The Association Of British Drivers

On Tuesday morning, Malcolm Heymer, of the Association of British Drivers, was a witness at the House Of Commons Transport Select Committee, discussing ‘Road Safety’. You can hear the whole session here, if you choose to, but I have transcribed some of his more interesting responses to questioning below.

On the effect of lower speed limits on road safety –

Question: Do you consider yourself to be a road safety organisation?

Answer: Yes.

Question: So why is it, then, that the views of the Association of British Drivers are so at odds with every other road safety organisation?

Answer: Well, we believe that our views are based on empirical evidence which goes back decades, and particularly in the case of speed limit-setting… that evidence has now been dismissed. And speed limits are being set at lower levels. And that’s having an adverse effect on compliance, and therefore on road safety generally.

Ellman (Chair): Are you saying – can I just clarify – you’re saying that lower speed limits are having an adverse effect on road safety?

Answer: No, not lower speeds – lower speed limits. Because speed limits are set below the level at which the majority of drivers consider to be reasonable, you get a very high level of non-compliance. And you get a greater disparity of speeds – you get more frustration, because a small minority of drivers will obey the speed limit, even if they think it’s really silly, and that will result in a large queue of drivers behind, who simply want to drive at what they consider to be normal speeds, and that leads to frustration, dangerous overtaking… It also can lead to long queues of traffic, which prevent side road traffic from entering, or crossing, a main road. So you get these additional conflicts, even road rage, as a result. So if you have sensibly-set speed limits, which means set at the 85th percentile, which is the level that 85% of drivers wouldn’t exceed anyway, experience has shown – this goes back, certainly in the United States, to the late 1930s – that is the safest level at which to set speeds, speed limits, and you get the lowest casualty rates.

Quite why or how drivers come to consider a certain speed ‘reasonable’ is not addressed. A large part of that equation is surely the existing speed limit on a road in question. Drivers increasingly feel it ‘reasonable’ to exceed speed limits by 10% or more, because they know that’s what they can get away with. The breaking of speed limits isn’t a rebellion against an ‘unreasonable’ speed limit – it’s a reflection of how fast you can go without expectation of getting into trouble. It’s not hard to imagine the effect of raising the speed limit to match what people feel they can get away with.

On the potential raising of the motorway speed limit –

Question: The Association of British Drivers supports the increase in the speed limit on the motorways to 80mph. Given that we have amongst the safest motorways in the world, why would we want to change the speed limit and risk – regardless of whether or not it does have an impact – why would we we risk the chance of making our motorways more dangerous?

Answer: Well obviously the ABD doesn’t believe that it would make motorways more dangerous. Department for Transport figures actually show that, averaged over the motorway network, the 85th percentile speed for cars on motorways is 79mph. And that will vary, of course, from motorway to motorway. That means that, with the 85th percentile being the ideal speed at which you might wish to set the speed limit, 80 mph is in accordance with that, and therefore the right speed limit for motorways in the majority of cases. Of course there are places where a lower speed limit may be necessary, and there are sections of that today, 50 mph and 60 mph motorways, which will no doubt remain the same.

Question: So if the 85th percentile is currently 79 mph, is there not a suggestion amongst different organisations that if you increase the speed limit to 80 mph, the 85th percentile will go significantly above 80 mph?

Answer: I know a lot of people believe that, but the evidence is that it’s not so. I mean I’ve  got a case in point. Admittedly from the United States. But it’s a dual, three-lane freeway, which is equivalent to one of our three lane motorways. Where, in the 55 mph era, the 85th percentile speed was 73 mph. That’s 18 mph over the speed limit, and in fact 98% of drivers were exceeding the speed limit. When the limit was raised to 70 mph on that road, the 85th percentile actually fell to 72 mph. The mean speed only increased by just over 1 mph. So there was a reduction in the spread of speeds, as a result.

Question: Would you not accept that there is a significant difference between a speed limit of 55 mph, and a speed limit of 70 mph?

Answer: Indeed.

Answer comes there none, from the ABD, as to why drivers see our current 70 mph as so ‘unreasonable’ a speed limit, and yet 80 mph would be seen as eminently reasonable. It cannot be a response to the road conditions, because motorways are the same, everywhere, and have been since their inception, and permit driving at speeds far greater than 70 or 80 mph. The real reason why 80 mph is ‘reasonable’ (and 90mph, or 100 mph, is not) is that it lies around the 10% threshold of what drivers can get away with. Their logic here is just as flawed.

A question on the relationship between speed limits and accidents –

Question: Is it your view that when a speed limit in a local area is reduced, then the road rage becomes so intense, that accidents actually do go up? That there’s a direct correlation between lowering the speed limit, and an increase in the number of road accidents?

Answer: There can be, if the limit is reduced to well below the 85th percentile.

Question: That’s not anecdotal, that’s actual empirical evidence that you can submit to us?

Answer: Well there’s evidence, for example, from the county of Suffolk, which at the end of 1995, I think it was, introduced some 300… 450 new 30 mph speed limits, within a three month period. Some of those were on roads that were previously national speed limit. And when you look at the trend in casualties for that county, it was continuously downwards from 1990 to 1995, and in 1996, it reversed direction and started going upwards. And that was for the county as a whole, not necessarily individual roads.

Chair (Ellman): So it wasn’t necessarily on those roads?

Answer: No, it was for the county as a whole.

Question: For your premise to stand up, you would have to show that the accidents on the roads where the speed reduction took place – that’s where the increase in accidents happened.

Answer: Not necessarily, because you can get migration of accidents. Because people have slowed down unnecessarily in some areas, they might try to make up time somewhere else.

Question: We’re talking about empirical evidence here, and you’re talking about supposition. You’re not talking about actual evidence.

Answer: There’s also a coroner’s inquest from late 1996 which specifically cited one of these new speed limits as a contributory factor to a fatal accident.

A coroner had the stupidity to blame one man’s fatal driving on a ‘low’ speed limit on another stretch of road – manna from heaven for the ABD, who have been trading on this anecdote for the last fifteen years.

‘Frustration’ at not being able to break a speed limit is no more an excuse for reckless driving than not being able to watch the TV programme you want is an excuse for murder.

Frankly it’s embarrassing that this organisation is given a platform by the House of Commons, with the concomitant credibility – especially when it can respond to a fact like this

The Kent and Medway Safety Camera Partnership (KMSCP)… said there has been a 74% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured at fixed and mobile sites in the county since 2002, the equivalent of 397 people. Ch Insp Andy Reeves, head of roads policing for Kent Police and KMSCP chairman, said the figures “speak for themselves”.

With a comment like this –

Terry Hudson, the Kent spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, which opposes speed cameras, said: “They may have saved a few lives, but we’ve got to remember, they’ve prosecuted a lot of people over a long period of time. And the effects of getting a driving ban or losing one’s job is never, ever taken into consideration.”

Yeah, I mean speed cameras may have saved a few lives (400 or so, in Kent alone – but who’s counting) but we should never forget some people have been trapped by them, and then – after quite reasonably failing to learn their lesson, and being trapped by them several more times – have actually been banned from driving! Temporarily!

I mean, what gives?

Where’s our sense of perspective? Surely everyone knows temporarily losing your driving licence is a fate worse than death?

This entry was posted in Dangerous driving, Road safety, Speeding. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Association Of British Drivers

  1. They do seem to hold some shocking views….I think most of their attitude problem stems from the fact that in this country is that the motorists can get away with an awful lot of bad behaviour, from “simple” things like speeding or using a mobile phone right through to actually killing someone. All pretty safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to get caught on the first 2 unless they are first class muppets and will mostly likely get away with a proverbial slap on the wrist for the latter.

  2. Henz says:

    The obsession with the “85th Percentile” is interesting. They’re using info from the USA from the 1930’s. Are they living 80 years in the past?

    Following their concept of “sensibly set speeds”; why choose the 85th percentile? Why not the 50th percentile? This would be the median speed for the road. 50% of drivers would already travel below this speed, and most drivers would be travelling at around this speed anyway. Although this speed would probably around or below the current speed limit, and wouldn’t fit the ACB’s view that faster is better. still uses Silverlight *sigh*.

  3. Simon says:

    “And the effects of getting a driving ban or losing one’s job is never, ever taken into consideration.”

    This is absolute bllcks. This is always taken into consideration. Have a look at this lawyer’s website, where he claims that he has successfully stopped a ban for a driver with 31 points. Some of the tactics he uses are:

    “Examples of totting up cases that have been successful have ranged from arguing that a totting up driving ban would cause a driver’s immediate family exceptional hardship. Other strategies have been where we successfully argued that a client’s employers would be caused exceptional hardship as they would have had to replace the offender if he lost his licence.”

    Which sound like the effects of the ban on losing your job to me.

    • ^THIS EXACTLY^ What we need is some judges with some balls. It’s not like drivers have anything to fear if they do break the law and rack up a stupid amount of points, some smooth talking lawyer and a “soft” judge is all that’s needed to let drivers who clearly show a complete disrespect for the law to keep their licenses. If your livelihood depends on you driving do it legally or suffer the consequences. End of.

    • Kim says:

      The courts seem to accept the “exceptional hardship” defence all too often!

  4. @angus_fx says:

    Wouldn’t expect anything less from the ABD, but, even ignoring the issues around cyclists & other vulnerable on-road users entirely, they totally ignore the effect on the surroundings – as a pedestrian, or a resident whose property borders the road, having traffic alongside at 20mph, 40mph, 60mph makes a huge difference; even if it isn’t dangerous per se (assuming competent, sober, undistracted drivers). I can think of plenty of roads that are plenty safe to drive at 50mph ( at least within the ABD’s frame of reference) but where it’s nevertheless deeply antisocial in terms of the impact on those in the immediate vicinity. 20mph limits in towns, 40mph on country lanes, will have zero impact on road capacity & rather little on journey times, but make life enormously more pleasant for those road users who aren’t in a steel cage.

    I’m not talking here about motorways & dual-carriageway trunk roads.. frankly if the consensus amongst their users is for an 80mph limit, or even 100mph, so be it. As with railways, these roads have no function at all other than moving people from A to B as fast as possible – they are non-places, and nobody besides car users has any claim to be there. In any case, there are usually alternatives (old A-roads etc.) for those who feel it’s too fast or who aren’t competent to drive around 80+mph traffic. Perhaps a wider gap in speed limits between motorways/near-motorways (80) & the rest of the road network (20-50) would help remind drivers that non-motorway roads exist for other reasons than just moving cars about the place at high speed.

    Which brings me to the logical inconsistency at the heart of motor-advocacy organisations like ABD. They are quick to pin much of the blame for road casualties on incompetent or unfit drivers, yet do little or nothing to support the kind of measures that would give those least fit to drive an alternative to using cars (whether that be through cycle infrastructure, subsidized buses, walkable streets etc.).

  5. There is no point expecting rational argument to win over people like the ABD.

    But then, that is what safety on the road is all about, whether it be the extremists of the ABD or the mainstream motoring and “road safety” organisations. The issue is power and freedom – who gets to do what and where, rather than some calculations about changes in reported casualties..

    More specifically on speed, the issue is whether people should be allowed to drive their cars on public roads as fast as they like. The ABD wants this just about everywhere. The “road safety” lobby wants them to be able to do this, except at some limited number of well advertised locations where the right number of people have been reported as killed or injured (Namely at speed camera sites).

    There is a case for logical argument – although that doesn’t mean politely asking them to support cycle facilities, it means demanding that they come up with support for banning people who don’t drive properly. Just don’t expect them to eb won over. they want to be able to drive where they want, when they want, how they want, and for whatever reason they want, to be heavily subsidised while they do it – and to complain that they are an oppressed minority.

    So don’t waste too much time on them. Remember they can only get away with it because the “road safety” lobby have idiot-proofed the highway and car environments so thoroughly that the idiots produced don’t have to worry so much about having to drive carefully in the first place.

  6. No says:

    Though there is a very valid point in all of this that road designs need to reflect their speed limit. If you have wide straight roads with plenty of visual space then you will get higher speeds. If you really want people to slow down the road should reflect that too. Not speed bumps, but road widths, bends, changes in surfaces, styles of lighting etc etc.

    • Very good point and it’s something the Dutch already do in their “homezone” area’s. Instead of the speedbumps, chicanes and pinch points we get here they have cobbled roads (with I believe a narrower smooth strip for the cyclists) that are unpleasant to drive on at speed, sharp corners and street furniture that means drivers HAVE to slow down.

      If you look at how more cautious people are, or at least should be, when driving through country lanes with hedgerows/narrow sections. I was always taught to drive at a speed that meant I could stop safely (reduced L.o.S = reduced speed basically and taking into account surface conditions) and that it’s a speed LIMIT not a target.

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  8. Very good blog entry, thanks for taking the time.

    Like a good number of other posters, I have had online correspondence with the ABD. I was in no way insulting, rude or aggressive, yet my (and a number of other poster’s) questions were not answered by this self-proclaimed association. I was then blocked by them and, you guessed it, so were the other people who posted questioning the ABD position.

    I find it most uncomfortable that a body like this can claim to represent the British public, and court the attention of our politicians. They have also been approached for quotes by the BBC yet, if you look closer at the ABD’s Twitter activity, you would see their history of censoring rightly-concerned public questioning of their whole attitude to road safety.

    This ‘Association’, when courted by the media, is published and broadcast to millions and, given some of the hate-filled newspaper comment columns, one can readily assume for as many people there are that will question the ABD, there are a good number of people that feel they are indeed victims of speed cameras, and trapped by having to drive at an arbitrary* speed limits.

    During my brief allowed time before being banned, the ABD suggested I look at some famous quotes on law on the ABD site. I find their use of the MLK quote “Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws.” – which was about civil rights and the oppression of black people in America – very disturbing. So we have an ‘Association’ that believes drivers are being victimised by having to drive at a speed limit, and this is akin to racism?

    By law I have to pay a TV license to the beeb. I accept that contract and pay it. I do however find it offensive that a long-standing public journalistic body like the beeb will court such cretins as the ABD and broadcast their garbage to the nation. Would they have done the same if they’d known of the ABD’s stifling of debate on their speeding policy position? And as for the select committee, are they exempt from doing a little research into people/associations before they waste our money on such meetings?

    *the ABD, when questioned about drivers speeding, stated on Twitter “@AdrenalinJunky @aapresident But it’s not “bad driving” that just the point. It’s purely exceeding an arbitrary speed limit.” 22/01/12

  9. Martin Parkinson says:

    “Frankly it’s embarrassing that this organisation is given a platform by the House of Commons, ”

    Quite. And are we making things worse by even talking about them? Adding to their credibility in a perverse way by saying how incredible their asserions are?

  10. Kim says:

    Ah, but, you fail to understand that holding a driving license is not a privilege but a sacred right! After all an increasing number of Tory MP keep telling us that people rely on their cars and how can they drive if we take their licence away?

    Besides the ABD must be a legitimate campaign group why else would the BBC keep inviting them to comment on road safety? The BBC is a highly respected organisation which has demonstrated its commitment to road safety by promoting safe driving in programs like Top Gear.

  11. Pete Owens says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the ABD, they make such obviously absurd claims that they effectively reinforce the opposition. The mainstream motoring organisations are more dangerous as they put together superficially more reasonable arguments – though still fighting for exactly the same cause – higher speed limits. The AA and RAC must feel really frustrated every time the media allows motorists to be represented by this bunch of clowns.

    What is more frightening is that whenever the police object to lower speed limits (and the nearly always do) they parrot the ABD line.

  12. Richard Burton says:

    I’ve heard a rumour that the ABD are mostly journalists, which might explain why they get so much coverage, especially from the BBC, which is supposedly independent and unbiased (ho, ho, ho).

  13. Toby Adam says:

    Very funny, but it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Not so funny is that they are in front of a select committee and you are not. Please rectify this situation forthwith.

  14. Nathanael says:

    The fact is that the “reasonable” speed which most drivers imagine is the speed which the roadway appears to allow.

    The only way to get the ABD types to slow down on the read is to make the road narrower, curvier, with sharper grades, overhanging vegetation, narrower lanes, bumpier pavement and less shoulder. Which is probably a good idea.

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  17. Stoat says:

    The ABD are perfectly correct about 85th percentiles and people driving at the speed the road seems to allow.

    What was left out of the discussion above and that submission about the 3 lane freeway (along with several other roads) was that as well as adjusting the speed limit, the authorities also experimented with differing types of paint, hazards and roadside furniture.

    What they found was

    1: Speed limits up to 10mph of the 85th percentile are generally obeyed. Above that difference they’re ignored – on roads where the free-flowing rate was 50mph, setting it to 60mph resulted in an increase in speed, but 70mph resulted in the freeflow speed reverting to 50mph. Similarly setting it to 40mph resulted in general compliance but 35mph resulted in the freeflowing speed snapping back to 50mph.

    2: Contrary to popular belief, narrowing the lanes didn’t slow traffic down and in most cases sped it up. It was subsequently realised that ANYTHING which produced a perceived “clear line of travel” resulted in drivers getting “tunnel vision” and completely missing roadside hazards.

    3: The _only_ way to get drivers to slow down and stay slowed down was to increase the perceived roadside hazard. Even roadside white lines produced a perceived “demarcation point” between road and footpath, resulting in drivers speeding up. Centrelines have a similar effect

    If authorities want to get speeds down, then the steps that need to be taken are:

    Removal of pedestrian guide fencing (It’s not there for safety, in fact the stuff is lethal to 2 wheeled traffic or pedestrians(including bystanders when fences become missiles) and is perversely designed to inflict minimum damage on vehicles.

    Removal of roadside parking restrictions – all that yellow paint really does speed up offpeak traffic – dangerously so.

    Hiding green traffic lights. People see them from long distances off and accelerate towards them.

    This might seem counterintuitive: Removing cycle lanes in favour of encouraging cycles to use the full width of the road. The mindset of most drivers is “if there’s a cycle lane then cyclists don’t exist if they’re on them and have no right to be on the rest of the road” The dutch have taken to marking their minor roads with a single vehicle lane in the middle of the road and extremely wide cycle lanes each side to emphasise that cyclists have equal road rights.

    Effectively you need to _undo_ most of the “trafffic management” stuff of the last 70 years – generally aimed at making road travel easier for drivers with no concessions given to other road users or residents – in (sub)urban areas to make the roads seem ‘busier’ and more hazardous, in order to force drivers to spend more time looking around them for that kid stepping onto the road instead of fixating on a point 400 yards away.

    Instead of treating the ABD as a bunch of nutters you’re better off taking what they say onboard and working with it. Attempting to lock down speed limits BY ITSELF will not work as drivers will simply ignore the posted limits if they don’t see them as being sensibly placed. It has to be part and parcel of a set of changes.

    In 20 years this may be all moot anyway. Increased driving automation (robot drivers) is likely to result in a knee point where insurance companies effectively force most human drivers off the road with vastly increased premiums making it uneconomic to manually drive (or in many cases OWN) a car. Contrary to thoughts about eliminating cars entirely, those same robots will make hire car journeys much cheaper – and easy to flag down, resulting in some estimates of private car ownership dropping by 80% (and urban parking problems, etc becoming things of the past).

    Imagine a world where it’s safe for your kids to play on the streets. Now wonder why we allowed that world to slip away.

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