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‘Costs’ and ‘benefits’ of 80 mph speed limits

2 Mar

The government is wanting to increase motorway speeds from 70mph (112km/h) to 80 mph (130 km/h). The Transport Secretary explains: “We need to do this on a pretty rigorous cost-benefit analysis basis…at the moment there are a clear set of criteria for making these decisions. Perhaps we ought to ask if we are using the right set of criteria”.

Netherlands is also planing to increase it’s motorway speed limit to 130 km/h while Spain is currently lowering its speed limit from 120 km/h to 11o km/h to reduce fuel imports! Check out this useful blog post on the subject confusion that we are in at present.

Lets do a rough and ready cost-benefit analysis given that both the ‘costs’ (ie mainly injuries, deaths) and the benefits (mainly a few minutes off journey time for car drivers) can be reasonably easily calculated so lets have a go.

For every 100 miles driven one will save 10 minutes in travel time (75 mins, down from 85 mins). This does of course depend on having a clear road and no holdups due to crashes.

Lets look at the ‘costs’. According to a review of changes to speed limits conducted for the authorities in British Columbian 2003 the rate of crashes and fatalities is likely to increase significantly. They don’t report on any countries increasing speed from 70 mph to 80 mph (110km/h to 130km/h). They do however report on when Switzerland reduced its speed from 130km/h to 120km/h with reduced fatalities by 12% and when Sweden reduced speeds from 110km/h to 90km/h and fatalities declined by 21%. Also interestingly when the UK reduced speeds from 100km/h to 80km/h  and saw a reduction of 14%.

By contrast when Australia increased its speed limit from 100 km/h to 110 km/h it saw an increase in fatalities of 25%. Increasing speeds in the USA from 89km/h to 105 km/h often had associated increases in fatalities of about 20%.

The Wikipedia Road Safety Article has a useful table which shows motorway casualty rates in the first column and speed limits in the right column (this is not properly referenced though). Is it just me or is it significant that all the worst countries have high speed limits and all the most safe countries have low ones?

Speed safety stats

Do also check the excellent UK Speed Limit article which has a lot of detail of the history of UK speed limits and which is fully referenced.

So, lets get back to an estimate of the ‘costs’. In 2008 there were 158 fatalities on Motorways. As a rough indicator based on the above research, it looks like we can expect about 30 more fatalities. There are many other costs not yet considered including: increased fuel usage, more road noise, more carbon emissions, more stress, more delays caused by crashes. These concerns are echoed by the AA Trust who warned back in 2005 against a blanket increase in the motorway speed limit to 80mph saying that in the absence of strict enforcement to would lead to “unacceptable enforcement drift to 90 mph” – which would “increase the risk of accidents and raise the total of fatal and serious injuries”.

Incidentally, almost half of UK drivers wanted vehicles to be fitted with Speed Limiters which are already used on trunks which are limited to 56 mph and on express coaches at 65 mph which will also be using the motorways.

There there is the research study conducted by the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the RAC Foundation back in 2006 found that some 26% of motorway drivers were following the vehicle in front too closely and that on the M4 the figure was 50%. Do we really want people tailgating at 90 mph?

The ‘cost’ is some 30 deaths and more crashes, which, errr.. might actually reduce the benefit by creating more hold-ups. Also, increased road noise, fuel consumption and driver stress. The benefit is some 10 minutes off journey times per 100 miles (assuming that there are no congestion, road works or crashes to contend with).

At this point transport consultants would convert these costs and benefits into money using standard calculations used by transport planners. I won’t do this because I don’t have the figures to hand and I find the idea rather offensive.

Finally, here is a chart showing road deaths on UK roads since 1929. Be aware that it was a nasty Labour government that introduced the 70mph speed limit in the 1960s after some terrible crashes in fog. since then fatalities have reduced impressively over the past 40 years under both Labour and Conservative governments. Is this trend going to continue going down or are all these ‘motoring’ biased initiatives (such as removing school crossing patrols, re-timing lights in favour of motorists, increasing speed limits, cutting back on bus services, bus lanes and cycle lanes), are we going to see the graph turn up again. I do do hope that this in not going to be the case.

Killed on British Roads

What I would like to is see now is someone doing a FOI request on the Department for Transport requesting their official report on the subject. There is the nice WhatDoTheyKnow website that makes this very easy to do.

What makes the news and what doesn’t and why?

28 Feb

I have done a quick little survey of what transport safety stories have hit the news in the past few days. I was prompted to do this when I noticed that a horrific story from Brazil about a car driver who drove at speed through a throng of cyclists taking part in Critical Mass had only resulted in 3 stories in the main-stream media (on CBS, Sky and just now also on the BBC) according to Google News. Update: This story has just hit mainstream media, and  Google now reports over 200 articles around the world. It did however take four days to do so, and only went mainstream after the driver was brought in for questioning. The event took place on Friday evening, and by Monday evening this was what Google reported, only 11 articles of which most were cycling media:

Brazil Critical Mass news reports

Have a look at the video of the incident and consider why this was ignored and check out what did make it into the papers.

The big story from today is that the UK government wants us to drive faster on motorways to boost the economy. This resulted in some 793 new articles according to Google News within hours.

Google news resuluts – 80mph

Then there were the 690 news stories acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the ‘Selby rail crash’, which should more accurately be called the ‘Land Rover driver kills 10 rail passengers crash’. Incidentally the driver of the Land Rover was out of jail after serving 30 months of his 5 year term.

Selby crash anniversary

Go back a few weeks there was the story that a possible new inquiry into the deaths of two teenagers who died five years ago while crossing a railway line at a level crossing when the warning lights were flashing. 266 articles for that one, including a front-page story in The Times.

Essex level crossing deaths

And finally there was the story about ‘the footballer who crashed his fast car’. Where have I heard that one before? Result: 305 articles.

Footballer crashes fast car

For comparison, here are the stories that relate to terrible 2006 incident where a car driver slipped on ice and crashed into a group of cyclists and killed 4 of them including a 14yo boy which only resulted in 15 news stories that Google News can find today. The drive, who admitted that he may ‘very possibly’ have been driving too fast, was only fined a total of £180 with £35 costs and given 6 points on his license.

Welsh cyclist deaths 2006

My only conclusion is that motorists (and I am one) hate to be reminded about how dangerous this activity is and of the risks that we are taking on a regular basis. We prefer to read about other stuff, even if it is that we are going to be able to drive faster and take more risks while driving. So much for ‘ending all car crash fatalities‘ as was predicted by the BBC recently!

BBC documentary ignores pedestrian safety

8 Feb

The BBC documentary ‘Surviving a Car Crash’ (available on iPlayer until 8th March) was first shown on BBC2 on 7 February. The program covers a range of fancy technologies that could reduce the likelihood of death of the occupants of a vehicle during a car crash. During this hour they failed to mention pedestrians or cyclists once or any significant technological advance that would help them whilst at the same time taking about ‘ending all fatalities from car crashes’.

Significantly, they redefined car crash as being limited to collisions involve two vehicles and no one else – ie pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. That is incorrect, the term also covers single vehicle incidents causing injury of death to pedestrians, cyclists etc.

When I complained about the article on the BBC News site that trailed the documentary they adjusted the article to at least acknowledge that pedestrians do exist and are injured/killed. In their response they explained that they were “largely focused on research being done in the car industry. Much of that, inevitably, relates to car occupants”.

Why was it inevitable that they focused on this without highlighting the limitations of the approach? Indeed, back in 2002 judges from the European New Car Assessment Programme – whose members include the AA, RAC, and Department of Transport  –  slated much of the industry of neglecting pedestrian safety while “ploughing millions of pounds into ensuring that car occupants survive even high-speed crashes”. They highlighed the Range Rover, Jaguar X-type and Vauxhall Frontiera as the worst vehicles for passenger safety noting that the Range Rover had ‘an immensely strong body that provides for its occupants safe’ but also that its pedestrian protection was ‘dire’. It was exclusively these high speed crashes and the safety of the occupants  that the BBC focused on 8 years later. That would have been fine if they hadn’t implied that these developments would ‘end fatal car crashes’. They won’t.

Their is very interesting work going on. The same judges back in 2002 emphasised that the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured would be dramatically reduced if manufacturers took their safety more seriously. They highlighted Honda’s very safe designs who have subsequently achieved a maximum 5 star pedestrian rating for five of they models, the Accord, Civic, Jazz  and Insight. Unfortunately the documentary failed to discuss these interesting issues. Why was this not covered?

Also, the BBC didn’t mention ‘intelligent speed adaptation‘ which ensures that the vehicle won’t exceed the speed limit even if the driver is not intelligent enough to do this for themselves! Indeed some Motorists with a capital ‘M’ complain about how they have to spend all their time looking at the speedometer and not at the road due to the complexity of the speed limit changes and that it is therefore safer to have higher speed limits. Leeds University are trialing the approach saying that it “potentially provides one of the most effective strategies for reducing inappropriate speeds”. Transport for London are leading the way and have created a digital speed limit map for London and have developed software for Tom Tom units which is available for free as is the source code and speed limit data itself. No mention of any of this either.

They didn’t mention of risk compensation where people can adjust to a reduction in risk by taking more risks, in this case driving faster or paying less attention because the car is doing more work for them. This was unfortunate as because this effect is likely to reduce the benefit from these technical and medical advances to vehicle occupants and may even increase the risk to pedestrians by increasing speeds.

I am about to made another complaint and request that the BBC should attach a comment to the  documentary whenever it is re-shown clarifying that the program is focused only on two vehicle collisions and the safety of the occupants  are that the many deaths to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists which are unlikely to be greatly changed by the technology discussed. I will encourage them to do a follow-up program on technology to protect those outside the vehicle. Do you think that is reasonable?


I have now submitted the following complaint: “The program focused exclusively on the safety of the occupants of the vehicles in high-speed 2 vehicle crashes while implying that the technical advances might result in ‘an end to fatal car crashes’. Far from ending fatalities for those outside the car, risk compensation may actually increase risk to pedestrians. Much good research and progress into pedestrian safety was completely ignored. As a point of law and common usage, a ‘car crash’ is defined as a collision involving one or more motorised vehicle that causes damage, injury or death. As such the claim in the program of ‘ending fatalities’ is completely bogus. Please add a note of clarification about the scope of the otherwise excellent program to clarify these points when the documentary is re-shown. Please also consider doing a further program from the perspective of those outside the car.” I also provided a link to this post.

Delivery van driver reverses over cyclist outside secondary school

26 Jan

A delivery van driver reversed over a teenage cyclist outside secondary school in Shrewsbury at 4:15pm on Monday 23 Jan 2011. The driver was unaware of what was happening until the girl banged on the van who was fortunate not to have fallen under the wheels. The police are trying to trace the driver who failed to report the incident as is required after an injury accident.

There is no evidence in the report that there were any restrictions on parking at the location, but it does emphasis the dangers created by vehicles backing into parking places in the vicinity of schools at busy times.

‘If you block the pavements then I’ll block the road’

31 Dec

Since her 9 year old son was hit in the face by a car door opened by a driver who had parked on the pavement, a mother in Manchester has taken to blocking the road to her child’s primary school explaining that: ‘If you block the pavements then I’ll block the road’. The headteacher of St Wilfrid’s School said: “The majority of them are very supportive but it’s a shame there is a minority of parents who keep double parking and using the pavements.” Again, we hear that it is a minority of drivers who cause these issues, and it is yet another example of a child being injured by this dangerous but generally accepted behaviour.

She has got a lot of support from the comments below the article. Here are a sample of them:

  • good on you, its a nightmare when cars park on the kerbs all around schools and also dangerous!!! why dont people just walk to the school to pick up their kids!!
  • Well done mum
  • Good for you Jane.
  • keep up the good work
  • Good on you Jayne but why does it take a mums actions to get a result ? WHY
  • Good on her!
  • The selfish behaviour that I witness by school run mums beggars belief
  • Nice one. Sick to death of motorists, you can’t move in this country without a vehicle up your backside, reversing at speed without looking, opening car doors without looking, speeding around bends the list goes on.
  • Good on ya girl, you have the support of all non-selfish people and drivers.
  • Excellent, we also have huge problems at Wellfield Infant School in Ashton on Mersey, the mums can not get down Church Lane with buggies and it end up single file for cars
  • Nice one Jayne
  • Well done girl! Keep up your protest.

Finally, this longer response which is so typical of what happens if one challenged the behaviour. “I saw a woman parked on yellow zig zags outside a school in Cheadle last week. She was putting her child inside the car, not giving a monkeys for the safety of anybody elses kids. I said you ‘You cannot park there’. ‘I know, sorry’ she said. ‘Well move it then’ said I. ‘Who do you think you are speaking to’ she asked angrily. She has a problem with the way people to speak to her, but does not give a damn for the safety of other peoples children.

Local newpaper champions “Park safe be safe” campaign

13 Dec

Back in 2006 the Northants Evening Telegraph launched a ‘Park Safe Be Safe‘ campaign focused on anti-social and dangerous parking the county and have encouraged action by parents, children and authorities. All very impressive and very necessary. Consider the issue has it has unfolded in the past few years:

Three children were knocked to the ground outside a school in Kettering by a car which had been parked on a pavement during the school run in February 2009. A few months later a mother appealed to drivers outside the same school to behave more sensibly. One mother reported that ‘she has had to step in to prevent her children being hit by vehicles on at least three occasions’.

In October parents were continuing to park dangerously and illegally outside a primary school in Kettering despite pupils previously issuing their own parking tickets. One parent reported that their nine-year-old daughter and a friend had almost be hit by a reversing car and then in November 2009 a two year old girl had to be pulled out of danger from a reversing car in Corby. The mother explained “I was picking my little boy up from school. We were walking on that side and a driver started backing up. She was about to be squashed but we managed to pull her out of the way”.

In February 2010 three children were knocked down while crossing a zebra crossing outside another Kettering school. In April 2010 a father was rammed by a car after he had knocked on a car window to ask a driver to move. In May 2010 parents were again urged to park sensibly. In June 2010 a new scheme based on ‘school drop off’ points was trialed at some school where volunteers walking the children from the drop-off point to the actual school and then pupils were handing out special tickets on cars parked dangerously or illegally near their school and a neighbouring infants school. PCSO Thomas said that the tickets which looked like parking tickets but were specially-made cards from Northamptonshire Casualty Reduction Partnership has been well received by parents and local residents.

In September 2010 the paper relaunched their campaign with the slogan ‘When you dropped your child off at school this morning, where did you park’. Also in September 2010 they reported that illegal parking had reduced significantly outside the school where the 3 children had been knocked down in February after police had handed out 23 tickets in 3 months. The police commented that ‘police officers have put parking tickets on vehicles committing offences… this has not proved popular with the drivers of the offending vehicles, but we have explained why we are at the school and why a penalty ticket has been issued’.

In December 2010 a total of 26 schools that participate in the ‘Junior Road Safety Officer‘ scheme received banners to display outside their school to highlight the risks of thoughtless parking.

Well done to the Northants Evening Telegraph for championing this important cause. But isn’t it amazing that drivers are sill complain about this and that a small number of drivers ignore regulations and then complain when the regulations are enforced or worse and actually drive into people who try to ensure that regulations are enforced!

Is Northants uniquely bad or have they just been better than most places at documenting the issue? I suspect that it is just that they have been better at documenting the issue, indeed I have been told by a parent at my local primary school that she also had a scare when a driver reversed a vehicle onto the pavement and nearly knocked her kid over.


A three year old girl was in hospital with a broken leg after being knocked down by a reversing car outside a school in Burnley in November 2010. The police said: “Enquiries are ongoing but clearly both the family of the girl and the driver of the car have been left devastated by what has happened”. The canon of the local church said “The legal parking is much further down Church Street but you can’t stop parents getting as close to the school as they can”.

A Manchester mother started blocking the road to her child’s primary school after her 9yo son was smacked in the face by the door of a vehicle parked on the pavement in October 2010.

Risk assessment relating to removing school crossing patrols

10 Dec

Following suggestions that all of the 72 school crossing patrols in Suffolk may be axed to save £230K per year I have just submitted a Freedom of Information request to the County Council requesting the sort of information that will be required assess the risk associated with removing the school crossing patrols at each of these locations. Look East highlighted the fact that this amount of money was almost exactly as the annual  salary of the chief executive at the council. Incidentally, a total of four pedestrian have been killed in the last 10 years close to one of the crossing patrols under review close to where I live.

Elf and safety is an amazing thing. A few years ago a profusion of ‘cyclist dismount’ signs were installed at great expense in Ravenswood near Ipswich along a new cycle path which no one in their right mind would follow. Now I get the impression that parents will be left to fend for themselves crossing fast 30 mph roads when the chance of death is about 50% for a pedestrian  hit by a car at that speed. If the same logic was used for car drivers as it is in Ravenswood for cyclists then car drivers would be expected to get out and push their vehicles along section of road where pedestrians were likely to cross the road! You can also get the context for the signage from Google Streetview.

Dismount again and again and again

Foxhall Road – a lethal road that needs a crossing patrol

1 Nov

Suffolk County Council recently decided that it will not replace the lollipop lady who helps parents and children who attend Britannia Road Primary School across Foxhall Road at the junction with Britannia Road. She retires next March and the currently plans are that she will not be replaced. Have then forgotten how dangerous this road is or did they never know?

Crossing patrol sign on Foxhall Road

The location of the crossing patrol with its nice new dropped kerb.

The view across Foxhall Road

However… have they forgotten that four people have been killed on Foxhall Road within the past 10 years within 100 meters of that spot and another car passenger not far away. This must make it one of the most lethal roads in the town.

For the record in 2001 a 14 year old boy was killed walking on Foxhall Road outside St Clement Hospital on 26 January 2001. Then a 22 year old man was killed walking along Foxhall Road by Dover Road on 22 March of the same year. Next it was the 18 year old passenger who died in a car crash further along the same road on 14 November 2007. Most recently  in February last year it was the turn of two women were also killed while walking along Foxhall Road.  You can check the figures using the BBC interactive casualty map.

Before you get too alarmed… Road casualty rates have been falling for 45 years. They peaked in 1966 at a staggering 7,985 in one year. The figure for 2009 is 2,222 which is the lowest since records began in 1926. During Labour’s recent term in office between 2000 and 2009 they dropped an impressive 44% (from 3,409 to 2,222) and the number of children killed fell even further (by 61%). Don’t believe me? Well check out this Wikipedia article which I helped create and follow the references back to the Department for Transport website. To give them their due, the previous conservative government also saw big falls, from 5,953 to 3,599.

My concern that the current government has pledged to ‘end the war on the motorist’ and has cut the road safety grant by 40%. They have also cut local council budgets. See this article in the Telegraph for a reasonably cynical view! Lets fight to keep this patrol also for continued progress on road safety. Why not write to your councilor or to your MP. You can do this easily from this wonderful website.  Does anyone affected wish to start a petition? If so then let me know.

Finally, here a a chart I created shows the trend in GB road fatalities since 1929 together with many of the associated road safety interventions during the period.

Fatalities on GB roads 1926-2009


My initial post incorrectly suggested that Ipswich Borough Council was responsible for this decision. They were not, this is a decision by Suffolk County Council who are the transport authority. Apologies to Ipswich Borough Council. More recently fears have been expressed that all 72 crossing patrols in the county could be axed.

Stop for the lollipop

1 Nov

Stop for the lollipop (c) copyright

Sounds simple doesn’t it! However a few selfish drivers honk, rev their engines or just push past and on at least one occasions risk the official’s life. “MOTORISTS are being reminded they must stop at school crossing patrols after a lollipop lady in North Yorkshire was nearly knocked down by a car.” see this newspaper article.

There are campaigns in many parts of the country now.

Kids provide backup! photo copyright Leicestershire CC

When drivers won’t risk leaving their cars on the highway

26 Oct

Is Back Hamlet too dangerous for car drivers to risk leaving their cars on the road? If so then what about the many people who walk and cycle up and down it every day to get to the college/waterfront and station?

Since the change to Duke Street Roundabout cars are no longer able to use the road to get into town now that a short section of road has been made one-way (upwards out of town). Much less traffic uses the road, however local residents are clearly still concerned about leaving their cars fully on the road, and park in the newly laid out parking bays with two wheels up on the pavement!

Cars up on pavement in new parking bays

This is probably due to the fact that some motorists seem to delight in driving up it really fast, possibly because it is now virtually one way (except for access the college car park). Incidentally there was a major shunt on this road last year when a car piled into a line of parked cars in one of the bays so fast that it damaged four cars in a row.

If it is too dangerous for local people to leave park their cars then what about pedestrians. And what about the many cyclists, myself included, who cycle slowly up the hill? Strategically positioned parking bays protected by new plant containers could be used to create a chicane above the brow of the hill. This would: slow traffic reducing risk to pedestrians and cyclists, allow residents actually use the parking bays, free up the pavements for pedestrians and also reduce noise. Almost everyone would be a winner!

I am sure there are many places where such initiatives would have a huge benefit. Some will have already been completed, but there are many more still to do. Look out for them a find a way to bring them to the attention of your council, a blog is a great tool. If you do create a blog then try to always promote solutions and not just wallow in the problems which doesn’t get us very far.

I am forwarding a link to this article to my councilor now and will tell you how I get on.


My councilor responded promptly saying that there were many areas competing for traffic calming schemes like this and that there was ‘no money’.