A Responsible Driver – But do you sometimes exceed the speed limit?

7 01 2010

Do you consider yourself to be a responsible driver; yet do you sometimes find yourself exceeding the speed limit.

Do you find yourself watching the speedometer more than the road? Are you constantly worried about a camera van trapping you? Is this really your reckless desire to go fast or could it be that the speed limit itself is inappropriate for the location and prevailing conditions? This may vary by day, time, weather, season, etc. However, with the increasing reliance on technology rather than human intervention by trained Police Officers, there is no flexibility or opportunity for education/rectification to be applied.

For example, is it right that there is a 30mph speed limit on a dual carriageway with adjacent service roads and little pedestrian or cyclist activity?   The  same limit applies to a busy shopping street in a town or village and yet, travelling at around 10mph in the High Street is perhaps more appropriate.  Anyone exceeding the posted speed limit is breaking the law; but “we” are making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding people. Is it ethical to punish someone doing 36 mph in a 30 limit at 0300hrs, when perhaps guidance will have a more positive impact? The ‘Driver Improvement Scheme,’ is an alternative to punishment and has been shown to offer a high degree of success, but its philosophy should be available to all.

Cameras can only generate tickets, whereas Police Officers can give a gentle warning, or ask the driver to give a breath test, which may well prevent a serious collision a bit further along the road.  (They can also check vehicles’ condition or open the boot to see if it is full of drugs or stolen property, which is why traffic officers have the highest arrest rate.)  Replacing cops with cameras, does not work.    Such devices are seen by the majority of reasonable drivers as income generators and anti-motorist, rather than a useful tool which, in the right circumstances can have a major effect upon road safety.

Historically it was accepted that 85% of us drive at (or below) a “safe” speed, for a given road.  All other things being equal, it was appropriate to set that as the speed limit for that stretch of highway.  In other words – a safe speed limit had been created, likely to be observed by the majority of drivers and requiring minimal enforcement.  The speed limit was set by the Highways Committee acting upon the advice of its professional officer.  Nowadays, the advice of professional advisors (Police and Road Safety Professionals) is increasingly being set aside and politically-motivated speed limits are being introduced.  Minority pressure groups are impacting upon the silent majority, to the detriment of a much needed long-term road safety “culture change”.

In general terms, lengthy 30mph (and even some 40mph) speed limits are poorly observed and dilute the effectiveness where the limit is really needed, e.g. in the central core of a village.  Artificially high levels of enforcement of an inappropriate speed limit (contrary to ACPO and ‘Safety Camera Partnership’ guidelines), only serves to alienate and trap the generally responsible driver.  These often frustrate drivers and create animosity towards Road Safety Professionals and the Police.  Unrealistic limits are seriously hampering long term progress on a road safety culture change.  We welcome the DfT advice permitting 20mph zones in many built up areas.  Indeed, it often feels perfectly comfortable to “trickle along slowly”, through the myriad of parked vehicles and other urban hazards in residential streets. However, an endless push towards ill-considered low and inappropriate speed limits should be avoided.

Drivers should be taught to use finesse when applying the accelerator or the brake, as smoothness is much more efficient.  The issue of fuel consumption and fuel costs, together with the need to control carbon emissions, will now be affecting many drivers’ attitudes to speed.  By the same token, new speed limit interfaces should be positioned with care, to ensure a smooth transition, avoiding frequent changes for isolated hazards (and the consequent need for braking and acceleration).

Local Authorities are required by Government to review their speed limits.  That doesn’t mean a widespread lowering of limits, without justification and/or supporting physical measures.

An attitudinal “Culture Change” is required, away from driving at inappropriate speeds, but a sensible speed limit framework needs to be in place to encourage this.

Make sure that you push for a sensible speed limit hierarchy for your area.  You have a say!  Keep an eye on Public Notice Advertisements and make your views known, before it’s too late.   Support and encourage your Councillors to do the right thing.


To achieve real reductions in inappropriate driven speeds, to minimise impact speeds in crashes and accidents, particularly those involving vulnerable groups, Road Safety Practitioners need to:

  1. Enforce against blatant ‘reckless driving’ at inappropriate speed, anywhere.  Re-establish a force of respected Police Traffic Officers, who can point out driver misdemeanours and hence train and encourage good driving
  2. Engineer roads to be “self-explaining” (some may already be, but not all) and alert drivers to local hazards, which may not be immediately obvious.  This way speed limits will be naturally observed and part of a logical hierarchy
  3. Ensure that Politicians understand and then be guided by professional, evidence-based  advice
  4. Employ expertise and skill in determining whether a spate of accidents or crashes is as a result of a ‘Blackspot’ developing, or whether it is merely a random deviation from the mean, (which will occur statistically in any event).
  5. Work with motorists and carry them with us to achieve real culture change.

Realistic speed limits create good driver discipline and compliance.  Ill thought out limits create the reverse and do not pursue the ideal of casualty reduction on our roads.  Observation, data, analysis, knowledge, skill and experience is required to make sense of vehicle speed and traffic accident events.  We would be pleased to help any local authority, councillors, residents groups or drivers if they need help to decide what to do in their area.

Nick J Stilwell Senior Partner

Website |  Email




2 responses

10 01 2010
Tony Suter

I support the thrust of this cogent arguement. Recent adverse weather has seen a majority of drivers acting sensibly by travelling at a speed that THEY determined as sensible for the conditions. This must be a vindication of crediting drivers with common sense and self discipline. It also rather suggests that a political determination of what a few elected representatives see as an acceptable speed can be flawed if they act without taking the advice of experienced and professional practioners.

Postive action must be taken against the minority of drivers who flout their obligations and cause fear and concern by driving stupidly in many locations where there are no enforcement devices, no other speed ‘calming’ measures and no effective Policing. Government insist on increasing penalties for dangerous, careless driving and speeding. All makes good spin, but one has to ask the question; “Why aren’t existing penalties imposed to the fullest extent?”. Then, I suggest, there will be no need to invoke expensive legislation to double up penalties that are not imposed anyway. We have all seen it in the press where Drivers who have killed through reckless driving only receive a single figure term of imprisonment but the law permits up to 20 years.

Slightly diverting from the terms of the article but equally important.

8 01 2010
James Bailey

I think there should be more specific criteria for determining speed limits, based on the No. and type of accesses, level of pedestrian activity etc, for consistency. Accident problems or percieved local speed problems should be dealt with in other ways, specific to the cause of the problem (unless, of course, maximum speed limits around bends are what’s required to solve the problem).
Perhaps there should be variable speed limits in urban areas, depending on the time of day / conditions – as long as they are clearly displayed. In car displays in the future will, i’m sure, make it easier to get this, and more, information across to the driver.
I agree that driver improvement courses should be more widely used, as an alternative to penalty points (and a fine) – but what do you teach them if the speed limit they broke was inappropriate for the conditions?
I also think that the driving test should involve improved education on why particular speed limits are set on certain roads (so that they understand the consequences of braking them), coupled with appropriate speeds, set at the appropriate locations.

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