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Cameras keep majority of car drivers under the urban limit

April 6, 2007

More than half of car drivers are complying with 30mph speed limits for the first time, according to official figures, which suggest that speed cameras have altered drivers' behaviour.

The proportion of drivers who break the limit in built-up areas fell from 72 per cent in 1996 to 49 per cent last year.

The improvement in compliance appears to have contributed to a sharp fall in pedestrian deaths, down by a third in the past decade, from 997 in 1996 to 671 in 2005.

The Department for Transport monitored the speeds of different types of vehicles in free-flowing conditions on several types of road.

The measurements were taken well away from speed camera sites to ensure that the results were not distorted by drivers slowing down briefly. The proportion of drivers in a 30mph area travelling faster than 35mph, the lowest speed at which cameras are triggered, has halved from 37 per cent in 1996 to 19 per cent last year.

However, the proportion travelling at more than 10mph above the 70mph limit on motorways has fallen only slightly over the same period, from 19 per cent to 17 per cent.

Motorcyclists were much more likely than car drivers to exceed the limit by a wide margin, with 25 per cent travelling at more than 80mph on motorways and in 30mph areas. One in 10 motorcyclists exceeded 40mph in a 30mph zone and one in 50 rode above 50mph.

The most habitual offenders were HGV drivers, with three quarters (76 per cent) breaking their 40mph limit on main nonurban single carriageway roads. The limit for cars on these roads is 60mph and almost 90 per cent remained under that speed. The only worsening trend for cars was in 40mph areas, where 28 per cent broke the limit, up from 24 per cent in 2005.

The AA said that drivers were sometimes caught out by 40mph roads because the limit was often imposed on short stretches to slow drivers as they were passing from a 60mph area to a 30mph area.

Paul Watters, the AA’s head of roads policy, said that the big increase in speed camera fines, from 260,000 in 1996 to two million in 2004, had made drivers pay more attention to the limit. More than a million drivers have six or more penalty points on their licences and are only one conviction away from an automatic six-month ban, according to a survey last week.

Mr Watters said that satellite navigation systems which inform drivers of the limit on the road they are on may also have played a part in improving compliance.

“The message seems to be getting home and it’s partly because there are now more than 5,000 cameras,” he said. “Last year’s record fuel prices may also have made drivers more light-footed.” Thrill-seeking motorcyclists were a serious road safety problem, however.

“Motorcycle traffic has leapt almost 50 per cent in the past decade and among a minority there is a culture of lawlessness. They deliberately set out to ride excessively over the limit.”

The RAC Foundation said that a greater police presence was needed on the roads to deter a hard core of car drivers and motorcyclists who obeyed the limit only when they spotted cameras.

Paul Smith, founder of the Safe Speed antispeed camera campaign, said that the fall in pedestrian deaths was partly the result of a 16 per cent decline in walking.

“It’s not exceeding the speed limit that causes the crash — it’s driving like a nutter,” he said. “Just because people are driving more slowly on some types of road does not mean those roads are safer.”