Leading article: Deadly roads dictate a rethink of speed limits

The setting of a new norm would alert drivers to dangers and foster greater caution

Share
Related Topics

The UK has long prided itself on its road safety standards. Casualty figures are low compared with most other industrialised countries. But this positive record, coupled with the fact that the international trend continues downwards, is also why the first increase in road deaths for almost a decade should be a cause for concern.

A breakdown of the 2010-11 figures shows where that concern could most usefully be directed. Deaths among drivers and passengers were up 6 per cent, with rural roads accounting for more of the rise than urban areas, and a disproportionate number of fatal accidents involving drivers under 24.

The relatively high accident rate on rural roads has brought calls for a new speed limit in country areas of 40mph. That is worth considering. There are many roads where the lack of a limit implicitly allows drivers to travel at 60mph, even where the conditions should dictate otherwise. Arguments about the expense of new signs could be met by the introduction of a blanket limit on minor roads. Enforcement would, of course, be difficult. But the setting of a new norm would at the very least alert drivers to the dangers and foster greater caution.

The number of fatal accidents involving younger drivers – it should really be no surprise that road accidents are the main cause of death among young adults – should raise questions once again about the rigour of the driving test. Consideration might also be given to whether, perhaps, the legal driving age should be raised. The downside, however, would also have to be weighed. Age may be less of a factor in accidents than inexperience, and any rise in the age at which someone may obtain a licence could penalise those living in areas with poor public transport and encourage more teenagers to drive illegally.

The most startling aspect of these statistics, though, is the 12 per cent rise in deaths among pedestrians. Many reasons could be advanced, not all of them related to worse behaviour on the part of drivers. At least some of the increase could be attributable to technology, and the distractions of mobile devices and headphones. The danger that lurks when pedestrians are insufficiently aware of their surroundings should be spelt out more loudly and more often.

If the rise in pedestrian deaths is the really bad news, the best news might be that deaths among motorcyclists fell 10 per cent nationally and among cyclists by 4 per cent. But the positive trend here is likely to conceal sharp variations, as deaths among cyclists in London have been rising, along with the number of those taking to two wheels. The fall in cycling fatalities nationally should not provide any pretext for local authorities to give up on improvements in road layouts and greater provision of cycle lanes. Separation of cyclists and motor traffic must be a priority.

There is another easy conclusion, too, that is being – but should not be – drawn from the general rise in fatalities. Calls can already be heard, from MPs and others, for the Government to shelve its plan for a higher, 80mph speed limit on motorways, or at least to put it to a Commons vote. Motorways, though, account for relatively few UK road deaths; rural roads are many times more dangerous. Concentrating on improvements to these secondary roads, and on pedestrian awareness everywhere, would be a better use of limited funds than reversing a sensible change that recognises reality and improves enforcement. This is the message to be drawn from the latest road accident figures, and it should be heeded – even though it may not be what certain vocal groups of campaigners want to hear.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions