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New Lower Thames Crossing – Public Consultation Available

The Highways Agency have been developing plans for a new Thames crossing east of the Dartford Crossing. This will relieve traffic at the Dartford Crossing which is often heavily congested even after the introduction of the free-flow charging system. The Highways Agency has published revised plans for a three-lane road including a 2.4-mile long tunnel under the Thames which will be the longest in the UK.

The new crossing will link the M2 near Rochester, Kent with the M25 in Essex and will help to provide better network connections for the growing housing and business developments in Kent and improved access to the Channel ports for the rest of the country.

The proposals include some improvements to the M2/A2 which is often heavily congested although those enhancements seem somewhat limited in scope.

It is also proposed to introduce a free-flow charging system similar to that at the Dartford Crossing which the ABD has objected to because many people fail to pay with such systems and collect a fine as a result. We suggest the crossing should be free (as the Severn bridges have been made recently), as should the Dartford one be, and as all major network routes should be.

There is a public consultation on the proposals here which you can respond to – please do so: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/ltc/consultation/

We also suggest that you should urge the Highways Agency to get on with it as soon as possible (earlier than the proposed 2027 completion date preferably).

Speed Limit Setting and Road Safety

Traditionally, speed limits in the UK were set at levels that most drivers considered reasonable, and the police enforced them, for the most part, with common sense and flexibility. Unfortunately this is no longer the case.

In the early 1990s’ recession, the government was seeking to reduce public expenditure and the roads budget was seen as a soft target. At the same time, it wanted to be seen as being serious about road safety, so it authorised the use of speed cameras, which were much cheaper than building the new and improved roads the country needed.

The result has been an explosion in automated speed limit enforcement and the creation of an entire industry dependent upon it. In recent years this has been financed largely by the fees paid by those drivers who have been offered, and accepted, a speed awareness course in lieu of a fine and penalty points (see the ABD’s AMPOW campaign for more information on that here: https://www.speed-awareness.org/ ).

In order to maintain a steady and growing income stream, camera enforcement has been targeted increasingly at locations where large numbers of drivers exceed unrealistically low speed limits, rather than where there is a history of speed-related accidents. The decision to prosecute or offer a speed awareness course is based on an arbitrary threshold that applies around the clock, regardless of the degree of danger caused. The reduction in police traffic patrols has removed the human interaction between drivers and traffic officers, who had the ability to assess the seriousness of an offence.

Speed limits have been lowered on the basis of dubious claims that lower average speeds always lead to fewer accidents. The result is that more and more drivers are exceeding these unreasonably low limits, with speed limits everywhere coming into disrepute.

The ABD wants a return to sensible speed limits, sensibly enforced. This will require the banning of enforcement operations financed by the proceeds of those operations, since this distorts priorities. Enforcement should instead be financed by government grants, set at the levels needed to maintain safety.

There also needs to be a return to the setting of speed limits at levels that a substantial majority of drivers would consider reasonable. This may require removing speed limit setting powers from local authorities, which are often influenced by vociferous residents or anti-car organisations into reducing limits unnecessarily.

Finally, the police should be given the money they need to reinstate police traffic patrols, to deter reckless behaviour by the minority of drivers who, in many cases, are not caught by automated camera enforcement.

National Road Pricing a Step Closer, while NO₂ Impact in Doubt

The likely proliferation of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in many of the UK’s cities with many of them introducing charging systems for non-compliant vehicles will lead to the widespread adoption of camera systems for enforcement. That is how the London Congestion Charge and the expanded ULEZ which will cover most of London is being enforced. In other words, cameras everywhere.

One inconvenience for drivers would have been the complexity of paying the charges if local councils all operated their own systems. This is already a problem in London where there is no common registration and auto-payment system for the Congestion/ULEZ system and the Dartford Crossing on the M25. But the Government have already anticipated this according to a report in Local Transport Today who were told that the Government is setting up a central payment system to support the local authorities. It seems that local authorities will still have a role in enforcement however – that probably means they will be able to retain the profits they can make from fines which will of course make such systems even more attractive than they would otherwise be.

As the ABD said in our recent press release announcing the publication of the truth about air pollution and vehicles (see http://www.abd.org.uk/air-quality-and-vehicles-the-truth/ ), the prime objective [from attacks on allegedly polluting vehicles] often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users. Local authorities will perceive this as a godsend to solve their budget problems.

A national system of collecting payment for local CAZs does of course mean that introducing a national road pricing system would be very easy – just need to put up lots of cameras. Indeed with most of the major conurbations covered by CAZ and charging systems, that’s what we will have in place and ready to use for wider purposes.

There is strong public resistance to road pricing. But you can see the way the wind is blowing on this subject. You’ll know when it happens when the current air pollution legal limits are met but the enforcement stays in place or is extended to lower emission vehicles. Anyone wish to take a bet on that?

NO₂ Impact in Doubt

One of the reasons why the Government has mandated CAZs for many cities is the failure to comply with current legal limits on NO₂ (Nitrogen Dioxide). That gas was judged to have a major impact on life expectancy from past scientific studies even though it is difficult to separate out the impact of NO₂ from other pollutants such as particulates. Now COMEAP, the Government sponsored authority on this subject, have published a report that questions the impact of NO₂ with committee members taking varied views on whether it has any impact on health at all. The committee settled on an estimate that reducing NO₂ by 1 μg/m3 would increase life expectancy by around 2 to 5 days, but some committee members fundamentally disagreed on even that calculation. See the COMEAP report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734799/COMEAP_NO2_Report.pdf for details.

It would seem that Government policy is being driven by dubious or uncertain science. But drivers on the roads of major cities will be facing big cost increases as a result.

Meanwhile Birmingham’s CAZ is shown as being poor value for money based on an economic appraisal by the local Council. Even taking into account the health and environmental benefits of £38 million over ten years, the costs imposed on drivers and vehicle owners results in overall negative costs of minus £122 million as a “net present value”. So just as with the extended ULEZ in London, we are seeing decisions being taken to pursue hopelessly unjustifiable attacks on air pollution.

Roger Lawson

Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been very concerned of late with the misinformation that has been spread by the national media about the impact of air pollution from vehicles on the health of the population. We believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story.

The promotion of such stories has also led to Government over-reaction and a number of local councils proposing “Clean Air Zone” schemes aimed at restricting some vehicles from entering some roads, or charging them extra to do so in the name of reducing pollution. London is in the forefront of charging drivers using pollution as an excuse (e.g. from the ULEZ), but many other cities are planning similar schemes.

The prime objective often appears to be simply the desire to extract money from car drivers and other vehicle users.

The ABD has now published a full analysis of the issues that actually gives the truth about the claims made for air pollution, and rebuts many of the allegations. It can be downloaded from here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims.

In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

Life expectancy might be improved slightly, for example by a few days if all air pollution was removed. But air pollution does not just come from vehicles but from many other sources of human activity such as heating, industrial processes, farming, building, cooking and domestic wood burners. Only about 50% comes from transport. The air outside is typically cleaner than in people’s own homes or in offices and that is where they spend most of the time.

Removing all air pollution would be economically very expensive and leave us with no transport (buses, trains, aeroplanes or cars) and also stop all deliveries of food and other goods. You would not want to live in such a world.

We give all the evidence on our claims above in the aforementioned paper.

But the ABD does accept that air pollution does need to be improved, particularly in certain locations, and we recognise public concern about it. However we argue that measures taken to improve matters should be proportionate and cost effective. There needs to be a proper cost/benefit analysis before imposing restrictions or charges.

There are many measures that can be used to reduce vehicle emissions without restricting motorists or imposing major extra costs on them.

There is certainly no need to panic over air pollution!

 

 

Possible reduction in the blood-alcohol limit for driving?

This came in today:

‘Such a serious issue is always going to be handicapped by emotive language, when it should be more evidence based and the rights of people in a free society to choose the way they behave, but be safe and acceptable to the majority of others.

As you will read, The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) supports retention of the current blood-alcohol limit of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The ABD believes that the present limit is the best compromise between deterring irresponsible behaviour and penalising drivers who present a very low risk.

There is a general acceptance that most accidents involving drinking drivers occurred at blood-alcohol concentrations (BAC) above the current limit, often by a considerable margin. The logical response, therefore, should be to concentrate on better enforcement of the current law rather than changing it.

This appears to be a view that a reduction would change perceptions of what is socially acceptable, rather than confidence that a lower limit would significantly reduce casualties. It is also claimed that public opinion would support such a change. The ABD believes, however, that motoring laws should be based on sound science, not opinion polls (which are in any case subject to the way questions are asked) or attempts at social engineering.

The above study was conducted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA and results published in 1964, It is often referred to as the Borkenstein trial, as he was the lead author.  It showed very little difference in impairment from zero to around 80mg/100ml, which then rose slowly to 90mg, after which it took off exponentially. 

This was the evidence that was used to impose the current limit. Based on the curve shown, where would you (or indeed any other rational person) have set the BAC limit?

There have been no radical changes in basic human physiology since this work was done. If it’s not broken, why do some people see a need to mend it, other than for the usual negative anti-car rhetoric?

The Borkenstein study also said “A drinker is more out of commission when the blood alcohol level is climbing than when it is falling … As the blood alcohol level drops in the elimination phase, the individual, when similarly tested, will be able to function better with the same blood alcohol content.”

Claims that drivers in the 50-80mg range are several times more likely to be involved in an accident than at zero BAC are probably based on a study which clearly started with the conclusions it wanted to draw and worked backwards to see how they could be achieved.

The North Review quotes the effects of lowering BAC limits in other countries in terms of casualty reduction. Many of those countries, however, previously had much higher levels of drunk driving than the UK, due to an absence of UK levels of enforcement and publicity. They were simply catching up with the social changes that had already happened here.

Also, it must not be assumed that a cut in the drink-drive limit would just lead to a reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed by drivers, while everything else would remain unchanged.

The likelihood is that some people would decide not to go out at all if there were a more restrictive limit and they had no alternative to driving. This could lead to reductions in traffic levels during ‘drinking hours’, with the result that there could be a fall in accidents, not because of less drink-driving, but because of less driving overall, hence less exposure to risk.

No doubt this would be hailed as a ‘success’ for the lower limit, but it would be at the cost of restricting leisure activities and less custom for certain businesses, especially rural public houses, which already are closing at a disturbing rate. A reduction in the legal limit would not be cost-free.

Testing a driver’s alcohol content is easy way to justify an accident, but does that cloud the real cause of any accident?

Cycle Passing Limits, and Cycling in London

One ABD correspondent has written to the ABD about the fact that he received a Notice of Intended Prosecution about a claimed offence of passing a cyclist too closely in North Wales, which he denies. The police are claiming to have evidence based on a headcam worn by a cyclist but are refusing to disclose the video evidence or even a transcript of a statement given by the cyclist.

Firstly, headcam or dashcam footage can be used as evidence in criminal cases if some conditions are met although the widespread use of cameras does raise the question of privacy. There is effectively none at present on the public roads.

As regards disclosure of evidence, the police certainly need to disclose the evidence if they intend to pursue a prosecution. See this article on Pepipoo for more information on that subject: http://www.pepipoo.com/Disclosure.htm . Perhaps the Police are relying on people accepting a Fixed Penalty Notice rather than going to court to challenge the case, but that would be most dubious.

As regards the distance that vehicle users should allow when overtaking a cyclist, the Highway Code says the following: “Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” and “Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make”. This is somewhat unspecific as some drivers might feel they need not give much space when overtaking another vehicle at slow speeds.

One can see that any prosecution might be difficult based on those parts of the Highway Code. So cyclists have called for more specific limits, e.g. 1.5 metres, or perhaps 1.0 metre on roads with lower speed limits. Ireland proposed to introduce such a law but it was abandoned after realisation that it would create legal difficulties. The Department for Transport is currently considering the matter in the UK.

But in this writer’s view, any specific limit is not sensible. In central London, where streets are narrow, and traffic speeds are low, giving 1.5 metres would not be easy and might simply lead to encroachment onto the opposite carriageway thus creating other road safety risks. Likewise on some of the narrow country roads in North Wales. A wide limit on high-speed dual carriageways or other A-roads may be quite appropriate but equating it to the road speed limit rather than the speed of a vehicle and its size makes no sense. Larger vehicles that create much bigger back drafts are more of a risk to cyclists and drivers of those need to allow more space.

Perhaps the Highway Code should be reworded to try and clarify what is a reasonable passing distance but any specific limit seems unwise because it very much depends on the circumstances. The ABD will respond to any public consultation on this issue if one appears.

In the meantime, it seems some Police Forces are using “Careless Driving” offences to try and enforce specific passing distances and are even offering “education courses” as an alternative to taking the points and fines. That is much the same way as they offer speed awareness courses which the ABD is campaigning against (see our AMPOW campaign at https://www.speed-awareness.org/ ). This is morally and legally dubious and should be strongly opposed.

Cycling in London

There are a number of cyclists who avidly read the ABD London blog (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/ ). Many of them are critical of the issues raised therein about the standards of cycling in London in a number of articles. It was very amusing to read an article in the Financial Times last Saturday (29/9/2018) by Katie Martin. She is an FT writer and she gives the views of someone who has been cycling to the office for the last nine years.

She said cyclists would be wrong to assume the main threat was cars, and she highlights two others as of importance: the road itself and other cyclists.

Potholes are a major menace to cyclists and she points out that unlike for vehicle drivers, potholes are not just a route to a repair shop, they are a risk to life and limb. I am sure that all road users will agree that potholes have become a major menace as expenditure on road maintenance and proper resurfacing has been cut back by local councils.

But she says an under appreciated risk is other cyclists who are “comfortably the diciest fellow users of the road”. She describes most of them as “infuriatingly rubbish and some would struggle to pass a primary school proficiency test”. She reports that they run red lights, don’t signal before they swing into your path, don’t use lights in the dark and barge in front of you at traffic lights. There is much more in the same vein.

She also criticises pedestrians, and car passengers who open doors without looking, but she does not wish to put off anyone from cycling! You can read the full article here: https://www.ft.com/content/b6ffcb9c-c239-11e8-8d55-54197280d3f7 . I hope she does not get too many abusive comments from her fellow cyclists.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

Railway System Review, and Renationalisation – Why Bother?

Last week Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, announced a review of the privatised rail system. That follows the recent problems with new timetables where the regulator concluded that “nobody took charge”. Today John McDonnell, the Labour Party’s shadow chancellor said that he could renationalise the railways within five years if Labour wins the next election – it’s already a manifesto commitment. Perhaps he thinks he can solve the railway’s problems by doing so but this writer suggests the problem is technology rather than management, although cost also comes into the equation.

The basic problem is that the railways are built on inflexible and expensive old technology. There has never been a “timetable” problem on the roads because there are no fixed timetables – folks just do their own thing and travel when they want to do so.

Consider the rail signalling system – an enormously expensive infrastructure to ensure trains don’t run into each other and to give signals to train drivers. We do of course have a similar system at junctions on roads – they are called traffic lights. But they operate automatically and are relatively cheap. Most are not even linked in a network as train signals are required to be.

Trains run on tracks so they are extremely vulnerable to breakdowns of trains and damage to tracks – even snow, ice or leaves on the line cause disruption – who ever heard of road vehicles being delayed by leaves? A minor problem on a train track, often to signals, can quickly cause the whole line or network to come to a halt. Failing traffic signals on roads typically cause only slight delays and vehicles can drive around any broken-down cars or lorries.

The cost of changes to a rail line are simply enormous, and the cost of building them also. For example, the latest estimate for HS2 – the line from London to Birmingham is more than £80 billion. The original M1 was completed in 1999 at a cost of £26 million. Even allowing for inflation, and some widening and upgrading since then the total cost is probably less than £1 billion.

Changes to railway lines can be enormously expensive. For example, the cost of rebuilding London Bridge station to accommodate more trains was about £1 billion. These astronomic figures simply do not arise when motorways are revised or new service stations constructed.

Why invest more in a railway network when roads are cheaper to build and maintain, and a lot more flexible in use? At present the railways have to be massively subsidised by the Government out of taxation – about £4 billion per annum according to Wikipedia, or about 7.5p per mile of every train journey you take according to the BBC. Meanwhile road transport more than pays for itself and contributes billions to general taxation in addition from taxes on vehicle users.

So here’s a suggestion: scrap using this old technology for transport and invest more in roads. Let the railways shrink in size to where they are justifiable, or let them disappear as trams did for similar reasons – inflexible and expensive in comparison with buses.

No need to renationalise them at great expense. Spend the money instead on building a decent road network which is certainly not what we have at present.

Do you think that railways are more environmentally friendly? Electric trains may be but with electric road vehicles now becoming commonplace, that justification will no longer apply in a few years’ time, if not already.

Just like some people love old transport modes – just think canals and steam trains – the attachment to old technology in transport is simply irrational as well as being very expensive. Road vehicles take you from door-to-door at lower cost, with no “changing trains” or waiting for the next one to arrive. No disruption caused by striking guards or drivers as London commuters have seen so frequently.

In summary building and managing a road network is cheaper and simpler. It just needs a change of mindset to see the advantages of road over rail. But John McDonnell wants to take us back to 1948 when the railways were last nationalised. Better to invest in the roads than the railways.

It has been suggested that John McDonnell is a Marxist but at times he has denied it. Those not aware of the impact of Marxism on political thought would do well to read a book I recently perused which covered the impact of the Bolsheviks in post-revolutionary Russia circa 1919. In Tashkent they nationalised all pianos as owning a piano was considered “bourgeois”. They were confiscated and given to schools. One man who had his piano nationalised lost his temper and broke up the piano with an axe. He was taken to goal and then shot (from the book Mission to Tashkent by Col. F.M. Bailey).

Sometimes history can be very revealing. The same mentality that wishes to spend money on public transport such as railways as opposed to private transport systems shows the same defects.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

20 mph Zones are a Waste of Money, or Worse

The Sun Newspaper has reported on the success, or rather failure, of 20 mph area-wide speed limits, to reduce accidents. They have obtained figures from 20 local councils using the Freedom of Information Act where £11 million of taxpayers’ cash was spent on the lower limit. But in some cases, rates of serious accidents (Killed and Serious Injuries – KSIs) have actually gone up they reported.

AA President said that the schemes were a “waste of money”, effectively implying that if the money had been spent on other road safety measures, more lives and serious accidents would have been saved.

Examples the Sun gave were Bath where £804,000 was spent but a 2016 report revealed that the KSI’s went up in 7 out of the 13 zones where speeds were cut, and in Manchester £1.7 million was spent on a heavily criticised scheme while in Hampshire other schemes showed no benefit in terms of accident reduction.

The ABD has of course reported similar problems before including in the City of London where a blanket 20 mph scheme has resulted in more minor injury reports.

20s Plenty founder Rod King called the articles “sloppy journalism” (one also appeared in the Daily Mail on the same subject). 20s Plenty has tried to debunk the reports of a number of local councils on their 20 mph schemes – for example they called the Bath report “biased, lacking in statistical rigour and not meeting several local authority duties on competency and equality”. But anyone who has surveyed all the evidence on such schemes will know that simply putting up signs typically reduces traffic speed by only 1 mph and that can have no significant impact on road casualties. In reality it seems to have the opposite effect in many cases as pedestrians no longer take so much care when crossing the road.

Rod King and 20s Plenty are like all fanatics – they ignore the negative impact of their policies and fail to see the truth. They are blinded in their zeal to reduce speed limits in the false presumption that reducing speeds are the answer to all road safety problems. But cutting road casualties is not as simple as that.

We still await a Government report on a more comprehensive study of 20 mph schemes.

In London, Transport for London (TfL) continue to finance such schemes in local boroughs and must have spent millions to date on them. Another example of unwise policies and reckless expenditure by TfL and Mayor Sadiq Khan, plus his predecessors. It is a great pity that money was not spent on road engineering to improve the safety of roads and junctions.

The Mayor actually wants to impose 20 mph speed limits on many major roads in London under his “Vision Zero” road safety plans. UKIP Transport Spokesperson Jill Seymour has challenged TfL to provide undisputed evidence of the justification for such proposals, as reported in the last national ABD Newsletter (OTR). She said “The authorities have strangled the main roads, and made them the most congested and slowest of any city in Europe. London is a mess when it comes to transport…..the London authorities, led by Sadiq Khan, appear to have a vendetta against personal transport and the car, and do everything they possibly can do to discriminate against it”. That’s definitely the truth of the matter.

Roger Lawson

Sun article here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7253694/20-mph-zones-cause-more-deaths/

New Move to bring in Blanket Pavement Parking Ban

Twenty charities have jointly lobbied government for a nationwide blanket ban on pavement parking (maybe with exceptions). This is currently under review by government. Such a ban has been in place in London since 1974, where some councils have actually catered for part-pavement parking. Elsewhere councils have the power to ban in specific streets or areas via Road Traffic Orders.
A few have even adopted part-pavement parking – one in Bath has been hailed a success.
The issue is being led by claims, from the disabled in particular, that people are in danger from being forced to walk in roadway. That, of course, is unacceptable. Anyone who blocks a pavement to that extent is being selfish and deserves a penalty. What we at the ABD don’t want to see is councils getting blanket ban powers and then simply banning and wardens going on ticket issuing sprees. How much do you trust your council?
Many areas have pavements that are wider than necessary along with roads that are narrow. Blanket bans would give serious problems to the likes of delivery drivers, visiting carers, public services – and surely emergency services would be exempt? Not to mention disabled drivers.
Remember also that pavements get obstructed by many things: bus shelters, lampposts, signs – and wheelie bins which we are told to place there by those same councils who would enforce parking bans.
Where it can be done without causing obstruction pavement parking it can be sensible and considerate: cutting congestion by aiding traffic flow while increasing provision of precious parking spaces. Otherwise many residents of narrow streets might be unable to park anywhere near their homes.
The idea of marking out bays partly on pavement is widely used in many other countries – and it works, without obstructing anyone. We suggest that all that is needed on most residential streets is a minimum one-metre walkway. That’s equivalent to a double buggy or a mobility scooter. We don’t object to councils dealing with those who seriously obstruct. Therefore we oppose default blanket bans, but should it come about, urge the “middle ground” solution outlined above – with a statutory requirement for councils to provide pavement parking provision on any road where it is requested and/or achievable whilst still allowing that minimum one-metre width for pedestrian passage.

 

Parking bays marked partly on the pavement and partly on the road, in Riga, Latvia.
Parking bays marked partly on the pavement and partly on the road, in Riga, Latvia.
Parking bays marked partly on the pavement, in Passau, Germany.

Police in Scotland Abandon Plans for Speed Awareness Courses

According to a report in the Herald newspaper, police in Scotland have shelved plans to introduce speed awareness courses in the country like they operate in England.

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has of course campaigned against the misuse of police waivers and the perversion of justice involved in the police extracting cash by inducing the payment of a bribe to waive prosecution. See our AMPOW campaign here: https://www.speed-awareness.org/ . Only recently a Government commissioned study showed there was no benefit whatsoever in terms of casualty reduction from sending millions of people on speed awareness courses every year.

The Scottish Police Authority have suggested that they have “deprioritised” the introduction of such courses on financial grounds as they would require substantial investment in new IT facilities. But could it be that they have realised how legally dubious the operation of the system in England really is? The ABD has made representations on this subject to the senior legal authorities in Scotland who would have to give permission for the operation of such a scheme. Perhaps this is a case where the police in Scotland have simply been persuaded that it is a step too far?

All we need now is for the UK Government in Westminster to recognise the same reality.

See the Herald story here for more information: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16600735.police-put-brakes-on-plans-to-drop-fines-for-speed-awareness-courses/?action=success#comments-feedback-anchor

Roger Lawson