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Life in the fast lane

Posted on 03 October 2011 by Alun Humphrey, Group Head .
Tags: BSA, British Social Attitudes, Omnibus survey, transport, speeding

Yesterday, Transport Minister Phillip Hammond announced government plans to revise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. The increase has already triggered responses from both sides of the debate. Road safety campaigns such as Brake and Campaign for Better Transport along with the Green Party claim that the move will encourage dangerous and inefficient driving. Whilst the Association of British Drivers and other pro-car, anti-nanny state organisations support Hammond’s plan to put Britain ‘back in the fast lane of global economies’. But what do the public think about speeding and speed limits?

Last year we ran a set of questions on driver behaviour on our Omnibus survey on behalf of the Department for Transport.

Although Phillip Hammond himself claims never to exceed the current 70mph speed limit on motorways, it would seem he is in the minority. The majority of drivers admit to speeding on both 30mph and 60 mph roads (89% and 73% respectively) and it would seem unlikely that this pattern is not repeated on motorways. Most drivers (91%) that admit to exceeding the limit on 60mph roads, do so within 10mph of the limit. So arguably, increasing the speed limit is simply a reflection of what actually happens. On the other hand, the tendency to exceed limits by 10mph along with current policing practices could make driving at 90mph more common.

Our data also uncovered an interesting contradiction in people’s views towards speeding. Although breaking the speed limit seems very common, most recognise the dangers of excessive speed and feel that drivers should observe the speed limit. Almost all people (89%) agree that greater speed increases the likelihood of a serious injury in the event of an accident and even among those who had themselves broken the speed limit, more than half (58%) agreed that drivers should always stay within the limit.

Alongside changes to speeds on motorways, the proposals include plans for an expansion on 20mph zones in urban areas. For this, there would appear to be strong support. Data from our own British Social Attitudes Survey (2009) suggests that nearly three-quarters (73%) would be in favour of having speed limits of 20 miles per hour in residential streets. Campaigns like Living Streets point out that a lower residential speed limit would not only increase pedestrian safety but encourage walking, thus reducing pollution.

What do you think about the proposed changes to speed limits? Will keeping drivers inside the law legitimate the speed limit and fuel Britain’s economy, or undermine safety and increase pollution?

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