Road Safety News

Half of drivers break the law on motorways and town centre roads: Mail Online

Wednesday 27th August 2014

An article in the Mail Online says that half of drivers ignore speed limits on Britain’s motorways and town centre roads.

Talking to the Mail Online, Edmund King, president of the AA, said that flouting the law on motorways “risks creating a precedent in built-up areas, where ignoring the 30mph limit could become the norm”.

The article says that official data from the DfT shows that in 2013, 47% of cars, 46% of motorbikes and 48% of vans broke the 70mph limit in free-flowing traffic. The article also says that the figures show that “in built up areas where the limit is 30mph, drivers are just as willing to speed”.

Edmund King said the ‘default speed limit’ on motorways is now 80mph, adding: “One is rarely if ever stopped by the police and prosecuted between 70 and 80mph.

“In decent weather in a modern car at a good distance from the care in front, 80mph is probably a safe speed. But 50mph in an old car, on a pot-holed motorway, too close to the car in front is probably too fast.

“If drivers are of the opinion that there is some flexibility around speed limits the danger is that when it comes to lower speed limits, which are much more crucial in road safety, we don’t want drivers to have that same flexibility. Driving at 40mph in a 30mph area is incredibly dangerous.”




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How do you compare vehicles from the 1970s with the latest 2014 models. The point is technology is promoting an element of complacency in drivers. A new car can quite easily do 90 mph at 2750 revs per minute, it is quiet due to good sound insultation, has anti-lock brakes, air bags and collision cell technology - all of which create an environment where the driver feels safe. I fail to see how driver compliance with existing speed limits will ever be overcome without proactive road safety education and car manufacturers taking responsibility for the luxurious surrounding of their vehicles.

My suggestion on reducing speed violation on motorways for example would be to narrow each lane width by 400mm making drivers feel they have less room to speed. Passing a commercial vehicle at 80 mph on a narrower motorway lane would slow me down. A case in point was on the M62 where the lanes were narrowed down as part of a new concrete central reservation over a 12 month period - I canít recall my journey time being any longer or delayed from Huddersfield to Leeds as a result of the speed limit.
Tallyho 1967

Agree (2) | Disagree (9)

ACPO guidelines:- 10% plus 2 for a motorway is 79 miles per hour so close on 80 seems to be accepted. Problems occur not with speed but the differential of speed between vehicles. Sometimes it feels less safe to travel at 50 on the nearside lane as drivers don't expect it or identify it early enough to take appropriate action. Hence late lane changes and heavy breaking.
Peter London

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Perhaps the arguments are irrelevant as in the 1960s when the first motorways or ring roads were built many standard cars couldn't do 70 mph, the norm would be about 65 mph. Drivers of sports and more powerful cars were using them as race tracks and accidents and deaths increased. Cars were breaking down being overheated or brakes failed on a dangerously regular basis and so the 70 mph we made by politicians in order to prevent these circumstances from happening. Nothing to do with any percentile rules then just a bit of common sense and logic. No scientific trial were made.

My question is if the people in charge decide to raise the speed of HGVs over 7.5 ton by 10 mph on single and dual carriageways because, in their own words, drivers ignore the law and speed anyway, then why can't they increase the speed limits of cars on our motorways. Drivers ignore the law and if a law falls into disrepute then it can be altered. What must be enforced particularly on motorways is the problem of tailgating and drivers should be made aware that it will not be tolerated. With greater space between vehicles many more accidents could be avoided.
bob craven Lancs

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Perhaps it would be useful to look at this definition of percentile :-

Note that I used the 16% figure rather than 15%.

However, I think that most people will understand that basing the selection of speed limits on the actions of the minority who willfully break the current speed limit is flawed. Perhaps that is why the use of 85%ile in setting limits was abandoned in the UK in 2006.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (3) | Disagree (7)

"Speed data is some of the simplest road safety data and yet it seems poorly understood"

Quite so - as is regularly illustrated on this forum by certain regular contributors!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Rod's reference to the 85%ile setting of limits exposes a fundamental misunderstanding.

To explain, using very simplistic numbers:
If 85% of drivers on a particular stretch never exceed 40mph but the remaining 15% never exceed, say, 60mph, then 40mph is the figure used to set the limit.
If 85% never exceed 40mph but the some of the remaining 15% sometimes reach 160mph, then 40mph is still the figure used to set the limit.
It's not the 15% who matter, it's the 85%.

Of course, the real world is not that simple as Dave Finney has eloquently explained.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Speed data is some of the simplest road safety data and yet it seems poorly understood. Eg If a road has an 85%ile of 31mph then probably at least 45% of drivers will drive at or above 31mph on occasion. The reason is that a driver that selects 35mph one day (because the road is clear) may select 23mph the next (because there is a cyclist). You will almost certainly not find 15% of drivers that always exceed 31mph and 85% of drivers who never do.

A speed limit set at the 85%ile is therefore not set by the 15% fastest drivers, but probably by a balance between around 50% of drivers being sometimes above and the other 50% usually below. As I say, though, I don't believe the research has ever been done but I think it would make an interesting research project.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

I wouldn't make 85/15 the cut-off point for least compliant/illegal drivers if I were you!
Hugh Jones Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

The fastest 16% of drivers who would be the ones determining a speed limit based on 85%ile are the very ones who are least compliant and usually acting illegally. Its rather like asking prison inmates at what point bodily harm becomes grievous. Frankly I wouldn't let those 16% anywhere near any speed limit setting process. I disrespect them as much as they disrespect the speed limits democratically set by local or national governments.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (11) | Disagree (7)

Further to last comment, the two speed limits referred to in the article are like most, nationals, so it is not a question of being set 'too low' or on a political whim - they are universal for these sort of roads, long since set by the Government for motorists to comply with and not 'set' by motorists for the authorities to fit in with.
Hugh Jones Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (4)

The tired old 'setting speed limit conspiracy theory' is sounding a bit old-hat now I'm afraid.
Hugh Jones Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (7)

Many drivers break speed limits because the limits are not set realistically. Instead of being set at the 85% percentile speed many limits are now set at low speeds to suit a vocal minority of people who lobby their local Councillors and threaten not to vote for them next time unless they drop limits to politically correct super low levels.
Bobbio Chiswell Green

Agree (9) | Disagree (12)

I feel many assumptions have been made here but the facts are that the combination of an uphill stretch of motorway combined with the presence of a marked police vehicle will tend to slow the vehicles down to less than normal which will account for the bunching effect. Take away the police vehicle and the spacing will increase with speeds.
Jeff, Cumbria

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

The physical location and spacing of the vehicles shown is typical of what you see on motorways and therefore we can assume it's not a one-off Dave. In this one snap shot, there are at least half-a-dozen vehicles driving to close to the one in front - I'm afraid this is the norm.
Hugh Jones Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (6)

I cannot see that the photo contains sufficient information to confirm that any driver errors or offences are taking place. Suppose just below the camera there had been an obstruction and the Police car was part of a rolling road block to assist safe removal. All vehicles on the right might be travelling at (say) 15mph. Where are the errors?

The Mail article also makes errors interpreting speed data. Suppose drivers vary their speed according to conditions and that 99% exceed the speed limit where it is safe. Using spot speed data, how many of the 99% will be above the speed limit? We don't know but could well be 47%. Another way of presenting the same information is to say 99% of drivers believe the measured road is safe to exceed the speed limit 47% of the time.

Combining speed and ANPR data would allow % drivers who exceed speed limits to be assessed but I don't believe it's ever been done. Useful new research or not?
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (7)

Thanks Bob. On the other hand, five readers don't appear to see anything wrong in the picture - perhaps they recognize themselves!
Hugh Jones Cheshire

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I am with you Hugh on that account and it's something I have been saying for a long time. It's no good making speed limits whether they are 20 mph or upping them to 60 mph if the distance between vehicles is not corrected we will still have accidents no matter what the legal speed is. At 70 mph which a lot of traffic does on the inside and definitely on the middle lane, the stopping distance is the same between two marker posts being 100 meters apart. So just how many of the vehicles shown would break that law? I count about 12.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (9) | Disagree (6)

The "shocking new figures" claimed by the Daily Mail were actually published months ago, show that most drivers obeyed the speed limit in 2012 and that even more obeyed in the latest figures (2013), both on 70mph motorways and in 30mph limits.
(DfT: Free flow vehicle speeds in Great Britain: 2013)
David S.

Agree (7) | Disagree (5)

I know the 'photo above has been used before in connection with news items connected with motorways and even though it's a random shot of typical motorway traffic, every time I look at it I see so many typical driver errors particularly on the c/way on the right coming towards us.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (9)