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A Safer Way



An interesting new report from the U.K.’s Department for Transport, titled “A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World,” notes that the country, which already has among the safest roads in the world and has cut fatalities by 18%, is aiming to reduce road casualties by a further one-third by 2020. As the chart above shows, the U.S. is in rather a different group of company (this measure is, albeit, per 100,000 persons so does not account for miles driven, but still…)

One part of the strategy is an increase in “self-enforcing” 20 MPH speed zones in urban areas (London now has more than 700, it notes).

Research suggests that pedestrians struck at 30 mph have about a 1 in 5 chance of being killed. At 20 mph the chance of a pedestrian dying is 1 in 40. In order to improve safety on the streets where we live, we will amend our guidance on speed limits, recommending that highway authorities, over time, introduce 20 mph zones or limits into streets that are primarily residential in nature and which are not part of any major through route. Similarly, we will encourage local authorities to consider introducing 20 mph limits or zones in town or city streets, such as around schools, shops, markets, playgrounds and other areas where pedestrian and cyclist movements are high.

The DFT will also be studying what speed reductions are theoretically possible without engineering treatments:

We will, however, also research the effect on speeds and casualties of wide‑area, un‑engineered 20 mph zones. As introduced in Portsmouth and proposed for a number of other cities, these are implemented through 20 mph signs alone. Our previous evidence shows that these have the effect of reducing speeds by 1–2 mph (as opposed to engineered zones, which can reduce speeds to near 20 mph) and are therefore most suited to roads where average speeds are already low. We will, however, re‑examine this issue in the light of the evidence provided by our forthcoming research.

Interestingly, the U.K. has already seen substantial speed reductions on local streets — whether this is due to enforcement, engineering, or education (or a bit of all three) is unclear.

The percentage of vehicles that exceed the speed limit on 30 mph roads was lower in every vehicle category in 2007 than it was ten years earlier (Figure 7.1). The improvement is particularly marked for cars, for which the percentage exceeding the speed limit in 1996 was about three‑quarters. This fell to just under half in 2007.

The implication of this goes beyond safety.

Not only do these zones make our streets safer, but they also have potential to reduce pollution and improve public health by encouraging walking and cycling. The limited evidence gathered to date suggests that people walk and cycle more in areas subject to 20 mph zones. We believe that these road safety measures will have the effect of enhancing both public safety and public perception of safety, so encouraging more walking and cycling.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 11:25 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “A Safer Way”

  1. aaron Says:

    Hmmm. I think population isn’t the right metric. Really you should be looking at passenger miles traveled.

    Kind of like the “Speed Kills” BS we feed the public. Sure, it’s probably true in residential streets with high population density one lane of traffic and lots of curves and turns. But really we should be looking at how many passenger miles are traveled various speeds.

    It will become apparent then that, except for certain types of roads, Slow Kills.

    And so probably does much traffic calming, consindering the mechanisms to slow people down is usually to scare or distract people. Slowing people down by using up their mental bandwith. Like the the pothole “traffic calming”. It’s like trying to improve safety by getting people to talk on the phone while driving, since they’ll drive slower.

  2. Eric Says:

    @aaron,

    Given your earlier posting about your belief (see note below) that lots of horsepower plus quick acceleration consumes less fuel that slower acceleration, I’m starting to believe that you’re on a mission to establish that your preferred style of driving is best in terms of safety and fuel economy.

    You did read the part of the posting that said:

    Research suggests that pedestrians struck at 30 mph have about a 1 in 5 chance of being killed. At 20 mph the chance of a pedestrian dying is 1 in 40.

    And you really believe that a speed bump is as distracting as talking on a cell phone?

    Note: you actually didn’t state it as a belief but as a fact.

  3. skh.pcola Says:

    In modern vehicles, accelerating relatively quickly (as opposed to taking a half-mile to achieve 40 mph)actually is more fuel efficient. That fact isn’t difficult to substantiate, if your bias is weak enough to allow your incorrect, preconceived notion to be negated. As to your other point, more horsepower uses more fuel than less horsepower, ceteris paribus.

  4. chris hutt Says:

    Clearly safety ratings simply based on KSI casualties per 100k of population can conceal all sorts of anomalies.

    Take the Netherlands and the UK as examples where the figures for the above are the same. It is obvious to anyone making a practical comparison that cycling appears to be (and objectively is) very much safer in the Netherlands than in the UK and consequently cycling is vastly more popular in the Netherlands.

    But Dutch people are ‘consuming’ the greater safety for cyclists inherent in Dutch traffic systems by cycling so much more that KSI casualty rates per 100k population end up being similar to that in the UK. Many similar disparities in actual and perceived safety will be concealed in the population based figures.

  5. Oakland County Roads are Not the Safest | m-bike.org Says:

    [...] Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World.” (via How We Drive) The report compiled road fatality rates for many countries (See the above [...]

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Metropolis and Mobile Life
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