The Safe Speed Road Safety Manifesto

Version 0.91 - preliminary

Returning to intelligent road safety -

The competent and careful actions of a majority of responsible people should obviously be considered legal.


Many things about road safety in Britain are already "right". We are excellent at roads engineering, and vehicle safety improvements are driven by market forces and are also excellent. Most of our legislation is excellent.

But changes in the last decade or so have had a strong negative effect. We set out in this manifesto a list of fundamental recommendations focussed on what is wrong and how it must be changed.

Subjects areas that are NOT mentioned further in this manifesto, such as the basic driving test and drink drive legislation are adequate for the time being should be allowed to continue as they are.

We believe that the significant majority of drivers will perform better (in terms of crash avoidance) with positive messages and appropriate encouragement, while ever greater regulation is engendering poorer driving.

We believe that our road safety culture sets average driver quality and that average driver quality is highly significant in setting accident rates.

Primary overarching objectives
  • To recognise, develop and enhance the contribution of "road user care" to road safety.
  • To ensure that monitoring and reporting of road safety matters are truthful, accurate and never misleading nor oversimplified.
  • To identify, develop and encourage "policy" based road safety improvements.
  • To remove other interests from road safety objectives.
  • To ensure that the law is applied to traffic offences fairly, effectively and in line with both real and potential dangers.
Measure and develop our national road safety culture

Britain has one of the World's best road safety records for death and injury. This is so principally because, until recently, we have lived and breathed the best road safety culture in the World. This culture can be represented by the following parameters:

  • Average road user attitudes
  • Average road user skills
  • Average road user knowledge
  • A set of core values
Our road safety culture has developed without management under a series of disparate influences, but now we have the opportunity to define it, measure it and nurture it. It is certain that we can improve road safety by improving the road safety culture.

We will define it by reference to the skills and attitudes that are proved effective by those drivers who are most effective at avoiding accidents.

We will measure it by sampling - we will regularly test samples of perhaps 2,000 road users, identify weaknesses in the average responses and implement programs (including messages to road users) that are designed to improve low scoring parameters.

We will sample it regularly and chart progress.

We recognise that the majority of road dangers are managed and mitigated by drivers. The road safety culture development programme will concentrate primarily on drivers. However, road engineering, vehicle engineering and other road users all have a part to play.

Road user education for all

Road user education should be added to the National Curriculum. It should be taught in schools from age 5 upwards. Children and young people between the ages of 10 and 17 especially need to have a better understanding of road risks and responsibilities. The number of hours of education required to communicate necessary levels of care and understanding will not significantly impact on other schoolwork.

Critical road safety information should be regularly aired on TV at peak viewing times. It should not be possible to watch TV for an evening without seeing an interesting and useful 30 second road safety commercial. The content of the commercials should be closely aligned with real crash causation factors and also closely aligned with identifiable weaknesses in our national road safety culture.

Re-establish and maintain a centre of driving excellence

The key influence that gave us our superior culture was the Police driver training programme based at Hendon. Hendon driver training was the envy of the World, and Hendon was in fact the only centre of driving excellence for decades on end. It should be no surprise that the only country in the World with a centre of driving excellence also earned the safest roads in the World. Hendon driver training was a key cultural influence that formed the very foundations of our road safety achievement.

But over the last decade the Police driver training programme and associated skills pool have both seriously declined.

We will fully restore Hendon driver training to even higher standards than we had in the past. Now that we understand how very important it was, there will be no difficulty in justifying the resources required.

Higher level driver training

We will make voluntary advanced driver training interesting, useful and desirable. 

Done "properly" there are great safety benefits from advanced driver training. There is a false perception that "training" confers skills and that those skills are used but risk values are preserved or worsened due to increased confidence. But it is certain that the right sort of training reduces accident risk. The right sort of training concentrates on such features as:

  • observation
  • hazard perception
  • anticipation
  • attitudes
  • margins for error
  • defensive strategies
  • best practice
  • knowledge and understanding of risks
These features are central to the principles of "road craft". Vehicle handling skills are useful, but are only beneficial to safety when combined with items in the list above. In order to create a useful programme of higher level driver training we need the following developments:

Create national driver quality standards

There is no national benchmark of driver quality beyond the basic driving test. This is disgraceful and is a real barrier to improvement and especially a barrier to evaluation of benefits. We will define levels of higher level driver training with a scoring system capable of evaluating overall road craft on a scale of 0 to 100. It is envisaged that a driving test pass would be equivalent to a mark of about 20. When someone chooses to take further training, marks will be awarded during the training and during an extended test. Once the test is completed their aggregate score will be marked on their driving licence. This score will remain on the licence until further training and a further test is taken.

Create a graduated driving licence

There are three very important reasons to create a graduated driving licence:

  • We must send the message to ordinary drivers that they could and should learn much more. The current "full" licence tends to underpin the common false perception that they know "all they need to know". If their driving licence says they do not know it all, then they will not be left in much doubt.
  • The existence of the graduated licence in itself will encourage higher level driver training. This is a "social status" thing. People are already very keen to claim that they are better drivers. We will give them the chance to do the training and prove their claim.
  • We will be able to evaluate the accident performance of drivers according to the grade they have attained. This will enable large scale evaluation of the higher level driver training program and also will enable insurance companies to offer discounts to better trained drivers.

Develop incentives for higher level driver training

In order to encourage people into the higher level training programme we will develop a comprehensive package of incentives. We do not yet know the full package of incentives, but the following ideas are worthy of evaluation. 

  • A higher speed limit on Motorways and possibly on National Speed Limit (NSL) roads. This is a high value benefit for many high mileage "at work" drivers. These are exactly the people we most need to encourage into the higher level training programme.
  • Reduction in insurance premiums
  • The right to drive the most powerful vehicles (obviously this would mean restricting access to high performance vehicles for "standard" drivers).
  • Deliberate advertising schemes that add social value to holding a higher level licence.
  • Integration with the system of penalty points. For example we could offer selected drivers the opportunity to undertake higher level training instead of having points added to their licences for minor offences.
  • Once it can be demonstrated that better trained drivers have fewer crashes, the scheme can be publicised as socially responsible. ("Look after your family - take higher level driver training and reduce your crash risk. It's the responsible thing to do")

Sanctions against higher level drivers

It will be possible for a court to remove higher training scores from an individual's driving licence if they are convicted of a motoring offence. This provides an additional incentive for higher level drivers to use their skills wisely and responsibly. It also sends the message that higher scores have a recognised value.

Ensure that road safety messages are highly accurate and never misleading

The strongest messages of all come from policy. Actions speak louder than words. We observe policy and generally believe the implied messages. So for example the rise of speed cameras has tended to give the message that: "sticking to the speed limit is a driver's most important duty to road safety". This message is entirely false and misleading.

Since a misleading message will cause road users to allocate scarce resources to the wrong "safety" factor it is absolutely essential that messages from policy, expressed or implied, are very closely related to real road dangers. Road safety messages contribute strongly to our vital road safety culture. False or misleading messages damage the culture and undoubtedly increase road dangers.

Road safety initiatives and policies must be monitored and evaluated honestly, impartially and accurately. The results of such evaluations must be published widely and must be available and understandable to the public.

Ensure that the law is accurately targeted against unsafe behaviours

The way the law is applied contributes strongly to our vital road safety culture. It is therefore essential that the application of law sends the right messages about safety priorities. We must classify violations according to whether or not they are deliberate, and whether or not that are safety violations as follows:

Safety Violation? Deliberate? Licence points? Response
Yes Yes Yes Punishment
Yes No Possibly Remedial training
No - technical only Yes No Fine or ignore
No - technical only No No Possible remedial training, fine or ignore

We must also recognise the possibility that the violation represents an error that may be repeated with more serious consequences on later occasions. In other words the violation may in itself be a warning of a future safety problem. In such cases the violation is a golden opportunity to trigger remedial training. It is to be expected that the remedial training will significantly reduce the likelihood of the violation recurring.

We classify driving without motor insurance as a safety violation. This is logical in as much as motor insurance provides a financial safety net providing care for people who have been accident involved.

Exceeding the speed limit is most commonly a purely technical offence with no safety violation. Since speed cameras cannot distinguish between safe and dangerous cases, it is not acceptable to issue licence points from speeding offences detected by camera.

Speed Cameras

Over the last ten years or so our national road safety policy has been dominated by speed cameras. Overall results have been terrible and Safe Speed's investigations strongly suggest that the side effects of speed cameras are directly responsible for the bad performance. All speed camera operations must cease for the following main reasons:

  • Speed cameras imply a false safety message and so undermine the road safety culture
  • Speed cameras cause dangerous distractions to drivers
  • Speed cameras damage faith in national road safety policies
  • Speed cameras largely penalize safe and responsible behaviours
  • Public confidence in speed cameras has sunk too low for recovery
  • The Police / public relationship is being damaged progressively and ever more seriously
  • Vehicle activated signs are more effective than speed cameras at reducing vehicle speeds in areas of special danger
  • Speed cameras have failed in their stated objective of altering speeding behaviour
Speed limits

Speed limit setting

Except in very specific circumstances such as deceptive hazards, speed limits must be set to follow firm clear national standards, and must be set in accordance with "85th percentile" principles. Speed limits must never be set for ideological reasons.

20mph speed limits should be used with extreme caution, in special places and only for very short stretches of road. It simply takes too much driver attention to maintain 20mph. Also, in order not to introduce unnecessary bottlenecks in traffic, which exacerbate both vehicle and pedestrian safety, such speed limits should be applied only when needed, e.g., during school ingress and egress.

Badly set speed limits undermine faith in all speed limits and must be avoided.

Responsibility for speed limit setting must rest with skilled traffic engineers who must work closely with the Police.

Speed limit purpose

Speed limits serve three substantial and worthy road safety purposes. No more and no less. They do not safely or satisfactorily perform any other function. They do not specify a "safe speed". They do not set a safety limit.

  • They firmly guide inexperienced road users away from exceeding safe speeds by wild amounts.
  • They provide an easy-to-use method for the Police to prosecute those using speed carelessly or dangerously.
  • They provide a useful warning to experienced drivers about expected hazard density.
In the last decade speed limits have been applied for other reasons. Such practices must not continue.

Speed limits are arbitrary by nature and every day millions of responsible drivers violate the speed limit laws. It is a mistake to think that such behaviour is dangerous or antisocial.

Speed limits and overtaking

It is dangerous to impose speed limits rigidly for overtaking traffic. It is normally safer to exceed the speed limit briefly than to observe it. This did not used to be a problem when speed limits were enforced by intelligent human beings. In the camera era it has become a serious issue.


Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) are subject to a national speed limit of 40mph on single carriageway roads. On many trunk routes this is an inappropriately low speed, especially since other traffic flows safely at 60mph or so. Our truck drivers and the Police have correctly and routinely ignored this particular speed limit on many trunk routes for many years. Recently there has been draconian and wholly unnecessary enforcement by camera partnerships. Truck drivers need their driving licences to earn a living and respond readily to this new enforcement. 

But on many trunk routes HGVs at 40mph represent a rolling roadblock, a source of frustration and a hazard to safety. Other drivers - expecting to be able to travel at 60mph on the same road become frustrated and sometimes this frustration manifests itself as dangerous overtaking.

We must stop unnecessary enforcement of HGV40 immediately, and in the longer term we must review this national speed limit. One problem is that 40mph may frequently be a perfectly appropriate speed limit for HGVs on minor roads. The main conflict is on trunk routes. It will be difficult to justify the obvious complexities of having differing national speed limits on trunk routes and minor routes. Of course there will also be many thousands of miles of road that fall between the definitions of trunk routes and minor roads, adding to the difficulty.

Restore the levels and effectiveness of traffic police

In the last decade traffic police have declined in three important ways. Firstly their absolute numbers have reduced. Secondly the availability has reduced due to a considerable increase in administration load. Thirdly training and experience levels have reduced. All these parameters need to be restored urgently to 1980s levels, or better.

Our Traffic Police have been fundamental to British road safety. Their contribution has gone far beyond their obvious duties enforcing road traffic law. Highly valuable contributions have included:

  • Developing safe driving practices
  • Recognising road users who cause danger
  • Delivering critical safety messages at the road side, closely associated with driver errors
  • Recognising criminals on the road
  • Creating deterrence through visible presence
Road Safety cannot do without these benefits, and the Traffic Police must be fully restored.
Police speed enforcement

The idea that the danger of a certain speed can be implied from the degree of excess over the limit is entirely false. However, after a decade of "speed kills" propaganda most people believe it. The courts believe it, the DfT believes it, and most Police officers appear to believe it. Unfortunately believing things that aren't actually true is dangerous to road safety. It will take time for the truth to spread. 

In the early stages of reform, the Police will require very specific training and instructions to make improved value judgements about the safety of drivers' speed and the need for prosecution. These instructions will be to apply to speed limit laws to observably unsafe or risky cases of speeding. This is not as radical as it may sound, and actually represents best practice as it was just 15 years ago.

This behaviour of the Police will deliver and reinforce the message that drivers are required to use speed safely at all times, and that sticking to the speed limit is only a small part of this far larger and more fundamental responsibility.

Ensure that expert road drivers are always involved in setting road safety policy and research objectives

There is something about the nature of the task of driving that causes many people to believe that they know enough about the subject. This applies to politicians and researchers as well as a great majority of drivers. Even the non driving public tends to confidently make pronouncements about road safety despite wholly inadequate knowledge of the subject.

It is absolutely vital that road driving experts are involved at every stage of every road safety process, from legislation to research and all the way down to local engineering treatments of trouble spots. These experts are the practical people who have a genuine deep understanding of the human aspects of the errors that lead to accidents.

Ensure that side effects of proposed new policies are considered most carefully

The road safety disaster that we have experienced in the speed camera era has largely been a consequence of failure to consider the side effects of policy on driver behaviour and driver priorities. This is a mistake that must never be repeated. We must always evaluate side effects in as much detail as possible - before new policies are implemented. Furthermore, continual evaluation of new concepts should be made and if they are proving paradoxical to safety, we should be strong enough to reconsider them.

Ensure that transport ideology objectives do not damage road safety

We frequently see schemes that are transport ideology or social engineering masquerading as road safety. Such schemes risk sending false road safety messages and risk undermining our vital road safety culture. It is dangerous to create false road safety messages, and it is illegitimate to endorse driving licences because a ideological or social objective has been violated. Examples include:

  • Speed limit applied to reduce pollution (licence endorsement questionable, misleading safety message undermines other speed limits)
  • Roads narrowed in a misguided attempt to slow traffic - sometimes by the provision of unused cycle lanes
  • Excess and indiscriminate placement of speed humps
Incident alignment

Road safety system failures are usually the result of an individual's mistake. Most of these mistakes do not end in a collision - let alone an injury. Instead they end in incidents or near misses. In fact for {some definition of near miss} it is certain that near misses outnumber crashes by 10:1. In most cases the error that leads to the incident is indistinguishable from the errors that lead to the highest severity accidents. This leads us to several very important proposals:


Many road safety objectives should be measured in terms of incidents wherever possible. This will help us to avoid the sorts of mistakes that have lead to bad policy and bad trends in the last decade.

Learn from your mistakes

The most important single message we can give to road users is probably "learn from your mistakes". Mistakes and incidents are far more common than accidents and each one is a learning opportunity. The chances are that the vast majority of crashes have been "foretold" in numerous incidents affecting the same individuals. 

Incident help line

In order to derive maximum benefit from involvement in incidents, road users should have the opportunity to talk their incident over with an expert. We will set up a telephone "incident help line" staffed by driving experts to listen to drivers' experiences and to explain how to avoid such incidents in the future.

Retraining for careless drivers

The standard "disposal" for a careless driving offence should be a conditional offer of compulsory assessment. The Police issue a notice - much like a "conditional offer of fixed penalty" notice. The recipient of the notice has two choices. He can either attend a driving assessment at his own expense or reject the offer and opt for a court case.

The following applies:

1) Reject the offer of assessment and choose a court case. 

2) Take the assessment at their own expense within 28 days. (Obviously we would have to ensure that examiners were available on that sort of notice.) The examiner then determines either: 

2a) Safe to drive. Assessment passed. Return to driving normally. OR 

2b) Unsafe to drive. Assessment failed. Driving licence returned to learner status. Further training and driving tests possible. OR 

2c) Marginal. The examiner recommends a course of remedial training. On occasions this course may be compulsory, or if refused, would return us to the court procedure.

3) Ignore notice. After 28 days the conditional offer lapses and a court case follows.
This scheme of "send for assessment" is especially useful for ageing drivers whose faculties are in decline.
Remedial driver training

In general, when a driver makes a mistake we should see this as a golden opportunity to learn and prevent the mistake being repeated. Accidents and incidents are usually the result of a faulty practice or habit and as such are very amenable to training.

Remedial training can be triggered by Police, but can also be voluntary. We would like to see wide ranging TV advertising designed to assist drivers in recognising their own errors. The clear message would be that readily available training would enable whole classes of common mistakes to be avoided in future.

Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA)

There are proposals for various forms of external vehicle speed control. Huge claims are made for the potential benefits. There are two main factors to consider when examining ISA systems. 

  • Will driversí crash avoidance skills be compromised by the system? And if so does this effect outweigh the benefit of lower energy crashes?
  • What would be the long term cultural effect on the whole road safety system?

We believe that road safety entirely depends on individual driver responsibility and involvement in the task of driving. Since ISA limits both of these we are quite certain that any ISA system will make the roads far more dangerous.

The effect on the road safety culture would also be marked and very negative. On average people would be less interested in the task of driving.

In any event, the benefits claimed are really rather small, ranging from saving about 10% to 35% of accidents. We find those expectations highly optimistic (if not absurd). However, cultural differences between different European countries result in an accident rate range of at least 8:1. This sends the clear message that we have the opportunity to make our roads 8 times safer still with an improved safety culture.

Investigate and evaluate the following ideas:

Consider raising the motorway speed limit

We should immediately designate a "special" 50 mile section of typical motorway on a long route as having an 80mph speed limit. We should monitor the safety performance of this section closely and once overall results are clear we should extend or scrap the scheme. The middle one third of the M4 between London and Bristol may be suitable. If the 80mph speed limit results in a reduction of casualties we should repeat the experiment with a 90mph section. It is most important that we apply the experiment to the middle section of a long route so that we have "control data" available. 

Consider scrapping VED

With the growth and arrival of electronic databases for MoT and insurance, the main need for VED will no longer exist. VED is graduated to reflect carbon emissions, but this idea is simply absurd. Fuel duty is already a perfect carbon tax - virtually every molecule of carbon in fuel purchased ends up as atmospheric carbon dioxide. With VED, a high consumption vehicle doing a low annual mileage pays more than a low consumption vehicle doing high annual mileage and generating far more carbon. We can find no benefit in maintaining a system of VED. There is a high cost of collection and a high cost enforcement resources, yet no benefit is delivered. 

Consider charging a premium on fuel tax to fund third party motor insurance

Official figures appear to indicate that we have one million uninsured drivers. This is a huge problem and a large consumer of Police time. We should consider charging a premium on fuel to cover state funded third party insurance on all vehicles. There would be no costs of collection since we would be adjusting fuel duty. There would cease to be an offence of driving without insurance and all drivers would automatically have third party insurance cover. The Police would not have to attempt to identify or prosecute uninsured drivers because everyone would be automatically insured. This would free up Police time. There might be a tendency for young men to acquire much more powerful cars leading to an increase in road dangers. This requires evaluation. However,  trying to price young men out of fast cars with high insurance premiums is a very vague method and only effective against those that cannot afford the insurance premium. Also, for the one million uninsured it has no effect. 

Consider power to weight ratio limits for new drivers and drivers who have not taken higher level driver training.

We don't know how many accidents are caused by misuse of high performance vehicles. If we did know then we could evaluate direct safety benefits that may result from restricting their use. Another factor is that it may be useful to use restricted access to high performance vehicles in order to provide an incentive to take higher level driver training. However, we should also be aware of the difficulties facing families who share vehicles - in some cases drivers may be excluded from access to the only available vehicle.

Higher criminal penalties may have no effect on accident rates

There are presently many discussions about increasing criminal penalties for drivers who cause death or injury. Safe Speed warns that increased penalties are unlikely to alter accident rates because virtually nobody intends to crash or expects to crash. Sensible evaluation is required.

Key information

Most of the process of learning to drive takes place after the driving test has been passed. Experience is critically important. We are starting to believe that the process of gaining experience - which is really learning from your mistakes - might be considerably accelerated if mistakes were more readily recognised within a framework of "key facts". We suspect that 8 or 10 key facts will describe the underlying causes of more than 99% of crashes. We might move toward "ten commandments of safe driving" that every learner will be required to learn. 


Many thanks to Roger for invaluable assistance with editing and proof reading.


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Copyright © SafeSpeed 2004
Created 15/11/2004. Last update 15/11/2004