Speed is, and always has been, the most important factor influencing crashes and injury severity for all road users. Speeding drivers are responsible for a significant proportion of road collisions, even if the true figures are hidden within the statistics. We don't need to wait for evidence from crashes on the roads and we shouldn't have to see deaths and injuries on the roads before we act. The limits of human frailty and the risk caused by high-speed vehicles is well understood and the only way to protect all road users is to reduce those crash forces.
Speeds where vulnerable road users are present should be as low as possible unless there is significant investment in safety infrastructure. This means building adequate cycle ways, segregated from other road traffic, and delivering safe crossings for pedestrians on high-traffic roads. Of course, reducing speeds is often a much more cost-effective solution, providing higher benefit-cost ratios than expensive engineering measures.
There is, however, a problem associated with the perception of speed on our roads and support for lower limits. Official DfT statistics on vehicles speeds in urban areas are based on a small number of locations which are atypical of the urban roads where people live and move. We know from our own research that travelled speeds along roads and through communities are already much closer to 20mph than they are to 30mph.
Some urban roads do exhibit higher speeds and if they have the appropriate safety measures in place, higher speeds can be tolerated. This isn’t the case for the vast majority of our roads however, which means there are clear opportunities to make simple, cheap interventions to reinforce appropriate and safe speeds in communities.
Many local authorities and police forces may be concerned about the burden of cost associated with achieving compliance when urban speed are lowered to 20mph. The reality is that only a small percentage of roads that are subject to a new 20mph limit need any kind of investment or enforcement. Our own analysis of roads in Wales after the change to 20mph showed that average speeds dropped to below the new limit with even greater reductions happening on roads that had higher speeds before the change.
It is true that some drivers will continue to flout the speed limit and targeted enforcement can provide a strong deterrent. We are already helping police forces understand roads with the biggest compliance issue using advanced data sources. By getting smarter with the data, we can better direct existing resources and have a much greater impact on driver speeds.
Find out more about the work Agilysis do at Agilysis.co.uk.
Richard Owen wrote this blog for Road Safety Week 2023. Sign up to join the national conversation about speed.
Richard Owen, CEO, Agilysis
A significant figure in road safety both in the UK and overseas Richard’s experience as a manager of a multi-partner enforcement organization led to a deep understanding of matters relating to speed. Previous non-sector work in geospatial and database systems brought insight into effective analysis techniques and system design which has been used extensively in his work. Richard regularly provides policy and strategy advice to organizational leaders, appearing at conferences and events across the globe.