Speed limiters

John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece on speed limiters.  He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace.  Many thanks John for writing this piece.

Speed Limiters: the face masks for cars

One of the frightening features of lockdown has been the way far too many people have used the empty streets to drive at reckless speeds. Some of them will have been the very same people who just before lockdown had rushed headlong into the supermarkets to snatch as many reams of toilet roll as they could their hands on, frightened that their families might be the victims of the terrible pandemic.

‘Double standards’ is the phrase which comes to mind. People who went to almost comical lengths to stay alive through lockdown were blasé about the possibility of others dying on the streets under the wheels of their speeding vehicles.

But wasn’t there behaviour just a reflection of the way society has traditionally viewed death and serious injury on the roads? Although policies have been introduced which have cut casualty numbers, no pandemic-type measures have ever put in place even in years when the annual death toll rose to above 7,000.

However a critical new measure is on its way. It’s been called one of big leaps forward for road safety in Europe in the last 50 years. From 2022 all new cars sold in the UK and the EU will be fitted with devices to automatically stop drivers exceeding the speed limit. Although Britain may no longer be part of the EU when the rules come into effect, the UK regulator, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has said it will mirror the European safety standards for vehicles.

‘if it is face masks for humans then it should be speed limiters for cars’

The speed limiter device, called intelligent speed assistance (ISA), uses GPS data and sign recognition cameras to detect speed limits where the car is travelling, and then will sound a warning and automatically slow the vehicle down if it is exceeding the limit. However, drivers will be able to override the device simply by pushing hard on the accelerator, reassuring some motoring groups that have argued that in certain situations – such as when trying to swiftly overtake a vehicle in front – speeding up could be safer.

According to ROSPA inappropriate speed is a contributory factor in 24% of collisions which result in death. Just think how many lives could have been saved if speed limiters had been introduced decades ago. In the late 1990s I chaired an umbrella group called The Slower Speeds Initiative of which RoadPeace was a leading member. Our call for speed limiters was simply not taken seriously.

But if speed limiters are coming in, isn’t this also the time to lower speed limits. On a growing number of urban roads 20mph, rather than 30mph, is the limit. 20mph should be mandatory on all roads in built-up areas. After all lives are at risk. And in my view 60mph is too high for single carriageways. By reducing speed limits we can get the best out of speed limiters.

Let’s put inappropriate speeds into lockdown…for good. And replace them with lower limits enforced by speed limiters. Let’s make it the new normal.