Road Safety Week: The facts behind speed and road safety

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Author: | Updated: 20 Nov 2017 09:48

With today marking the start of the UK Road Safety Week, a team of ten of the UK’s leading road safety professionals from the likes of Highways England, RAC Foundation and Transport for London have got together to debunk some popular myths around speed and road safety.

Road Safety Week: The facts behind speed and road safety

Based on a Speed Summit supported by PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the team urge evidence-based solutions rather than conjecture to ensure lives are saved and injuries prevented.

Key facts on speed and road safety:

  • A 5% reduction in average speed can result in a 30% reduction in the number of fatal traffic crashes
  • 59% of all GB fatalities occur on country roads where limits are typically 60mph
  • 30% of serious crashes are caused by deliberate violations and risk-taking behaviour
  • The risk of a pedestrian being killed if hit by the front of a car is estimated to be 1% at an impact speed of 20 mph, 7% at 30 mph and 31% at 40 mph
  • Inappropriate or excessive speed are two of the contributory factors most often recorded by police crash data; in-depth studies say that the true level may be three times higher
  • The UK has more than 50 stretches of road permanently covered by average speed cameras, amounting to 255 miles under observation

Commenting on the findings, Adrian Walsh, director of RoadSafe, said: “If a 5% reduction in average speed can result in a 30% reduction in the number of fatal traffic crashes, it is hard to think of any other low-cost intervention that could deliver such a potentially huge reduction in human suffering and economic loss globally.”

The report recognises resistance to the widespread use of speed humps and cameras in residential streets but acknowledges the effectiveness of average speed cameras strategically placed on some higher-speed roads.

For example, the report includes a case study of the highly effective average speed camera scheme on the A9 in Scotland which has resulted in a 50% reduction in all casualties and a 33% cut in fatalities.

“Managing speed can never be a one-size-fits-all process,” Walsh continued.

“Cutting the number of fatal and serious, speed-related road crashes must make use of the wide range of effective, evidence-based speed management solutions available.

“These include safer road design, traffic calming, the purchase of safer vehicles, fitted with intelligent speed assist and autonomous emergency braking, setting appropriate speeds limits suitable for the function of the road, and enforcement to encourage road users to comply with speed limits.”

Image courtesy FIA Foundation

Urban speed

For urban roads, the focus for Transport for London is on the 80% of all deaths and serious injuries on its roads that involve vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

However, Richard Owen, director of road safety analysis, urges restraint in the rush to introduce blanket 20mph limits in all towns and cities. He says that 20mph zones normally have lower average speed already and achieve compliance and safety improvements through engineering and signing measures.

Conversely, signed-only 20mph limits often see poor compliance. Early evidence from the latest and most comprehensive study suggests signed-only-limits result in just a 0.7mph reduction in average speeds.

Motorway speed

The Government has set a target to reduce the number of people who are killed or seriously injured on Highways England’s network by 40% by the end of 2020.

Highways England cannot completely eliminate the risk presented by building, maintaining and operating the country’s high-speed road network but it can make sure that those risks are managed effectively and that their potential harm is radically reduced.

“These different speed management solutions are known, understood and available: the important next step is implementation,” says Adrian Walsh.

“With the 2020 Global target to reduce road fatalities by 50% fast approaching, local, regional and national governments are encouraged to implement effective speed management policies as a matter of urgency to further reduce casualties.

“If we want to make a tangible, measurable difference, we must take tough actions that focus on delivering life-saving results.”

Road collisions

Aside from the report, Brake has also revealed that road collisions account for one in five patients admitted to trauma centres – making road collisions the second largest cause of admissions to A&E in hospitals, behind from less than two metres.

  • An additional analysis of more than 75,000 road crash trauma patients in the last decade shows that:
  • Young people account for more than one in five (21%) admissions – the largest affected age group
  • Children make up the biggest age group of pedestrian casualties, comprising almost one in six (17%) admissions
  • Motorcyclists comprise the largest proportion of admissions (25%), followed by drivers (23%), pedestrians (21%) and cyclists (16%)
  • Almost a third (32%) of pedestrians, and almost a quarter (24%) of cyclists, suffer serious head injuries.
  • Due to the severity of many road traffic collisions, almost a quarter (24%) of trauma patients go straight to intensive care following a crash.

Recent figures from the Department for Transport reveal that exceeding the speed limit or travelling too fast for conditions contributed to 349 fatal collisions on roads in Britain last year – almost a quarter (22%) of all fatal crashes.

Jason Wakeford, director of campaigns for Brake, the road safety charity, said: "Not only do needless road collisions cause untold suffering but they also place an enormous strain on the NHS and other public services.”

Ben Walton, adult clinical lead for major trauma in the Severn area, hosted by North Bristol NHS Trust, said: “Road traffic incidents have a serious, often devastating impact on individuals and their families. Even if people survive and make it to the Major Trauma Centre - where specialists work together to help treat their different injuries - the long-term outcome can still be life-changing.

“There are many ways in which road traffic collisions can be prevented. In particular we urge people to be mindful of the speed they are travelling."

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