Moving (too) fast

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 29.

Another ad banned

The Advertising Standards Authority has told us that they have upheld another of our complaints against car adverts emphasising speed. Their Council, however, did not uphold one other, after an initial recommendation that it should.

The advert that bit the dust was for Jaguar. Once again it used the device of showing the car against a blurred background to suggest speed. In this case it went one further: in case the visual cue was not strong enough, its headline said ‘Suddenly weekends are a blur again’. The car was shown on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner. Oh what fun to tear around the countryside at the weekend, and who cares who else might get in the way.

Advertisers see performance as a selling point, so while individual adverts can be censured, they will continue to push the limits of acceptability. Unfortunately we are only picking up occasional adverts in the mainstream press, and there is a whole culture of macho car magazines out there which exist to promote this kind of irresponsibility.

Speed review

The Government finally announced the results of its road safety and speed reviews at the beginning of March. The road safety review is strong on targets, especially with regard to child road safety, but weak on the means to deliver those targets. We’ll look at the more general road safety document more next time, and look more at the speed review here.

In three words, I think the speed review concludes ‘business as usual’. That’s not to say there is no good news in there, as there are many effective measures in the current approaches to speed management. However, from a campaigners’ point of view, the ability to reduce speeds and therefore intimidation and casualties has not really been delivered.

Image as described adjacent
Speed camera in Huntingdon Road. Victoria Avenue will get one of five new cameras just announced by the County Council. The others are in Trumpington High Street, Willingham, Whittlesey and Huntingdon . Recycling fines makes cameras more viable, but according to the speed review, not as a widespread tool for changing driver behaviour.

Urban and rural speed limits were two particular areas we were looking for change. The review puts all the onus on any speed reduction on local authorities and rules out speed limit reductions nationally. It says of urban environments ‘it is not appropriate to lower the 30 mph limit on all the urban roads to which it applies’. It then goes on to say ‘there is a very good case for lower speeds in some places, such as residential areas where the most vulnerable road users are. We should encourage local authorities to reduce vehicle speeds to 20 mph where this would be appropriate for road safety and urban regeneration.’

That’s good news. But then it is spoiled with: ‘self enforcing 20 mph zones are currently the only effective method of achieving this.’ What this means is that 20 mph zones have to be accompanied by lots of traffic calming. And what that means is that speed reductions will be painfully slow because traffic calming is expensive, and cyclists will continually be faced with bizarre obstacles which actually make life worse.

In villages, they advocate ‘working towards 30 mph being the norm for villages’. This could be done with legislation centrally, but no, it would be done over many years.

There are some interesting words about designating ‘country lanes’ where speed limits could be specifically reduced, again with supporting (and presumably expensive) road design changes. I imagine they have in mind experiments like those in north Norfolk and Guernsey which attempt to say that some roads aren’t just there for cars.

‘On some High Streets … with mixed traffic and diverse use,’ they say, ‘speeds around 20 mph would be in line with government policies.’ So maybe there’s hope for Mill Road yet.

All of these, however, depend on the local authority being both enthusiastic and rich enough to push measures through. While Cambridgeshire has done significant work in enforcement, especially with speed cameras, it is decidedly unenthusiastic about speed reduction in rural areas and villages. Its current speed policy says that speed limits can’t be reduced in rural areas because it would mean drivers couldn’t get from one place to another so quickly. Cambridgeshire has peanuts to spend on urban traffic calming and home zones. Consider that Hull has fifty 20 mph zones, while Cambridge has one.

The document is somewhat stronger on enforcement, much of it technologically driven. Increased penalties are mentioned especially for worst offenders. Speed cameras and speed responsive signs are advocated, and at last revenue from these can be ploughed back into financing them.

However, it says that ‘speed cameras should be used only where there would be road safety benefits.’ Open to interpretation perhaps, but I read this as ‘put them where there is a problem’. Since speeding is ubiquitous, there is a problem everywhere, but their use as a means of changing driver culture and behaviour is not being recognised. Speed limiters that recognise the speed limit are specifically mentioned. Perhaps this is strongest light at the end of this particular tunnel.

The irony of all this is that the document accepts all the arguments and problems of high speeds, and speeding: ‘Too many people take a cavalier attitude to speed. Yet speed is a contributory factor in about one third of all collisions. Every year excessive and inappropriate speed helps to kill around 1,200 people and to injure over 100,000 more. It is by far the biggest single contributor to casualties on our roads.’

In terms of doing something about it, I would describe it as pathetic. It devolves the responsibility to local authorities, few of which have the money, and many which don’t have the will, to follow through on it.

David Earl