Road Safety News

Half of motorists don’t want blanket 20mph limits: IAM

Thursday 15th May 2014

49% of drivers do not support a blanket 20mph speed limit on urban roads, according to a survey published today (15/5/14) by the IAM.

In the survey of 1,000 drivers, 49% of respondents were against a blanket 20mph speed limit, 31% supported the idea and 20% were undecided.  The survey indicates that male drivers are more likely to be against 20mph limits than female drivers.

55% of younger respondents were against 20mph as a speed limit for towns, while 34% of older drivers were in favour.

The IAM says the survey indicates that drivers are “very supportive” of lower speed limits outside schools, with 94% of respondents supporting this. Areas with “heavy pedestrian flows” (37%) were the next most popular – but just 8% of respondents supported 20mph limits near cycle lanes.

More than three quarters of respondents (76%) said they believe that 20mph speed limits help to increase safety for pedestrians, but only 21% saw it as a positive advantage for cyclists. The survey indicates that pollution and noise are not seen as important benefits.

Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “Drivers are not as negative about 20mph speed limits as many commentators would have us believe. Those responding to our survey found it quite easy to stick to 20 and there is large-scale support for 20mph outside schools.

“However, most drivers don’t want 30mph zones to be replaced with 20mph in towns. Many drivers still need to be convinced it would be a benefit.

“Good design and widespread consultation is the key to the successful use of 20mph zones as a road safety tool because limits that match the road environment enforce themselves.”



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Elaine Hardy is of course entitled to her views on whether it is unfortunate that “evangelical enthusiasts” should be involved in road safety.

I note that her “Right to Ride” organisation that she runs with her partner seems fairly evangelical regarding PTWs. If I may quote :-

“In other words we will promote and protect that collective lump of metal, rubber and plastic that we could not live without – the motorcycle – and all that it means as part of our way of life.

Right To Ride is formed around its two protagonists Trevor Baird and Elaine Hardy, who both have been involved in Riders Rights for several years if not a couple of decades in various forms.”

and I must admit that the Motorcycle Minds website also looks fairly evangelical see

I note that she feels that she “don't have the time or inclination to get involved in a debate on what the term "speed" actually means.“ Perhaps ironic when a key slogan of Right to Ride is “Don’t Expect Us To Be Quiet”.

So I would ask her to clarify whether “her research into motorcycle fatalities only attributed speed as a factor (either primary or secondary) if there was evidence of exceeding a speed limit?”
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

I mentioned the You Tube clips simply because you can see typical everyday accidents unfold and they may help you find the answers you are looking for. In most cases they confirm what Rod King said much earlier (from the Highway Code) about the importance of drivers/riders travelling at s speed from which they can stop and what can happen if you don't.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (3)

There is going to be terrible consequence to all this lowering of speed limits. In general they will be held in contempt and therefore drivers will totally ignore them. One might get a slow down outside schools, hospitals etc, even maybe parks, but a general blanket or just singular roads will be a total waste of time, money and effort.

Not a positive approach to road safety I know, but this lower speed limit has now been with us for over a decade. Quite a number of years without any scientific evidence that it works. Or if it does apparently work in any one specific area, it just pushes the dangers and collisions elsewhere.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

It is unfortunate that in the road safety fora, there are evangelical enthusiasts that have a particular mantra and tend to focus only on their particular cause whatever anybody may say or do, to the exclusion of other factors.

I really don't have the time or inclination to get involved in a debate on what the term "speed" actually means. Nor am I interested in whether some people think that watching videos of people being run over on Youtube is useful...

The fact of the matter is that we need to find how collisions happen, and why, and my observations have inevitably found that in the vast majority of cases, there are a series of factors involved in a collision: primary, secondary factors, that all lead to the death of some poor soul. I have already stated this, so I will not waste my time repeating myself.

We need answers to find solutions, it's that simple.
Elaine, Northern Ireland

Agree (3) | Disagree (2)

The Youtube videos are indeed a valuable resource, but what can be learnt from them depends very much on the initial mindset of the viewer.

If you watch them in the hope of seeing carelessness and recklessness then that is indeed what you will see. If on the other hand, you watch them to see what errors were being made and what the human factors were then the videos will reveal a great deal. The most profound thing that these videos show is the fact that pretty well every accident takes no more than three seconds for things to go from being a quite normal situation to bodies twitching in the gutter. Whatever the precipitating errors were, the subsequent events play out in a remarkably short space of time.

In the light of this discovery we perhaps need a new rule along the lines of "Hero to Zero in just 3 seconds". This might remind people how very close they are to the edge of disaster.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

There are hundreds of real-life collisions available to watch on You Tube including pedestrians being sent flying in the air by vehicles, the drivers of which were going too fast to stop in time.

Real-life accidents like these, which can be watched over and over, show the extent of the carelesness and recklessness of road users and reveal far more than research and anlysis of data can.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

The joys of proper research like Dr Hardy's is that it exposes real rather than perceived problems. The issue of panic braking is one such problem and although ABS provides an engineering solution it does not fix the underlying human factors problem.

It will take many years before every motorcycle is equipped with ABS so in the meantime it will pay us to do further research to find out why it is that certain situations invoke a panic response while others are easily managed.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

Dr Hardy

I note that you say that "in the 39 cases No.4 were directly related to speed ". In fact your report details that these 4 were where the speed of the motorcycle was assessed to be above the speed limit.

Is this a co-incidence or have you assumed that "speed" only becomes a direct factor if the vehicle is deemed to be travelling above the speed limit?
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

Dear Mr King,

In the Motorcyclist Fatality report you will also have noted that in the 39 cases No.4 were directly related to speed and in all cases, the primary cause was due to a collision with another vehicle. The issue of inappropriate speed for the conditions of the road was not necessarily due to riding over the speed limit. It's one of the problems of research, which is to convey results so that they are crystal clear. In the case of the motorcyclist fatalities, there is a major issue with panic braking which needs addressing. Something which perhaps IAM may wish to develop as has been done very successfully in Sweden.
Elaine, Northern Ireland

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

All to often the term 'research' is used to describe some findings when it would be much better to call them the results of a 'statistical review'. A lot of statistical reviews that I have read have been based on the findings of earlier statistical reviews and metadata that has usually been shorn of its caveats and context. It's no wonder then that the results of these reviews are often ambiguous at the very least.

I know Dr Hardy's methods and they certainly fall under the strict description of research as great pains are always taken to eliminate any bias in the results which are based on hard data that comes from as close to the originating source as possible. I would say that whatever results Dr Hardy comes up with will be the most accurate description of the causes of pedestrian fatalities you are ever likely to read.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Dear Dr Hardy

Thanks for your response. I await your report with interest. If it is as thorough as that which you produced on motorcycle fatalities then this will be very useful. See

I note that in your report you identify that "With regards to the actions of the motorcyclist, due to the speed of the motorcycle, the rider was restricted in his ability to brake sufficiently in time prior to impact."

Whilst maybe not a primary cause, it is certainly influential in the ability of those involved to take avoiding action, and this is a useful observation.

Perhaps I could also point out that my last comment regarding research "organisations" was not addressed to yourself. My apologies if you felt it was.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

Dear Mr King,

Reference your comment "I trust that in your research you are not going to come up with the hackneyed opinion about speed being only a "causal factor" in a minority of casualties."

You have absolutely no idea of what I am basing my research on. In the first instance, I am an empirical researcher. What that means for lay people like yourself, is that I base my findings on the outcome of the data (information) that I am analysing. In this case, the research is based on the findings of the Forensic Science Northern Ireland Road Traffic Collision Investigation Unit and supported by the relevant Coroners' Inquest reports.

Whatever the findings reveal, this will be in the report.

Or put simply, if speed is a factor, this will be identified, if there are other factors e.g. alcohol, bad eyesight, age, whatever... these will also be identified.

However I have absolutely no intentions of aiming to please anybody.

Dr Elaine Hardy
Elaine, Northern Ireland

Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

In keeping with the barbed nature about titles and epithets in Rod King's latest posting, I would politely point out that those who have been honoured "for services to road safety" should pursue policies that improve road safety rather than those that constitute social behaviour experiments. Road safety research (or activity) that is independent of vested commercial interest is sadly a rare beast. I will continue to pursue my chosen path.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (6) | Disagree (7)

"Proper research with an open mind can reveal surprising results." says Eric Bridgstock.

We agree completely. And that is why in our briefing sheets and press releases we reference academic research or that conducted by local authorities, government bodies or respected sources. Usually these have been peer reviewed and subject to scrutiny.

But we do have to be careful because some organisations have names which sound more credible than their comments. These so often include phrases such as "as far as we are aware" and really does give an indication of the depth of their research.

Some "research organisations" (or should I say "research people") should maybe re-consider their names to more accurately reflect their activities.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

Hugh makes the claim of accidents being prevented by lower speeds. I know of no evidence to support that. It is, in any case, a dubious claim because it is based on the assumption that law abiding drivers avoid accidents because they are driving at a lower speed that they would otherwise consider a safe speed. Let's be clear - speed limits encourage law abiding drivers not to exceed a number on a post. Speed limits do not improve observation, concentration or anticipation or all of the other self-evident causes of crashes (such as tiredness, drink/drugs, etc.). As a further observation, if exceeding a speed limit caused collisions, it would appear reasonable to assume that raising the speed limit would reduce crashes because fewer are exceeding the limit.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (5) | Disagree (11)

Rod's last comment about speed as a factor in not preventing some collisions happening is quite right, but turning that conclusion on its head, it's as well to consider the incalculable number of accidents that HAVE been prevented as a consequence of safe speeds having been adopted by motorists - voluntarily or otherwise - due in no small part to the various speed related road safety interventions over the years, both local or national.

I'm not ignoring the parts played by any other element of the three 'E's obviously. And it's clearly impossible to 'prove' if one intervention more than any other has prevented accidents happening, but instead of negatively focusing on the accidents that have happened, we should occasionally be more positive and consider how many accidents have probably been prevented by various interventions, for example - and
referring back to Rod's comment - speed management. (Other road safety interventions are available!)
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (4)

Rod King says: "I trust that in your research you are not going to come up with the hackneyed opinion about speed being only a "causal factor" in a minority of casualties.

Proper research with an open mind can reveal surprising results.

Rod then presents what he claims is a "fact" - it is speed which prevents many collisions from being avoided, and which would not happen if a lower speed limit were complied with.

If that were the case, someone would have identified a casualty that would credibly not have happened if a lower limit had previously been implemented. No-one has, but it is an essential element of any case for lowering limits.

I note with interest that Elaine's probing is looking into this "how many school children have been fatally injured by cars over recent years and whether lowering the speed limit would actually make any difference whatsoever", and look forward to some fresh thinking.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (4) | Disagree (7)

I trust that Elaine will come up with the conclusions that the evidence supports and perhaps RSGB will run a news story on her report when she publishes?
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

I can confirm that in the rest of the UK we also have rural roads with no footpaths. And yes, people walk their dogs, cycle, go for a stroll. Sometimes they even cross over to the outside of a bend in order to be seen more easily by approaching vehicles. Cyclists even take the centre of the road where it is unsafe to overtake.

The HC is quite clear that drivers should only travel at speeds at which they can stop within the distance that they can see.

I trust that in your research you are not going to come up with the hackneyed opinion about speed being only a "causal factor" in a minority of casualties. The fact is that it is speed which prevents many collisions from being avoided, and which would not happen if a lower speed limit were complied with.
Rod King 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (8) | Disagree (6)

The anonymous poster was not pretending to be the Alliance of British Drivers but, for comedic efect, an entirely fictitious organisation called the Alliance of Blankets and Duvets. I don't suppose he or she expected anyone to take it so seriously.
Mr I der Downe.

Agree (14) | Disagree (2)

I agree with Eric's point about polls that use loaded questions to achieve the results they want (i.e. most). But the greater problem is that, by and large, most members of the public have little or no knowledge in this context at least, of the data or other evidence. As for the IAM's purpose Nick, "follow the money" is rarely wrong. And a word of praise for Elaine. Facts, not opinions please.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (5) | Disagree (6)

I object to the anonymous poster pretending to be ABD. And for the record, the Alliance of British Drivers does understand the 85th percentile rule perfectly well. I have never posted - in either sense - any anonymous comment and never will.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (5) | Disagree (9)

The survey is a report on opinion and is not providing any evidence as to whether lowering speed limits to 20 mph actually makes any difference, nor does it purport to do so.

Perhaps this is what needs attention - IMHO. There seems to be a focus on the motorist and his/her behaviour, but nowhere have I seen anything that suggests that perhaps the pedestrian is the problem. Pedestrians do not require training on road use.

For example, in Northern Ireland, rural roads rarely have footpaths, yet people continue to use them, to walk their dogs, visit neighbours and so forth, walking on the same side of the road as the traffic flow and typically wearing dark clothes. Yet the onus is on the car driver to be aware and there is a groundswell of opinion calling for 20 mph limits. But surely there should be some obligation on the pedestrian to act sensibly i.e. wear reflective clothing and walk against the traffic flow?

The other question I would ask is to find out how many school children have beeb fatally injured by cars over recent years and whether lowering the speed limit would actually make any difference whatsoever. As I am in the middle of an indepth study of pedestrian fatalities in Northern Ireland, I know most of the answers to those questions, but you will all have to wait for the report to find out. But I'm telling you now - it's not what you think. That's the joy of research, finding out facts, not opinion.
Elaine, Northern Ireland

Agree (13) | Disagree (5)

My point was that the IAM's surveys are hardly earth-shattering in what they reveal or particularly useful in moving things forward. If they unveiled something hitherto unknown or ground-breaking, then fine.

I'm not sure who the survey respondents actually are i.e. whether IAM members or the general public, but perhaps if they purposely sought the views of people who were particularly informed on whatever the subject matter was, that might be more noteworthy.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (13) | Disagree (0)

Re: your comment three below this one. The IAM publishes a survey most weeks so to single this one out as an attempt to drum up business is, in my view, unfair and inaccurate.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (9) | Disagree (4)

Survey's often do a much better job of exposing bias than they do of determining facts.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

The fact is that no-one in the UK is either proposing or implementing "blanket" 20mph where all 30mph limits are replaced by 20mph. What is being advocated is a default 20mph limit with targeted 30, 40 and 50 zones where drivers are allowed to exceed 20mph.

Hence one wonders:-
a) How IAM have got it so wrong. Are they not aware of how 20mph limits are being implemented?
b) Whether the statistics gained are of any value at all.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (14) | Disagree (6)

The final conclusion from the IAM report is:
"Strong support for a tailored driver education course rather than
a fine for drivers caught speeding up to 30mph in 20mph zones"

and then we look at IAM's business:
"The IAM Driver Retraining Academy (IAM DRA) has been established to provide drivers with a reputable provider of courses for drink drive rehabilitation and speed awareness"

So I suggest that the survey seems to be less of a news item, and more about creating a demand for IAM course provision.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (12) | Disagree (4)

Why do the IAM feel they have to keep doing public opinion surveys? All they do is confirm that people have different opinions on things. Perhaps their next survey should be "Do you think public opinion surveys are worth doing?"
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (16) | Disagree (1)

Just to be clear, I was not suggesting an embargo on 20mph discussion, but an embargo on reporting the results of public surveys (on any topic).
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (5) | Disagree (8)

Just like the speed humps, 20 mile an hour in the short term, will save lives. However, the long term killer is more pollution. I understand that cars are not geared to be driving at 20mph. Speed humps are various heights, so even if you are going 20, you will want to slow down just in case it is an aggressive one. Then you speed back up. Should we not be teaching people more about road sense than putting cotton wool over our daily habits?
Andrew Hampshire

Agree (15) | Disagree (4)

Unenforceable speed limits bring all speed limits into disrepute. I was stopped in Brighton and advised by the Police that staying at 20mph was dangerous because I was impeding the flow of traffic. In Brighton pollution has increased and the dangers to cyclists who regularly exceed 20mph has increased because you simply do not expect anyone to be overtaking at 20mph.
Jeff Ware, Worthing

Agree (14) | Disagree (3)

I absolutely agree with Eric on his assessment of the survey bias. However, I would not wish RSGB to refrain from reporting on this matter. Heavens above, people might suggest Eric and others stop their criticism of this well-intentioned but unproven safety initiative.
Charles Dunn

Agree (13) | Disagree (4)

The less than enthusiastic support for 20mph is surprising given the clear bias in some of the survey questions.
(2) Which of the following areas should be a priority for a 20mph limit? – select three
(3) What would you say are the main advantages of a 20mph limit to replace the current 30mph? but without a balancing question "What would you say are the main DISADVANTAGES of a 20mph limit to replace the current 30mph?"

I'd be delighted if RSGB would refrain from reporting the results of these seemingly interminable surveys.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (16) | Disagree (6)

Blanket 20mph speed limits? Once again, blankets are being blamed for road casualties in urban areas. Not once in 40 years of driving have we ever witnessed a blanket moving on a road - let alone 'speeding'. Let's stop this 'war on bed-coverings' and get back to the proper setting of duvet speed limits based on the tried and tested 85th%ile toggle rating. (No, we don’t understand the 85th%ile either, but we pretend we do)
Alliance of Blanket and Duvets (ABD)

Agree (25) | Disagree (0)