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?

Press Release: No Benefit From Speed Awareness Courses

 The Department for Transport (DfT) have, after a long delay, published the Ipsos-MORI report that they commissioned into the effectiveness of speed awareness courses. This is the key statement in the Executive Summary: “this study did not find that participation in NSAC [National Speed Awareness Courses] had a statistically significant effect on the number or severity of injury collisions”.

In other words, as the Alliance of British Drivers has repeatedly said, this unethical and legally dubious diversion of drivers to speed awareness courses is primarily about generating money, not about road safety because there is no evidence of any real benefit. Indeed drivers who have attended such courses might be interested in another statement in the report: “the NSAC was not designed to reduce the incidence of collisions”. So what exactly is the objective one might ask as it appears not to be focussed on improving road safety?

Was the study too small to produce statistically significant results? Not exactly because the records of 2.2 million drivers, of whom 1.4 million had accepted a course offer, were studied over a period of 4 years. This data was linked to subsequent speed reoffending and involvement in collisions to produce the report’s conclusions. That’s a large sample.

The only impact they found was that there was a small reduction in reoffending after involvement in an NSAC, but that is surely hardly surprising because drivers might simply take more care about speeding after being caught for one offence because you cannot be offered a second NSAC within 3 years.

The report argues that an even bigger study might prove there is some benefit but the proponents of such courses are surely clutching at straws if they think that expense is worthwhile.

Regardless we suggest speed awareness courses should cease to be a money making industry for ex-police and road safety officers and should only be offered to people who are actually convicted of speeding offences. Otherwise they are just a way to bribe the police to look the other way when an offence is committed (a waiver of prosecution as they call it). That’s corruption and a perversion of justice!

The ABD’s campaign against this illegality is documented on this web site which explains the history, the financial arrangements and the evidence of police profiteering:

The Ipsos-MORI report can be found here:

Roger Lawson

(Twitter: )

The Hidden Truth Behind Statistics Used To Justify Speed Enforcement Priorities

Around 1,800 people die on the roads per year and around 24,000 are ‘seriously injured’. It is well known that around 15% of fatal and 7% of serious injury crashes involve speeds above the speed limit (1). But how many of those (217 deaths in 2016) involved the sober, otherwise legal drivers travelling a few mph above the speed limit who are the prime target of road traffic enforcement by a huge margin(2)?

The truth is shocking. It seems that those who collate the statistics have never bothered to find out!

So who are the drivers who crash and kill above the speed limit? Listening to the government, local authorities, the enforcement industry and vocal campaigning organisations, the impression given is that it is largely normally law-abiding drivers travelling just above the speed limit who are mowing down pedestrians and cyclists left, right and centre. This is clearly what they intend us to believe.

Observing the news, however, we see a contradiction: Almost every day there are cases of ‘speeding drivers’ who are also drunk or drugged, driving stolen cars, racing, making highly dangerous high speed manoeuvres or simply travelling at recklessly high speeds killing whilst also happening to be travelling above the speed limit. These are ALL of course recorded as above speed limit fatalities or ‘Speeding Deaths’.

So surely somebody will have asked the question of how many are actually killed by the prime target of enforcement, the sober, otherwise legal driver travelling just above the limit and how many by the above categories of driver for whom such enforcement has little if any effect?

Shockingly it seems not.

So what information do we have? Of course the vast majority, 85% of fatal and 93% of serious injury crashes, involved vehicles judged to be travelling within speed limits. However we are concentrating here only on the remainder, crashes above the speed limit. 217 people died in such crashes in 2016, 1,238 were seriously injured. Statistics show that large proportions of these involved other serious factors as well as exceeding the limit (3):

* 23% of above speed limit crashes involved vehicles used in course of a crime.

* 21% of above speed limit crashes involved stolen cars.

* 23% of above speed limit crashes involved aggressive driving.

* 20% of above speed limit crashes involved drugs.

* 16% of above speed limit crashes over limit crashes involved alcohol.

* 19% of above speed limit crashes involved disobeying double white lines.

* 10% of above speed limit crashes involved mobile phone use.

* 8% of above speed limit crashes involved inexperience (Shockingly there is no category for unlicensed drivers, so presumably this would include these).

Clearly there has to be some overlap of factors such as the drunk and drugged driver crashing above the speed limit in a stolen car. So what overlap is there? Shockingly nobody seems to know. The DfT don’t know. The enforcers don’t know. What speeds did the crashes occur at? How many were at recklessly high speeds and how many were minor transgressions of speed limits as we see all the time on our roads. Again, despite speeds always being approximated after fatal crashes, nobody seems to know or have bothered to investigate.

So how have we got to this incredible state of affairs and what do we do to rectify it?

ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries comments: “We have got to this point largely because for decades now there has been a huge campaign by the authorities to convince us that sober, otherwise legal drivers exceeding the speed limit are a major cause of death and injury. A huge, well-funded industry with vested interests has built up around that ‘fact’ being true; but clearly this ‘truth’ is very much in doubt. Many of the public believe it and many campaign on the issue, some with axes to grind; but most probably genuinely believing in their cause. Most politicians, both local and national, have never questioned it. Those who dare question things are shouted down and come up against a brick wall. Now is the time to hold those responsible for this shambles to account. We need some answers”.

So what needs to be done to put things right? Well actually it is extremely simply. The number of fatalities in a given year occurring above the speed limit – whilst of course tragic – are fairly small numbers to investigate. There were 217 in 2016. Serious injuries are a larger number 1,238 in 2016; but again by no means an unmanageable figure to investigate. Approximate speeds are recorded by police after every fatal and serious injury crash. The statistics are there but are hidden on the individual crash report forms and not available to the public.

If these figures were to be released to an independent researcher it would take maybe a day’s work for one person to collate the facts. It is that simple.

If the authorities are really serious about improving road safety – as opposed to merely burying their heads in the sand while collecting ballooning speed awareness course and fine revenues – they would urgently investigate this issue. The ABD strongly urges them to do so. We cannot continue prosecuting millions of road users per year on an unsubstantiated (but extremely profitable) whim.

For all we know, very few of the crashes above the speed limit – or indeed none of them – may actually involve the sober, otherwise legal driver exceeding the limit by small margins. In which case, the last two-and-a-half decades of speed enforcement-biased road safety policy have been based on an entirely false premise. Indeed, the ABD strongly suspects this to be the case from the evidence available.

The investigation of road accidents, and associated statistical analysis, is woefully inadequate compared to the way that aircraft and maritime accidents are investigated by the AAIB (4) and MAIB (5). The ABD has long called for an independent, objective road accident investigation body, but the government just stalls and makes excuses.

Perhaps they are frightened the embarrassing truth may come out?


  1. RAS 50001
  2. 1.97 Million Fixed Penalty Speeding Tickets 2016. Approximately half took speed awareness courses
  3. RAS 50010
  4. AAIB (Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch) Reports:
  5. MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) Reports: