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6.0 Road safety and law abiding drivers

Police car

The vast majority of drivers consider themselves law abiding, but believe other road users flaunt the rules by drink driving, breaking speed limits and texting while behind the wheel.

But are 'other drivers' really that bad? Is there a hard core of drivers who will not obey speed limits and have one too many before setting out on their journey? And if yes, who are these drivers?

Almost six in ten drivers believe that that there are not enough police on the roads to act as a deterrent'. 24% also believe they are unlikely to be caught if they break most motoring laws, perhaps the 'hard core' of persistent offenders?

The Government's Road Safety Strategy

The Department for Transport launched their Strategic Framework for Road Safety in May with Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond declaring that Britain already has "a road safety record that is the envy of the world", but also that he believes "our roads can be safer still"13. This was launched on the same day as the UN's Decade of Action for Road Safety.

The key points of the Government's Road Safety Strategy include:

  1. A focus on education to help support the majority of lawabiding drivers in the UK to improve their driving skills.
  2. Greater enforcement of the law on the minority of drivers who deliberately and persistently break the law.
  3. New fixed penalty fines for police to fine careless drivers.
  4. Motorists who re-offend to get mandatory retraining and a new test to demonstrate their improved level of skill to insurers.
  5. Greater enforcement and rehabilitation schemes for drink- and drug-drive offenders.
  6. Targeting uninsured drivers through continuous insurance enforcement and more appropriate penalties for those caught uninsured.

"According to our research,...
the main cause of motoring accidents is definitely driver distraction - the 'look but don't see' issue14. Breaking the speed limit isn't as big a cause of accidents as it's made out to be."

Simon Best
Chief Executive, Institute of Advanced Motorists

6.1 Speeding

Britain was the first country to impose a maximum speed limit of 10mph in the 1861 Locomotive Act. But are limits, some of which were last updated more than 75 years ago, still relevant?

The majority of people are happy with speed limits on slower roads but only 28% think motorways should be restricted to 70mph. Almost half would like to see the limit raised to 80mph and 16% to 90mph.

But despite being happy with the limits, motorist do still speed - though not as much as they used to.

  • Two thirds admit to breaking the speed limit on motorways down from 73% last year. 24% admitted doing this on most journeys this year.
  • Half of drivers admit to speeding on 30mph roads down from 57% last year.
  • 38% admit to speeding on 20mph roads - down from 44% last year.
  • 38% also speed on country roads - down from 45% last year.
  • Drivers between the ages of 17-24 are mostly likely to speed on all four types of roads. 38% admit they are regular speeders.

It is interesting to note the percentage of people admitting to speeding has fallen quite significantly over the year. Whether this is because there is more acceptance of limits or because they are conserving fuel by driving more slowly will only become clear when the economy starts to recover.

History of speed limits

  • 1934 - 30mph limit introduced for roads in built up areas.
  • 1965 - 70mph restriction for all roads including highways and motorways.
  • 1977 - 70mph limit for motorways and dual carriageways and 60mph for single carriageways.
  • 1992 - 20mph limit introduced for urban, often residential areas15.
Speed Cameras in Oxfordshire

Stats on being caught speeding

All 72 fixed sites and 89 mobile speed cameras were turned off in Oxfordshire on 1 August 2010 after the County Council had its road safety grant cut, and would not pay its £600,000 share of funding. But after a 50% increase, to 18, in road deaths in the following six months they were reactivated on 1 April this year16.

6.2 Enforcing speed limits

So what can be done to make people observe the speed limit?

When asked what would make them personally slow down:

  • 45% said a higher likelihood of getting caught.
  • 39% a built in speed limiter in their car.
  • 29% more average speed cameras.
  • 26% higher fines.

More than eight in ten people also supported more severe penalties for excessive or regular speeders than those just over the limit. Only a quarter felt the current system of punishment worked well.

On a wider scale:

  • 78% of people think more police patrols would make the roads safer.
  • 74% think more speed awareness signs would make the roads safer.
  • 71% think in-car speed limiters would make the roads safer.
  • 59% think more average speed cameras would make the roads safer.
  • 41% of drivers support variable speed limits based on the time of day or night. These already exist outside some schools and on a number of motorways.

6.3 Drinking and drugs

Driving while under the influence of any substance that impairs driving, whether legal or illegal, is seen as socially unacceptable by the vast majority of drivers. But there is a proportion of drivers that do break the law in this way and young drivers aged 17-24 are most likely to have driven or been driven under the influence of both drink and drugs.

The statistics again reinforce the view that there is a hard core of drivers that knowingly flout the law, be it on speeding or drink- or drugdriving. This could be why so many motorists would like to see better enforcement of existing laws to act as a deterrent to this group.

Drink driving habits
  • 12% had been driven by someone they suspected was over the limit.
  • 10% drove knowing or thinking they may be over the limit shortly after having a drink over the last year.
  • 9% know or suspect they were still over the limit getting into the car the morning after drinking the night before.
  • 3% said they had driven under the influence of drugs.
  • 2% admitted to getting in a car when the driver was under the influence of drugs.

6.4 Enforcing drink/drug limits

The majority of drivers know what the current drink driving limit is through the units of alcohol they can drink rather than the number of milligrams of alcohol in their blood. They also support better application of existing laws, assuming that most people know, like themselves, when they are over the limit. And three in five want to see harsher penalties for those excessively over the limit, compared to those just over.

  • 89% want stricter application of sentencing within current laws for seriously injuring or killing someone up from 85% last year.
  • 89% want better education on the perils of drink-driving for learner drivers up from 80% last year.
  • 83% want more information on drink-driving limits up from 76% last year.
  • 74% want in-car anti-drink-driving technology for repeat offenders and those caught excessively over the limit up from 53% last year.
  • 74% want more random breath testing of drivers on the roads up from 64% last year

Again this year, drivers would like to see the drink-drive limit lowered - with 42% wanting a zero limit, and a further 24% a reduction to 50mg per 100ml of blood. Only a small proportion of drivers (18%) support the current 80mg limit. It is all the more surprising the Government decided to keep the current limit despite the recommendation in the North Report. There is common agreement that better enforcement is needed but Government felt that lowering the drink driving limit would not tackle the underlying problem of those excessively over the limit.

Government has agreed with proposals in the North Report to introduce better testing equipment and processes for people suspected of both drink- and drug-driving and streamline enforcement of drink- and drug-driving laws. It is also examining the case for a new drug-driving law.

The North Report

Written by Sir Peter North and published in June 2010, the North Report into drink- and drug-driving proposed among other things reducing the drink-drive limit to 50mg17. The Government published its response to the Report in March. While accepting some of the recommendations, they declared that the drink-drive limit would remain at 80mg rather than being reduced to 50mg as proposed. Instead, the Government stated that they would "focus on improving enforcement and education to tackle the drink- and drugdrivers who put lives at risk"18.

"Regardless of the outcome of the North Report we need to make sure there is proper enforcement of the worst offenders, even with the limit staying at 80mg"

Professor Stephen Glaister
Director, RAC Foundation

6.5 In-car distractions

One of drivers' biggest concerns is the behaviour of other drivers - and particularly the activities they carry out which take their minds off the road.

Distractions appear to fall into two camps - acceptable and unacceptable ones. Ones deemed acceptable, such as talking to passengers are admitted by 96% of drivers both while driving and stationary at lights, as is adjusting in-car controls such as the heating or radio done by 93% of drivers. But unacceptable ones such as texting and using a mobile without a hands free kit are still undertaken by a sizeable and worrying minority. These drivers are also likely to be younger and less experienced adding to the risk of distraction.

For example while behind the wheel over the last 12 months:

  • 27% of drivers use a mobile without a hands-free kit - though 15% say only while stationary at lights - even though both are illegal. But 37% of 17-24 and 38% of 25-44 year olds admit to doing this.
  • 27% of drivers text while driving - 19% only while stationary. But 53% of 17-24 years olds have done this.
  • 9% have done their make up or shaved - 21% of 17-24 year olds and 15% of 25-44 year olds.
  • 8% have accessed their email, Facebook or other social networking sites or other apps on their phone.
    • 24% of 17-24 and 12% of 25-44 year olds accessed email, Facebook or other social networking sites.
    • 20% of 17-24 and 12% of 25-44 year olds accessed other apps.

As mentioned earlier almost half of drivers are concerned about other people using their mobiles without a hands-free kit while driving.

In-vehicle clutter...

"Vehicles fitted at the time of manufacture with Sat Navs and iPods have the safer advantage of these working through the main controls, causing less distraction. Compare this with the challenge of using the in-vehicle clutter of Bluetooth connections, Mobile Phones and Sat Navs while driving and trying to concentrate on the road ahead."

Paul Everitt,
Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

13. Strategic Framework for Road Safety,

14. Licensed to skill: Contributory factors in road accidents,

15. Understanding Speed Limits,

16. Road deaths rise after speed cameras switch-off, 26 March 2011,

17. Independent North Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law,

18. The Government's Response to the Reports by Sir Peter North CBE QC and the Transport Select Committee on Drink and Drug Driving,

7.0 Generation gap - older and younger drivers' views