Speed? It’s drivers that kill – not cars!

Symbol used for motorways in the United Kingdom.
70mph OR 80mph?

The Department of Transport has announced a consultation on increasing the motorway speed limit in England and Wales from 70mph to 80mph (bbc.co.uk). As soon as the announcement was made, vociferous opinion on both sides of the debate for and against were forthcoming.

But, are there actually any real benefits to the proposal or, is it simply a mindless and stupid as far as road safety is concerned?

The public sector news website publicservice.co.uk (like several others) have, in a mostly balanced and apolitical piece, almost dismissed the idea as little more than a political gimmick…

They [Govt] could be accused of grandstanding before the Conservative Party conference kicks off, but the government has announced that the Department of Transport will look into whether to increase the speed limit on motorways in 2013 from 70mph to 80mph. The idea has already been dismissed as an empty gesture that will benefit no-one…(Read more)

Dependant upon which side of the debating carriageway you sit, it would appear there are many valid arguments both for and against the proposal. A factor that would tend to add evidence to the allegation that it’s simply a platitude to placate general public opinion, one designed simply to court public popularity, and gain votes.

“…There are good reasons for making 80 the new 70, and good reasons not to…” (Prof. Stephen Glaister, RAC Foundation)

Whichever way you look at the proposal, it’s hardly one that could be considered as ‘radical’ in terms of road safety. Any genuine desire for real and positive impact upon road safety and driver behaviour requires a combination of both legislation and education. Although this proposal is (supposedly) more about economics than road safety, any realistic further reduction in the Killed & Serious Injury (KSI) statistics, requires that we address various impactors, not just speed.

Legislation such as the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995, which introduced a probationary period for newly qualified drivers was one move in the right direction. The New Drivers Act required that; if you reached six or more penalty points in that time, you would lose your licence. Then, you have to apply and pay for a new provisional licence and become a ‘learner driver’ again. Another idea could be the introduction of legislation that makes compulsory continuous driver skills development a requirement of licence retention?

Statistics show that new drivers are more likely to have an accident in the first two years after passing their test. This is because of their lack of driving experience…(direct.gov.uk)

The Pass Plus Scheme, an established training course aimed at new drivers, was also a move in the right direction. It was designed by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) with the help of insurers and the driving instruction industry. It is designed to “build on your skills and knowledge. It will teach you how to anticipate, plan for and deal with all kinds of hazards, to help you become a more confident driver.” Perhaps the continued driver development process could follow the format shown below?

  1. Minimum driver training period prior to test
  2. Pass test (Compulsory)
  3. Complete Pass Plus scheme within two-year probationary period (Compulsory)
  4. Undertake recognised course of Advanced Driver Training within five years of initial test (Compulsory)
  5. Take and Pass Advanced Driving Certificate (Voluntary)

As highlighted above, one of the other major factors impacting upon road safety is the ability to positively influence general driver behaviour. This aspect was traditionally the remit of Police Traffic Officers and Roads Policing Units across the country. Any regular long-distance motorist, at least those paying attention to their surroundings, will have noticed the significant reduction in police patrols on our roads infrastructure over recent years.

These police resources in real terms, have been subjected to almost terminal decline over recent years, mainly due to budgetary constraints. There is now little more than automated influence such as speed camera technology and variable speed limit schemes etc. But perhaps the motoring public are more than happy with this decline? After all, every traffic cop has noted a reply like the following when dealing with an errant motorist… “Got nothing bloody better to do? Should be out catching crooks, not picking on drivers!”

To have any real chance of effectively influencing driver behaviour there must be an active and effective enforcement patrol process. Seeing any return to previous levels of roads policing is doubtful, whether or not legislation enforcement powers are granted to Highways Agency Traffic Officers (HATO), in lieu of the now almost non-existent police resources, is als open to debate. The fact remains, without some fear of capture for breaking traffic laws, any new legislation (or change to it) is mostly superfluous in road safety terms… It’s drivers that kill, not vehicles!