Managing Speed: Towards Safe and Sustainable Road Transport

  • April 24, 2008

Excessive speed has a singularly devastating impact on the health and safety of road users, increasing both the risk of a crash and the severity of crash outcomes. Speed recurrently contributes to crashes when driving speeds are higher than permitted speed limits or higher than circumstances allow (e.g.: rain, fog, high traffic volumes).

The current concern over climate change has also put spotlight on the role of road transport in atmospheric pollution. Road transport’s share of carbon dioxide emissions has been rising unlike that of other sectors. In this light, properly enforced national speed limits would be an extremely efficient carbon-abatement policy.

Reducing speed on European roads can therefore help achieve simultaneously two key EU targets: halving road deaths by 2010 and reducing green house gas emissions by 2020. However, enforcement is difficult as speeding remains the most widespread offence. The OECD estimates that at any one moment 50% of drivers are exceeding legal speed limits. Unlike other safety violations, such as drink driving or non-use of seat belt, enforcing speed compliance requires the majority of drivers to change their behaviour.

A ‘policy mix’ of measures is therefore necessary to tackle the problem of speeding effectively. Thankfully Speed management can be achieved by taking action in all of the road safety pillars (vehicle, driver, and infrastructure), allowing for an effective ‘policy mix’. In fact speed management is probably the only road safety area of work that offers such scope. This is an obvious asset but it can also be a handicap: adopting measures in isolation will not suffi ce to signifi cantly reduce excessive speed.