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Debate Road safety

Around 350,000 people are injured and 3,000 killed on Britain's roads each year. This week, ahead of Sunday's European Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims we ask: Is restricting speed limits the key to road safety?

YesDerek Quinn Assistant Director, Highways and Transportation, Leeds City Council Imagine that every resident of Coventry was injured in the last 12 months.

Something radical would be done about it! The same number of people is injured or killed on Britain's roads each year, and speeding is by far the biggest single cause. Seven out of ten drivers ignore 30mph speed limits. The problem is one of perception and attitude.

The obligation on drivers to observe speed limits has eroded to the point where, rather than being ignorant of the speed limits themselves, they no longer fully comprehend their purpose or importance. Having allowed this to happen, the Government, local authorities and police need to challenge this perception by campaigning and enforcement.

Future philosophy and activities should be built on the experience of many years' successful anti drink-driving measures.

The speed limit in built up areas should be changed to 20mph with a 30mph limit retained on distributor roads only. This would have a significant effect on the safety of vulnerable road users.

Perhaps now is a sensible time to plan for a transfer to a metric system whereby the limit on urban roads would be 30kph, with a 50kph limit on urban distributors and rural roads.

Stiffer licence and financial penalties are needed. Fines should be hypothecated and ploughed back into effective enforcement and a national campaign budget. Excessive speeding must be recognised as a deliberately dangerous act.

I have noticed that a driver when passing a horse will tend to slow down to a speed which is well below the posted limit yet glibly continue at an inappropriate speed past vulnerable and unpredictable children playing or walking along the street.

Perception and attitude to speed can and must be changed.

NoRod Macdonald Director, Buro Happold The signs read 'Speed kills'. This is strange. How do astronauts travel at many thousands of miles per hour? Disease, impact, bleeding and burning kill.

Motorways are designed to reduce the chances of impact. Drivers perceive this, feel safe, and as a result drive fast. It is this perception of safety and the reverse, the perception of danger, which is important.

In today's cars, sound insulation and suspension are so effective that the encapsulated driver is often unaware of the speed of his or her vehicle. In urban areas drivers generally ignore speed limits. It is not the speed limit that determines vehicle speed. Speed is determined by the driver's fear of being caught in a speed trap or more often by the relative difficulty of manoeuvring the vehicle comfortably. Drivers slow when they perceive difficulty, for example when cornering, negotiating bumps or squeezing through width restrictions.

Average vehicle speeds in urban areas are low, often as low as 6 to 7 miles per hour. Drivers travel fast when they can and then queue at junctions.

High vehicle speeds in urban areas are destructive to urban living. They are threatening to pedestrians and they are noisy. The noise of a vehicle increases in proportion to something like the square of its speed. Reducing maximum speed in urban areas is sensible.

It will not significantly reduce average speed. It will reduce noise. It will improve the quality of life of urban residents and it can reduce the severity of impact and hence increase safety.

The reduction of maximum speeds will be achieved by influencing driver perception through good traffic calming measures and not by unenforceable speed limits.The facts

Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions is to publish a speed policy review at the end of the year for local authorities.

The guidance may recommend a reduction in speed limits to reduce accidents on Britain's roads.

In 1998 3,137 people died in accidents on the roads. There were 34,633 serious accidents and 201,153 slight accidents. This cost to the country £11.49bn.

3M damage-only accidents cost a further £4.47bn.

TRL research claims that for every 1mph lower speed limit you gain a 5% reduction in accidents.

Suffolk County Council has reported a 20% drop in accidents since it introduced a 30mph limit on rural roads. The biggest falls came on roads where the limit fell from 60mph.

Only 4% of accidents are on motorways.Environmental pressure groups are urging Government to reduce urban speed limits to 20mph.

Research carried out for the AA found that motorists speed because speed limits are inconsistent across the country on what drivers perceive are similar or identical types of road.'What limits speed?' from AA Foundation for Safety Research, Norfolk House, Priestly Road, Basingstoke RG24 9NY. Price £20

'Speed limits and accidents', TRL Library Services, Old Wokingham Road, Crowthorne, Berks, RG45 6AU.

Price £25

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