Report on Motoring 2016

Pushing the limits

2.2 Pushing the limits

There has been no significant change in the number of motorists who admit to speeding in 2016 overall. But this year’s research points to a longer term trend for drivers to increasingly exceed limits both on country roads – where limits may be 50mph or 60mph – and in the growing number of urban 20mph zones.

Among all drivers, there has been an increase in concern regarding motorists who break traffic laws: this is a top-four concern for 23% of those questioned, up from 19% in 2015.

There has been no change in the proportion of motorists who say they frequently or occasionally break the speed limits on motorways (70%) or on 30mph urban roads (44%). But over the past five years, the number who admit they speed on country roads has grown from 38% to 48% (up from 46% in 2015), while the figure for 20mph roads has risen from 38% in 2011 to 46% this year (44% in 2015).

A greater propensity to speed on country roads is particularly worrying given that they are where the majority of fatal accidents occur13.

According to Department for Transport statistics published in June 2016, 51% of fatal casualties occurred on ‘non-built- up roads’ in 2015, compared with 43% on roads in built-up areas and 6% on motorways.

Overall, however, the DfT figures showed a welcome fall in the overall number of casualties last year, which is particularly good news given the increase recorded in 2014.

The fact that more drivers say they exceed the limit on 20mph roads can be explained in part at least by the fact that the number of 20mph zones is thought to have increased significantly over recent years. In some areas, local authorities are applying 20mph limits to busy through-routes where users believe they can safely travel at higher speeds.

51% of fatalities occurred on 'non-built-up roads' in 2015

48% of motorists admit they speed on country roads

There is no official record of the number or extent of 20mph zones which have been introduced by local authorities in the UK, although the DfT says it is now ‘considering the best way’ to measure the growth of such zones14.

There is less acceptance of 20mph limits among motorists than there is of 30mph limits. Two-fifths (41%) of drivers think the limit in 20mph areas should be higher (33% in 2015), compared with only 22% who take the same view of 30mph areas (16% in 2015).

At the same time, a majority of motorists (66%) still believe the 70mph motorway limit should be raised to at least 80mph, a finding that has emerged from research for the Report every year since 2010.

This year’s Report shows little change in motorists’ views of the acceptability of speeding: 39% say it is acceptable to travel at 80mph on the motorway, while 23% say it is OK to do 25mph in a 20mph zone, and 14% say it is acceptable to drive at 40mph on a 30mph road.

The fall in the number of roads policing officers may have had some impact on motorists’ willingness to break the speed limit. Government figures show that the total number of dedicated roads police in England and Wales fell by 27% between 2010 and 201515 from 5,338 to 3,901. The 2016 Report on Motoring found that 27% of drivers agree with the statement ‘I don’t think I am very likely to get caught if I break most motoring laws’, up from 24% in 2015. A clear majority (61% compared with 62% in 2015) believe there are not enough police on the roads enforcing driving laws.

Number of dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales

2010 2015
5,338 3,901


In my view, the reason why an increasing number of motorists say they exceed the 20mph limit is that initially they understood why these zones were put in place. But now we have a proliferation of them and many drivers don’t understand why and so are less inclined to comply. For example, in some areas, 20mph limits are being imposed on major through-routes.

- David Bizley, Chief Engineer, RAC