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.