Britain has one of the best road safety records in the world, which is something to be proud of. The table below gives a few examples of how many people are being killed every year on roads where many of us take our holidays (2003 data):
This is an impressive record, but we want to improve on it, and there is still work to be done to further reduce the number of unnecessary injuries and fatalities on our roads. That is why it is necessary to continue to work on persuading and educating motorists to be more aware of their driving habits and their speed in particular. Whether we are motorists, cyclists, pedestrians or horse riders, all of us benefit from safer driving.
So why worry about speed?The Department for Transport annually monitors traffic speeds at around 180 sites throughout Great Britain. The total number of vehicle records processed to produce the 2003 statistics was about 677 million.
These measurements showed that in 2003:
• 58% of cars, 54% of motorcycles and 53% of HGVs exceeded the 30 mph limit
• 27% of cars and 36% of motorcycles exceeded the 40 mph limit
• 57% of cars and 59% of motorcycles exceeded the 70 mph speed limit on motorways It is clear therefore that many of us speed at least some of the time.
If you add to this the fact that if a pedestrian is hit at:
• 20mph there is about a 1 in 40 (2.5 %) chance of being killed or 97% chance of survival
• 30mph there is about a 1 in 5 (20%) chance of being killed or 80% chance of survival
• at 35mph there is a 50/50 chance of being killed
• at 40mph there is about a 9 in 10 (90%) chance of being killed or 10% chance of survival, (Source Ashton and Mackay 1979)
And that if it is estimated that for each 1mph reduction in average speed, accident frequency is reduced by 5%;
Then it is clear there is a need to worry about speed because the consequences of driving too fast are so severe.
Is speed as dangerous as bad driving?
Driving too fast is bad driving. In 2003 there were still over 3,000 people being killed (that’s nearly 10 people every day) and 33,000 being seriously injured in collisions on Britain’s roads.
Unfortunately speed contributes to those collisions, deaths and injuries. There exists no precise figure for the contribution speed makes to causing the collisions, but analysis of casualty statistics in Great Britain has shown excessive speed to be a contributory factor in 12% of all injury collisions, 18% where there is a serious injury and 28% of all collisions which result in a fatality.
It is therefore clear that where there are serious or fatal injuries resulting from collisions, excessive speed is more likely to be a contributory factor.
There are those who claim that speed is not a significant factor in causing road accidents, but that view is difficult to sustain from either research or experience. All reliable research into accident causation shows that the factors determining both excessive and inappropriate speed amount to about 30% of contributory factors in road accidents.
To an extent it suits us all to assume that the effects of speed are exaggerated. Individuals will need to take one conscious decision at any given time to, say, buckle up a seat belt or not drink before driving.
What speed it is safe to drive at is a continuous decision making process and to that extent is a more difficult judgement to make.
Drivers rightly consider poor lane discipline, failure to signal, driving too close and other errors to be poor driving.
There is some reluctance to accept that driving too fast is also poor driving, but it is and there is a need to alter that thinking.
What is speeding?
This is straightforward; it is exceeding the posted speed limit. To do so is a criminal offence and, if detected, is likely to result in a fine and penalty points on your licence. In the majority of cases this will be a fixed penalty resulting in a standard fine and licence endorsement, but in more serious cases may result in being taken to court.
It is intuitive to believe that, the faster you go, the greater is the risk of being involved in a collision; and this is borne out by the facts. Research (TRL 1998 and 1999) has shown that if an individual drives at more than 10-15% above the average speed of the traffic around them, they are much more likely to be involved in a collision.
This is someone driving within the speed limit but too fast for the road and traffic conditions. It is about judgement, and is extremely important.
Urban roads will be subject most often to a 30mph speed limit. These will be high streets with shoppers looking to cross the road at various points, parked vehicles around which pedestrians might suddenly appear, delivery vans, cyclists and buses where people might risk crossing the road where perhaps they should not. They might also be in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and where the elderly may be present. These roads require drivers to take account of all these various factors and drive at appropriate speeds.
Driving at inappropriate speed is also a real problem on rural roads. Despite only around 10% of drivers exceeding the speed limit on rural roads, over 60% of all car occupant deaths (drivers and passengers) occur on them. This is because, although the national speed limit applies on the vast majority of rural roads, it is actually difficult to drive at anywhere close to the speed limit, but it is still very possible to drive too fast for the conditions.
These include approaching a bend or junction too fast, not negotiating narrow roads properly and overtaking where it is inappropriate to do so.
Inappropriate speed is also a factor where poor weather conditions prevail and when driving at night.
It is a commonly held belief that, since roads have far less traffic at night, it is safe to drive at higher speeds.
However, it is a fact that the average risk of an accident per kilometre travelled between 7.00pm and 7.00am is double that for that between 7.00am and 7.00pm.