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Department for Transport
Come on DfT

Let's have it all out in the open.


 
Introduction

Apparently the DfT have some standard text which includes:

"The Department for Transport is aware of websites which, for whatever reason, seek to disparage governmental policy on speed measurement. There is little that can be done if individuals wish to create websites in order to run spurious stories and campaigns about speed."
Spurious stories indeed!

We've seen a couple of copies of this nonsense in recent DfT emails. So we've emailed them inviting a dialogue. As follows:

new emails added 24th September 2003. 

Subject: Anti Speed enforcement web sites
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2003 15:21:17 +0100
From: Paul Smith <psmith@safespeed.org.uk>
Organization: Safe Speed
To: road.safety@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Sir,

I believe you have issued a statement which includes:

"The Department for Transport is aware of websites which, for whatever reason, seek to disparage governmental policy on speed measurement. There is little that can be done if individuals wish to create websites in order to run spurious stories and campaigns about speed."
I'm responsible for one of those websites. I'm responsible for it because your policies are fatally flawed and I'm passionate about road safety.

Your statement says that there's little that can be done. I disagree.

The Safe Speed web site is operated with a high degree of integrity and if you can find anything that is false or misleading I will remove it.

If you are so very sure of your ground, then open an exchange which I will publish word for word and make your case. I'm sure that tens of thousands of visitors to the site will be interested to read it.

I have offered dialogues on previous occasions but you never reply. Why is that?

Best Regards,
Paul Smith
Safe Speed

Subject: Re: Anti Speed enforcement web sites
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2003 14:43:54 +0100
From: "Ian Edwards" <Ian.Edwards@dft.gsi.gov.uk>
To: <psmith@safespeed.org.uk>

Dear Mr Smith

Thank you for your recent email concerning speed related websites.

Speed management policy has been developed from the understanding of the clear relationship that exists between speed and accidents.  Speed being a major contributory factor in road accidents arises from research that is widely available for public scrutiny.  It is interesting to note that all published research has been generally accepted by independent road safety professionals, academics and other experts with an interest in road safety, not just in Great Britain but around the world.

You may also be interested to know that  the Radio Authority (RA) recently received a complaint from a member of the public regarding the Department's recent speed related radio advertising, alleging that the advert was misleading and alarmist.  I am pleased to say that the RA found in favour of the Department and dismissed the complaint. You will also be aware of a similar complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the statement "Speed Cameras Save Lives" used on a poster by Fife Community Safety Partnership.  The ASA found in favour of Fife Community Safety Partnership and that complaint was also dismissed.  These decisions are a further clear indication that the vast majority of people acknowledge and understand the link between vehicle speeds and road accidents. 

We are not aware of any published research that exists to disprove the link between speed and accidents.  If you know of any published research that indicates otherwise it would be helpful to have a reference to it.  You are of course free to commission your own independent research into the effects of vehicle speed and road accidents if you so wish.  However, for it to be credible the research should be published and open to independent scrutiny. 

As much as the Department encourages constructive dialogue, to continue in this instance would be unproductive given  the lack of publicly available independent research to support your claims and assertions regarding vehicle speeds and accidents.  Unless and until you can provide such material there is little that could be gained from further correspondence between us.

I am sorry I cannot be of any further help.

Ian Edwards

Subject: Re: Anti Speed enforcement web sites
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2003 08:03:50 +0100
From: Paul Smith <psmith@safespeed.org.uk>
Organization: Safe Speed
To: Ian Edwards <Ian.Edwards@dft.gsi.gov.uk>

Hi Ian,

Many thanks for taking the trouble to reply. 

I'm sorry that the Radio Authority and the ASA have been mislead by inadequate statistics.

I find much of the existing research, flawed, inadequate and misleading. It is the DfT's function, and not mine, to properly explore the effects of strategy, policy and legislation. You have not done so. The proof of the serious shortcomings of your research can be illustrated with a list of straightforward questions that present research cannot adequately answer.

For example:

1) What proportion of excessive speed accidents in the UK take place entirely within the speed limit?

2) There is no research into the well known link between speed and driver concentration. When speeds are reduced, concentration is also reduced, but by how much?

3) There is no adequate research into the negative effects of high levels speed enforcement. Real effects include: 

  • "impacts on “drivers’ priorities” where at a critical instant they might be more concerned about compliance with a legal speed limit instead of an unseen dangerous situation developing ahead.
  • "Risk compensation": Where a driver at a lower speed may unknowingly preserve risk values by driving closer or more aggressively.
  • "Attitude effects": Where increasing the restrictions on a driver may make him care less about his driving in general. 
  • "Traffic displacement": where an increase in speed enforcement on one route causes drivers to chose an alternative route which is more dangerous. 
4) What proportion of excessive speed accidents in the UK are caused by "lawless" drivers? (In this term "lawless drivers" I include those that have no need at all to worry about speed enforcement, for example, joyriders in stolen cars, Police drivers on emergency call, reckless drivers who have abandoned all caution, unlicenced drivers and vehicles with no proper registration) Obviously, these lawless drivers won't be affected by speed enforcement.

5) What research exactly supports the claim "one third of accidents have speed as a cause or contributory factor"? I do not expect your reply to include phrases like "we believe", "effectively confirms", "misjudged speed or distance", "much worse at speed" or "in a hurry". A proper answer would be welcome.

If we can get anywhere with these questions, I will have a few more. Please let's try.

Proper research should be preceded by analysis. I am providing the analysis that you could use for the basis of future research. The lack of adequate answers to the basic questions listed above should enable you to see that existing knowledge is insufficient to support present policy.

Please feel free to convince us that the research is adequate. I am still absolutely open to discussing the issues in as much depth as you like with any personnel you nominate. Let's dig right down to the truth.

I do not dispute the "link between speed and accidents". Unsafe speeds undoubtedly lead to accidents. But I question the implied link between enforced speed limit compliance and accidents. I do not believe you have any adequate or worthy research to offer, but I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

Please continue the dialogue.

Best Regards,
Paul Smith
Safe Speed

Space for further replies

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Created 21/09/2003. Last update 24/09/2003
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