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Motoring offences

We see ourselves as law-abiding drivers. But over the last 20 years, motoring offences, particularly speeding, have increased significantly.

The vast majority of us see ourselves as law-abiding drivers and, at least on first glance, the statistics seem to reflect this.

Between 1988 and 20068, the number of motoring offences dealt with by the police in England and Wales, fell from just under 8 million to a little under 5 million, a decrease of 39%.

The real story, however, is somewhat different.

In 1988, two-thirds of all motoring offences were actually 'non-motoring' offences, such as parking violations and obstruction. These are no longer dealt with by the police.

Exclude these and the 'true' 1988 level was just over 2.5 million offences.

The equivalent for 2006 is almost 4.4 million, an increase of 70%.

  1988   2006
Number of offences 2566   4355
Speed limit offences 20%   45%
Dangerous / careless / drunken driving 9%   8%
Licence / insurance / records 32%   23%
Other 39%   24%

As the Chart shows, most of the increase is accounted for by the growth in the number of convictions for speeding. In 1988 this accounted for one in five of motoring offences - by 2006 it was nearly half.

Speeding is by far the most common motoring offence. Half of us say we speed on motorways and a third of us admit to 'driving significantly above the speed limit' in built up areas.

Our attitudes to speeding differ depending on the type of road. We are much more willing to stick to the speed limit in built up areas than on motorways. The 2008 survey revealed:

  • 90% of us think the limit on country roads is about right at 50-60 miles per hour
  • 83% of us think the limit on urban roads is about right at 30 miles per hour
  • 74% think the limit on motorways is too low at 70 miles per hour
  Motorways Urban roads in town
Anarchists 9% 4%
Non-compliant 48% 15%
Conformists 42% 81%

Anarchists: speed limits don't mean much on most roads: drivers should decide themselves what is acceptable

Non-compliant: the speed limit is usually set below a safe level and it's acceptable to exceed it, e.g. by 10mph

Conformists: the speed limit should not be broken, except in exceptional circumstances

Speed cameras don't help either. Three-quarters of Britain's motorists now think cameras are 'more about raising money than improving road safety'.

With the exception of speeding, we tend to obey motoring laws whilst driving. The most common lapses are:

  • overtaking using the inside lane on a motorway, admitted by a quarter of us.
  • overtaking using the inside lane in towns, admitted by roughly one in six.
  • going through a red light, admitted by one in ten.
  • driving in a bus lane, admitted by one in 14.

Drink driving

Despite process in reducing drink driving, it may now be time for the limits to be reduced further.

Real progress has been made since 1988 in changing attitudes and behaviour on drink driving.

Even though there remains a hard core of habitual drink drivers - and recent evidence shows it is starting to rise amongst younger drivers - this is still one of the big success stories of the last 20 years.

Today, it's typically seen as totally unacceptable to drink and drive; 20 years ago that was not the case.

If anything, the body of opinion against drink driving is hardening amongst Britain's motorists:

  • Three quarters of us support a reduction in the drink driving limit to 50mg from the present 80mg
  • Three-quarters of us say it would be acceptable to random breath test every driver the police stop
  • Seven in ten of us say the drink drive limit should be reduced to no alcohol at all

RAC calls for:

  • A reduction in the drink drive limit to 50mg. This reduction should be accompanied by random breath testing and continued focus on the most serious offenders.
  • Increased driver education to remind drivers what the limit means in practise and to help them understand the effects of 'morning after motoring' when it might have been sometime since the driver last had a drink.
  • A nationwide audit of speed cameras to be carried out to ensure that each one can demonstrate a proven effect in reducing accidents and those which cannot, are removed.
  • The use of average speed cameras and the use of speed activated warning signs - believing these help to educate motorists to stay within the limit and promote safe driving behaviour rather than simply penalising.

Being safe. Feeling safe.

The cost of motoring