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Managing speed on our roads

Promoting safe and considerate driving on our roads is a major part of the work of the Department for Transport, and encouraging motorists to adopt appropriate speeds is key to this role.

The vast majority of Britain's road users do drive safely and contribute significantly to our good road safety record - one of the safest in the world.

But we want to not only maintain this impressive record - we want to improve on it. There is still work to be done that can further reduce the number of unnecessary injuries and fatalities on our roads. And that is why we continue our work on persuading and educating motorists to be more aware of their driving habits and their speed in particular. Whether we are motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, or horse riders, all of us benefit from safer driving.

Consequences of speed

Speeding is not just inconsiderate driving - it contributes to the 36,000 serious injuries and 3,400 deaths that occur on Britain's roads each year. Around two thirds of all collisions in which people are killed or seriously injured (identified in our statistics as KSIs) occur in built up areas where the speed limit means that drivers should be travelling at 40mph or less.

The 30mph limit for most residential areas is no arbitrary figure. It is set because there is a substantial difference in the risk of causing death or serious injury when driving even just a few miles above 30mph.

Government research has shown:

  • that at 40mph, 85% of people hit by vehicles die, compared to 20% at 30mph (at 20mph it is just 5%).
  • an average family car travelling at 35mph will need an extra 21 feet (six metres) to stop than one travelling at 30mph, no matter how good the driver is.
  • the force of the impact on a cyclist or pedestrian is increased by a third when hit at 35mph rather than 30mph.
  • It has been estimated that for each 1mph reduction in average speed, accident frequency is reduced by 5%.

The simple fact is that speeding is an unnecessary contributor to the number of casualties on our roads and even when motorists are observing the limit they may still be driving at an inappropriate speed for the conditions.

Government Strategy

In 2000 the Department for Transport published the Government's road safety strategy 'Tomorrow's roads-safer for everyone',at the heart of which are our targets for reducing road casualties by 2010. These targets include a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road collisions, and a 50% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured.

The 2004 progress report on the first three years of the Government's strategy (see right) shows that we are making good progress towards those targets for 2010. In the first three years of the strategy there has been a 17% drop in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads. For children, we are even closer to our target as we can already report a 33% reduction.

The Department is committed to developing and maintaining speed management policies that will continue this reduction in road casualties.

All of us can do more to ensure our roads are safer, even by reducing our speeds by just a few miles per hour. Therefore we take a very proactive role, not only in undertaking ongoing research into solutions that will help control traffic speeds, but also in educating drivers of all ages about the dangers and consequences of driving too fast.

Changing the road environment

In the three years since these targets were set the Department has supported a number of measures designed to reduce speeding in and around our communities. These might include improvements to signage or landscaping to raise the driver's awareness of their environment, or they may be locally managed schemes that create areas in communities where speeding is neither possible nor tolerated. Existing examples include:

  • Traffic calming guidance to encourage 30mph through rural villages in the United Kingdom.
  • Guidance on the use of vehicle activated signs that have proved particularly effective at dealing with inappropriate speed in rural areas (these signs alert the driver to a potential hazard e.g. a sharp bend, or remind the driver of the speed limit in force).
  • Improvements to speed limit and safety camera signage.
  • Promotion of Home Zones - residential streets in which the road is shared between drivers of motor vehicles and the wider needs of residents including cyclists and children.
  • Trials of picture message signage for motorways.

These schemes aim to encourage people to assess their own appropriate speeds at all times. It is important to keep developing new ideas to ensure drivers are aware of their surroundings and take greater care of their speed and attention to their driving.

Aside from creating safer roads for pedestrians and drivers alike, such schemes create improved environments for residents, cyclists, children and other road users.


The vast majority of motorists do respect the speed limits. But it is important that we continue to educate people about the risks of speed and the reasons for speed limits. This requires a strong, consistent promotional strategy that is not only identifiable through the national media, but is also able to reach out directly into our local communities.

Education and awareness

THINK! is the Department for Transport's high profile, national campaign which informs and advises the public on all aspects of road safety including drink driving, seatbelts, driving while tired and speed management.


'THINK! Slow Down' is the campaign that communicates the dangers of driving too fast through a mix of broadcast, print, event sponsorship and online promotion.

The campaign aims to focus attention on the additional stopping distance of a car travelling at 35mph rather than 30mph, and promote a wider general awareness of stopping distances at various speeds.

The typically stark television advertising, showing a child being knocked down by a driver unable to judge their stopping distance in time, has been shown in two or three bursts of advertising each year since it first appeared in 2001. Analysis of this advert in July 2003, which was backed by posters and supporting material (see right), showed that prompted recognition stood at a highly satisfactory level of 90%.


Road safety officers

The THINK! campaign also works with local schools, police and Road Safety Officers to join up national road safety messages at a local level. The DfT supports their work in our communities by providing leaflets, posters, exhibition stands and periodical newsletters to help co-ordinate an annual calendar of campaigns and initiatives within communities. The aim is not only to encourage vulnerable members of society such as children and the elderly to be more aware of judging the speeds of cars travelling on the roads, but also to urge all of us to recognise speeding as being as anti-social as drink-driving.

The impact of a co-ordinated approach has been revealed through the findings of a 2003 survey where the proportion of motorists finding it 'unacceptable' or 'highly unacceptable' to drive at 40 mph in a 30 mph area has risen from 60 per cent in 1998 to 76 per cent.


Legal Deterrents

Introducing measures to discourage speeding has been a keystone behind our progress towards the 2010 road safety targets. But whilst efforts in persuasion do contribute towards reducing casualties, there remains a minority who consciously break the law. So a level of enforcement is still required to protect the majority from unsafe driving.

The local police conduct the enforcement of speeding limits and drivers found to be above the designated limit are committing an offence. In practice, most speeding offences are dealt with through the fixed penalty system where a driver is currently fined £60 and has 3 points added to their licence. However, for speeding offences, the courts do have the power to:

  • endorse driving licences by up to 6 penalty points;
  • disqualify drivers in the most serious cases; and
  • impose a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,500 for motorway offences).

It is also possible for speeding motorists to be charged with the more serious offence of dangerous driving or careless and inconsiderate driving (Section 1 & 2 respectively, Road Traffic Act 1991) where much heavier penalties could apply. On motorways, speeding is considered a higher category of offence than when it occurs elsewhere.

In addition to fines and licence endorsements, some areas of England such as Lancashire for example, have introduced Speed Awareness Courses which offenders are required to attend. The Department is considering the roll out of a national scheme of awareness courses for persistent offenders. This follows our long term strategy to focus resources on educating and retraining to improve driver behaviour, rather than simply applying stricter enforcement.

Safety cameras


Safety cameras play an effective role in encouraging drivers to stay within the stated speed limit. Independent research shows that where cameras have been introduced the numbers of killed or seriously injured have fallen by 35%, and the number of vehicles speeding has fallen by 67%.

There are frequent media reports that maintain an anti-camera myth about the purpose of cameras being to raise revenue. The Department for Transport routinely takes a robust approach to tackling such misleading coverage. The one and only purpose of safety cameras is to reduce road casualties, they are not about raising money - they are about changing driver behaviour. The best camera is one that does not issue a single ticket.

We work in tandem with the safety partnerships and various road safety groups across the country to reinforce the facts about safety cameras. Information such as the circumstances required for selecting new sites, details about how cameras are funded and how each camera must be made prominently visible are available from this site.


As mentioned, Britain possesses one of the best road safety records in the world. For 2002 (the latest figures available) the fatality rate per billion motor vehicle kilometres of traffic was 7.3 in the UK compared with France at 14.8 and Germany at 11.2. And we are on course to reach our 2010 targets.

But there is still much more to do. Whilst the number of casualties is decreasing, the decline has been notably slower on rural roads, and there is evidence that in built up areas, the elderly or children remain at risk.

Almost all casualties and fatalities on our roads are the tragic result of an unnecessary collision, and excessive or inappropriate speed is often a contributory factor. Therefore the Department's work in looking to educate and enforce our message about the danger of driving at speed will continue to be a major element of our work. We are committed to reaching our targets and in doing, so develop safer environments for responsible drivers, pedestrians and residents alike.

For related documents, pages and internet links, see the column on the right.