A much improved speed policy

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 33.

‘South Cambridgeshire asked the County to ‘explore new mechanisms for speed limit enforcement’ and is writing to the Chief Constable asking for greater priority be given to enforcing speed limits. Well said, South Cambs!’

Nearly two years ago, the County Council adopted a policy on speed management. This was an interim policy pending the publication of the Government’s speed review, which was issued this spring (see Newsletter 29). Recently, it has adopted its full speed policy.

We were scathing about the County’s original speed policy. It was introduced with no consultation. It was full of things like how hard it was to lower speed limits and how motorists had to be able to get to places quickly. It said, in effect, that 20 mph speed limits wouldn’t happen because they had to be supported by expensive street changes and there wasn’t ever going to be enough money to do it.

We wrote a strongly worded letter to the Director of Transportation complaining about the policy’s thoroughly reactionary attitude. We have not yet received a reply.

The new speed policy is much more temperate and positive. However, we cannot believe that the County Council has again passed such an important policy without its usual wide consultation. Why, when they are so good at asking us about every last detail of a set of traffic lights, is the County Council so insensitive about a general policy like this?

The Council appears to have talked to the police and to other county councils, but not to anyone else. Cambridge City supported making 20 mph areas and speed cameras easier to introduce. South Cambridgeshire made a very helpful request: it asked the County Council to ‘explore new mechanisms for speed limit enforcement,’ which was agreed by the committee. They also said they would write to the Chief Constable asking for greater priority be given to enforcing speed limits, pointing out the high cost of providing speed reduction measures. Well said, South Cambs!

The new policy, thankfully, takes as read that there are good safety grounds for reducing speeds, rather than trying to justify maintaining higher speeds (which was the ‘undercurrent’ we found so offensive previously). It says that there are three ways to make people slow down: persuasion (changing attitudes, and messages on the road such as lines and red paint); force (physical obstructions and other traffic calming), and fear (of getting caught).

Having said that persuasion in the form of ‘gateway features, red strips across the road’ and so on ‘have little long term effect on speeds’, it goes on to say that speed management should ‘concentrate primarily on the persuasion element combined with an appropriate level of enforcement’. Then it says that the police don’t believe enforcement is effective without a police officer present. The two things to concentrate on are immediately dismissed as ineffective. Hmm.

Image as described adjacent
‘Soft’ persuasion to slow down: speed limit signs which flash when a car goes over 30 mph in Harston may now be tried in 20 mph areas. Though the County is not optimistic about their effectiveness, you can observe the dramatic effect they have on traffic through Harston.

So what has been adopted?

Firstly the County has agreed to go for 30 mph in all villages which want it, something that had been resisted until now. ‘Soft’ traffic calming would be introduced where needed. Most importantly, the policy supports the introduction of lower speed limits (especially 20 mph) in built-up areas in conjunction with:

  • Safer Routes to School projects
  • cycle route schemes
  • accident reduction schemes
  • jointly funded schemes
  • environmental enhancement or urban regeneration schemes, in clearly defined zones.

However, the speed limits must be ‘self enforcing’, and that’s going to be the biggest problem because it involves street redesign and therefore money. Speed limits can also be extended in between villages where they are very close together.

There is also a very welcome commitment to try experiments in new 20 mph areas with flashing speed limit signs that come on when someone drives too fast.

There is a recognition that some road safety schemes in rural areas may require lower speed limits. However, in common with the Government’s paper, they have ducked the issue of speeding in country lanes, on the specious grounds that they don’t know what a country lane is.

The much more positive attitude to 20 mph zones and reduced speeds in villages is a most welcome step forward. But the metaphorical shrugging of shoulders on enforcement, an attitude we repeatedly see from the police, needs to change. I hope we may be able to be involved in the promised ‘exploration’ of this. If the government’s review of traffic law penalties ever happens, that may also help. An ‘experiment’ allowing speeding fines to be recycled into enforcement (see the article On the cards in this newsletter) may go a long way to improving the situation.

David Earl