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Speed trap There is an increasing case for reducing road speed limits in the UK.

Pressure for reduction in highway speed limits has never been higher in the UK as a growing body of opinion highlights speeding as a main ingredient of road deaths.

Research published last week by the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research reinforces this view. It strengthens the case for lower speed limits as part of a combination of measures needed to reduce the risks of driving.

The work shows that academics have now established scientific proof for the long suspected theory that the faster a motorist travels, the more likely he or she is to crash. The AA points out that more needs to be done to stop such speeding if road safety is to improve (News last week).

Male drivers - young men in particular - are the most at risk of driving into trouble, according to the research. 'Men have a higher proportion of their accidents on bends, overtaking, and during the hours of darkness,' it confirms.

It goes on to say: 'If one were to propose an explanation for the higher fatality risk of men, it would rest on the facts that men adopt faster speeds, commit more driving violations, are more inclined drink and drive, take illegal drugs and drive and are prepared to drive for longer periods.'

Shocking confirmation again of what many already suspect, particularly when you consider that most licence holders are male.

Part of the problem with speeding motorists is cultural and hard to change. Research published in 1991, for instance, has shown that men actually believe that they are better drivers than they really are - despite being more likely than women to be killed while driving.

It is possible that engineers could help solve the problem by designing roads differently - but this is not easy as there is a risk that the situation could be made worse.

On fast roads, for example, physical measures to slow drivers down could cause more accidents if they pose extra hazards to motorists. Accompanying signing and white lines could help such measures, but there is always the risk that the reckless will ignore them and run into even greater danger.

And even if such measures were taken, it would seem inevitable that they would have to be accompanied by lower speed limits. How they are enforced and by how much speeds are cut will no doubt be a matter for fierce political debate.

'Modifying speed choice represents one of the major challenges ahead, partly because the public does not regard this as a high priority,' says the AA report. 'Success will almost certainly require the combined effects of changing attitudes, increased enforcement and engineering modifications.'

Bringing in lower speed limits may present political problems and result in longer journey times. But for a government committed to improving the efficiency of the transport network, making the roads slower but safer must be worth the effort.

Andrew Bolton

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