is another interesting part of the story. Even as ministers discuss raising the motorway speed limit to 80 mph, drivers are actually cutting their speeds on this part of the road network.

“While this report only includes data up to 2010, recently released figures for 2011 underline the findings.”

Robert Gifford, executive director of PACTS, said: “This report brings together a number of data sources that help us to understand what is happening in the real world on our roads. Research shows a proven link between speed choice and crash involvement. If we can encourage drivers to drive within the speed limit, through both educational and enforcement-led interventions, we can continue to make our roads safer.”

Click here to read the full report.


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    Speed limit is not the worse problem. People driving in the overtaking lanes only is the most frightening cause of accidents. If people moved over after overtaking, no undertaking and additional risks could take place. People believe that there is a slow middle and fast lane on the motorway, when intact the fast lane is the near side and the other lanes are just for overtaking. If this was enforced as per Highway Code speed would not be a problem.

    David. Bedfordshire
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    I believe the simplistic correlation between speed and crashes is very flawed. Any speed has the potential to kill. Risk involves speed, space and awareness. The greater the speed, the more space that is needed to lower the risk. But risk can only realistically be low when a driver is aware of all around him, so he can minimise the likelihood of anythng unexpected happening. On motorways, because of the volume of traffic involved, 70mph causes too much bunching, therefore lack of space, so increasing the risk for a severe crash. Higher limits will inevitably cause less bunching as there will be a natural ‘spread’ of vehicles. I have always felt safer on the German autobahn with no speed limit than on the British motorway with such an out-dated low limit.

    Jackie Willis, Norwich
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    Really? No sign of that down in Somerset, for example. Do 30mph and they’re on your tail just about every time, meaning most of them would be doing more than 30mph if you weren’t in their way. On that highly technical analysis I would reckon that probably well over 80% (and more out in the villages) don’t abide by 30 limits. So where do these people get their statistics from?

    Nigel Albright
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    Paul – In 1958 average gross wage £15/week, 100 gallons at 15p. In 2012 £550/week, 92 gallons at £6. Allowing for much improved mpg, cost per mile is now significantly lower in real terms despite greater performance, reliability and safety.

    That said, the recession has caused some marginal motorists to give up cars and others to drive more slowly (not that I notice much of the latter). However, this has changed only marginally by the odd +/-1% pa.

    As for the report itself, it covers only those speed limits where speeds have fallen, but ignores others with different speed limits where they have not. It also ignores rising speeds of some vehicle types. It is also curious that, having conceded the absence of meaningful evidence in the data for a causal link between speeds and accidents, it then gives the impression that there is. I rather doubt it.

    Idris Francis Petersfield
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    The real reason has nothing to do with crash perception. It’s the fact that fuel has become too expensive for the average motorist on fixed incomes. The only way to get by is to drive slower to increase fuel economy. Add that to the lack of traffic on our roads due to the prolonged downturn in our economy and voila. Less accidents.

    Paul Denham, Devon.
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    In order to “prove” something, there must be both evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and no evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, the evidence of a link between speed choice and crash involvement is not “proven” as neither is true. In particular my research found that, when speed cameras reduced vehicle speeds, there was no reduction in the number of deaths and injuries whatsoever. In fact collisions rose at mobile speed camera sites.

    An interesting observation apparently not spotted by the authors (though Professor Stephen Glaister hints at this) is that very little changed in the trend for cars speeding in 30mph areas after the recession started in 2007 (figure 2, page 4), and similarly for motorways (figure 3, page 5), yet a huge reduction in deaths on our roads at that time.

    If anything, the evidence suggests that speeds and collisions are either not related, or that relationship is far more complex.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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