People who know me will know I’m a bit of a petrolhead. I’ve been accused of being a “boy racer“, and in fact, may appear so (in my bog-standard, automatic[ish] diesel hatchback…] given some of the things I’ll say on the subject of speed, speed limits, and speeding.

I’ll come out and say it: everyone speeds sometimes. Anyone that doesn’t is probably dawdling along with a big queue of frustration behind them.

Why? Because some speed limits are set far too low, in the name of safety, when safe does not just mean the number on a stick. Time and time again, the ‘speed kills’ mantra is trotted out, and the words will be uttered ‘but I was only doing 30’ by people who have just had an RTA.

This is too simplistic. Take a look at Derek Bennett’s blog. Can’t say I agree with the chap’s politics, but on the subject of driving he sometimes hits the mark- here, for example, and also here. Speed limits should be appropriate- if you live in a small, residential cul-de-sac, most likely the speed limit is 30mph- the same as is used on many main roads, which is plainly ridiculous, as is 60mph for an unclassified country lane. It just shows that limits are arbitrarily set, rather than thought about.

Now, clearly, hitting something (or worse, someone) at a higher speed is clearly worse: but what happened to not hitting them? What happened to watching the road, judging speed and distance, not texting/phoning/fucking about with the satnav?

Does slowing the traffic improve things, or, as I suspect, produce a more constant stream that increases boredom, and makes frustrated drivers pull out from side roads without enough space or take other risks? The infamous A9 ‘road of death’ in Scotland has frequent signs instructing slower-moving vehicles that ‘Frustration causes accidents, please allow overtaking’- so the recognition there is that slowing traffic too much is not helpful.

I’ve suspected for a while that instead of driver education, and better traffic engineering to passively increase safety, the blunt instrument of ‘slow is safe’ is being applied, and applied regardless of factors like visibility, accident or injury rates, excessive speeding, or any other factor that you might hope would be considered.

As Derek points out, some roads around here had 40mph or even 60mph limits when designed- admittedly, traffic was lighter then, but in those days, most cars had drum brakes & crossply tyres.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try to find the rationale for reducing the limits on some local roads, so I made this FOI request.

They ignored one road (Norton Rd, Pelsall), but I may not have been clear in my wording, so we’ll let that pass.

What is interesting is the accident data shows that there have been a significant number of accidents in the stretch of Sutton Rd near to Walsall, and also on Wolverhampton Rd, but no deaths, and only 1 serious injury. Also, the combined mean speed on these 2 sections with the highest accident rate is 33.7mph and 31.3 mph: this is well within the margin of error of a speedometer, and well below the threshold set by ACPO for prosecution in a 30mph limit (35mph- 10%+2mph). In fact, the section of Sutton Rd with the highest mean speed (still below the old speed limit) is the safest, with only 3 accidents, none of them serious. The most dangerous section of Sutton Rd would seem to be, as Derek suggests, where there’s junctions that people simply don’t use enough care exiting- but where traffic is moving slowly.

So then: what, precisely, is the point of lowering the limit and installing electronic signs?

One method of setting speed limits is the 85th percentile rule. The idea is that you monitor speed, and the speed that 85% of vehicles do not exceed is appropriate. This takes into account that there’s always a small percentage that will be going too fast, but the majority won’t be. I wonder what that figure would be for these roads?

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