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.

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

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/

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

Press Release: The Police Need to Regain Trust of The Public By Changing Their Priorities

According to figures recently released, only 445,000 of the 4.6 million crimes committed in the last year in England and Wales resulted in prosecution.  Yet over 2 million motorists were pursued for exceeding a speed limit.  The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) suggests that the police really need to get their priorities right.  When the only contact most people have with the police is when they are pointing a speed gun at you, usually on a safe stretch of road with a speed limit that is set too low, is it any wonder respect is at an all-time low?  We are now seeing a generation of children brought up with this situation, hearing their parents cursing the police as they slam on the brakes.

The ABD has already highlighted the problem with the false targeting of speed enforcement, ignoring dangerous driving and favouring those sites than can generate mass prosecutions. (1)

We have also highlighted the fact that speed awareness courses are not making drivers safer.  Incredibly we are even told that isn’t their intent.  (2)

Despite the endless propaganda hardly any crashes are caused by sober, otherwise legal drivers traveling a few MPH over the speed limit. The vast majority of so called ‘speeding’ crashes are caused by drunk/drugged/stolen or very high reckless speeds/racing (3) The police need to finally admit the truth and start catching real criminals.

What has been happening is an enormous diversion of resources in both the police and criminal justice system from the pursuit and prosecution of real criminals to “crimes” that can generate money. Is it surprise that crime figures of all kinds are ballooning to record levels?

  1. http://www.abd.org.uk/setting-speed-limits/
  2. http://www.abd.org.uk/no-benefit-from-speed-awareness-courses/
  3. http://www.abd.org.uk/the-hidden-truth-behind-statistics-used-to-justify-speed-enforcement-priorities/

Ends

Stopping the School Run by Closing Roads

The “school run” is now a major cause of traffic congestion. It has got worse for three reasons: 1) more ownership of cars, 2) the ability of parents to apply to any school for admission of their children introduced a few years ago and 3) parents concern with the safety of their children if they walk or cycle to school.

Although schools do often have “catchment” areas that limit applications to a geographic area around the school if there are too many requests for places, in practice these are quite wide. For example, this map shows the catchment are for Coopers School in Chislehurst (London Borough of Bromley): https://www.schoolguide.co.uk/schools/coopers-school-chislehurst . For those who know the area, that means that children come from as far afield as Mottingham, Swanley and Orpington, i.e. several miles distant. Walking would be impractical, and even cycling would be difficult due to steep hills, so only buses or car use (if they don’t live near a bus route) would be an option for many children. The result is daily congestion around that school during school term times, particularly as there are several other schools in the same area including some private schools whose catchment areas could be even larger.

How to solve the school run problem? Some local councils are now looking at road closures during school opening/closing times to deter the use of cars and encourage the children to walk or cycle. Road safety benefits are also suggested. The Borough of Croydon have already experimented with such a scheme for six months at 3 schools. The access restrictions were enforced by ANPR cameras with £130 fines for infringement. Local residents within the boundary could obtain a permit. Croydon council has now decided to make the scheme permanent despite many objections from residents (some living within the boundary).

The justification for the scheme was that it would reduce air pollution and encourage more healthy life styles but there was no evidence of the air pollution being a problem (no measures were taken), and it is exceedingly unlikely that excluding vehicles from a very small area for very limited times of the day would have any impact on air quality. No evidence on road safety benefits was provided. Such schemes just cause vehicle users to park further away outside the boundary causing wider parking problems, or they turn-up and park earlier. It causes major problems for delivery drivers, or other visitors to homes within the boundary as drivers are often not aware of the scheme.

The London Borough of Greenwich is also considering such a scheme for eight schools according to an article in the Newsshopper local paper and it suggests the access restriction would even be imposed by rising bollards.

Such schemes are spreading across the country. Solihull is another example of an experimental scheme which was put in without consultation. One local councillor said they did not consult first because they thought people would object!

Another area considering using such a scheme is Cambridge County Council where one councillor has put it forward. Again this is was primarily on spurious environmental grounds. The writer of this article spoke on BBC Radio Cambridge on the subject on 17/7/2018 and I suggested that such policies emanate mainly from car haters and that no evidence is provided on the environmental or other benefits.

There is another motivation for such schemes which is money (just like the closure of Bank Junction in the City of London which is generating enormous sums in fines). In Croydon, some 2,000 fines were issued in six months, which is likely to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of additional income to the council.

The school run and the congestion it causes is of major concern to many people but this writer does not support road closures of this nature. They just obstruct and corrupt the road network.

In Croydon local activist Peter Morgan claims the council have acted illegally by not taking notice of objections and failing to meet their obligations under the Traffic Management Act. He is asking the Secretary of State to block the councils move.

The Alliance of British Drivers opposes road closure schemes of all kinds on the grounds that they create major inconvenience for many people, rarely provide any claimed benefits and particularly so when they are used as money making schemes by councils to exploit unwary motorists.

But if you have other solutions to the congestion caused by school run drivers, that are more practical and less unreasonable, then please let us know.

Roger Lawson

Setting Speed Limits

Get the Limits Right and Arguments About Speed Enforcement Could Vanish

It is very easy when we hear people complaining about speed limit enforcement, to assume that the person complaining is somehow irresponsible, liking to drive faster than is safe. We hear it a lot.  When we delve a little deeper however, whilst there are inevitably a tiny minority of this ilk, the vast majority including all of us here in the ABD fully support enforcement against anybody who drives faster than is safe.  The issues they have are invariably with the way enforcement is targeted, and many are very angry indeed that it appears all too often to be targeted at the safe, sober, responsible driver on the safer stretches of road where the limit appears unreasonably low to a significant number of drivers, and perhaps worse still, those speeding in dangerous places are not targeted at all.

What is the exact nature of the problem?  Well the problem with current enforcement is that it incentivises targeting at high revenue sites.  This isn’t just to make profit, it is also because empires that are self-financing and self-perpetuating have been encouraged by government policy, With no fine income, the empires die. When vehicles, equipment and staff have no income stream financing them, they simply die out.  Targeting areas where the majority of drivers sense danger and therefore slow down is not viable because although those caught would be the ones everybody wants them to catch, the numbers are lower so it is not financially viable.

And the solution?  Well it’s two-fold.  Firstly we could take the financial incentives away by sending fine revenue directly into the tax system and fund ‘safety partnerships’ directly from government, rewarding them for casualty reduction only.

Secondly, if limits were properly set then there would be no unreasonable limits for the ‘safety partnerships’ to target.  All the arguments about enforcement would simply go away and the authorities would return to being respected and supported by everybody, something nobody would argue was currently the case.

So, how do we get limits right?

Well we need to depoliticise limit setting.  Take it out of the hands of local politicians who, although often well meaning, are unqualified on the subject and are also often keen to go with whatever they think will win them votes.  There needs to be a national policy on the setting of limits and they need to be in the hands of qualified experts.  There is a system which we in the UK abandoned a few years ago which set limits using a method proven all over the world to maximise safety.  It is called the 85th percentile rule.  Put simply it measures the speed of free-flowing traffic on a particular road in the absence of a limit.  The limit is then set at a speed below which 85% of drivers naturally choose.  There are exceptions but as a broad principle this method creates limits which earn respect and are respected.  Using this method would raise some limits and lower others.  The ABD calls for an end to the current unsustainable fiasco and a reintroduction of the 85th percentile.  It saves lives, increases respect for the enforcement agencies and gives smoother traffic flow.  There really is nothing not to like.

And what else needs to be done on speed?

Limits are far from the only tool in the box.  Setting one’s speed safely to the conditions is probably the most vital skill a driver needs to master.  But it isn’t about numbers.  It is about looking ahead, well ahead, observing potential hazards and continually reappraising one’s speed.  Put simply, the main discipline is to ‘always drive at a speed where you can safely stop in the distance guaranteed to be clear’.  It is virtually all that matters and needs to head up all education campaigns.  When, however did you last hear these words?  Did you ever hear them from anybody in the speed management business or authorities?

Road Safety and Grass Cutting

With the approach of summer it is interesting to see how different councils approach grass cutting and the effects that unattended grass can have on road safety. For three years it has been necessary to remind Durham County Council of their responsibility to cut grass because of the impact on road safety.

On previous occasions, the threat of members of the public cutting the grass on behalf of the council has motivated the council to take remedial action, but with a policy of only cutting grass twice a year and no attempt to monitor if road visibility is being impaired, the motorist is repeatedly being put at risk.

“Reasonable foreseeability” in law ought to demand greater consideration from Council operatives where clearly the risk of accident has been considerably increased.

The photo attached clearly illustrates the indifference that both the local authorities and the police have for road safety in this regard. Perhaps this is being ignored because it is a cost to tackle this problem when council budgets are stretched, but the cost of road accidents is so large that surely it is worth spending some money on this issue? It should not be ignored.

It is also very worrying that at several roundabouts in the Durham and Sedgefield area, barriers have been erected or trees planted to purposely hamper visibility as cars approach roundabouts. I am sure that licenced road users are capable of approaching roundabouts with due care, without the local authority creating hazardous situations for the motorist to negotiate.

We at the ABD are sincere in our desire to achieve the highest levels of road safety and would ask that those in authority operate with integrity and deal with this issue.

Francis Barnish