Correspondence with Mary Williams of Brake
Will she answer my questions?


Road Safety charity Brake appears to advocate improved road safety through reductions in vehicle speeds and increases in enforcement.

I heard Mary Williams on the radio talking about speed related accidents and I decided I had to write to her with some questions. The following Safe Speed pages are relevant: (Big Lies), (Kill your Speed), (Proof), (That Ad)

new No reply from Mary Williams, but we've written again. See below.

23rd September 2003
Mary Williams
PO Box 548

Dear Mary,

I heard you today speaking on BBC Radio 4: “You and Yours” today. You raised a couple of issues with regard to speed and road accidents in the UK, which I would like to explore a bit further.

You said (exact quotes): “The biggest contributory factor in crashes is undoubtedly speed” and “one in three crashes have speed as a contributory factor”. 

Question 1. I would like to know exactly what evidence you rely on to support those claims.
You also talked about the proportion of pedestrian fatalities at various impact speeds (quoting Ashton and Mackay, 1979) and said: “At 40mph, 90% will die; At 30mph, 50% will die; At 20mph, 10% will die.

I agree the figures are true, but they do not reflect a relationship between free travelling vehicle speeds and pedestrian death. For example, in 2001, 107 child pedestrians in accidents with vehicles died, and 15,704 were injured. The proportion that died was 0.677%.

Question 2. What does that tell you about the average speed of a child pedestrian impact?
We also know that in 2001 65% of cars at sample sites were exceeding 30mph in town. So,
Question 3. What behaviours or factors saved the lives of more than half of the 15,704 children injured in accidents involving “speeding drivers” 2001?
I absolutely applaud Brake for trying to do something about road safety in the UK. Our roads can be made safer and should be made safer. But I believe that the “kill your speed” approach to road safety is overly simplistic and fatally flawed. We need an approach based on driver responsibility, courtesy, consideration and safety culture – the very factors that gave us the safest roads in the World at least a decade before speed cameras.

Yours sincerely

Paul Smith


We had no reply to the letter above. Mary Williams was on "Eye on Wales" BBC Radio Wales on the 27th October 2003. Her words seemed a little different, and she didn't claim that one third of accidents were due to "speed". Are we getting through to you Mary?

You can hear the sound bite (here) (MP3 format, 273KB, 34 seconds)

So we wrote again:


30th October 2003
Mary Williams
PO Box 548

Dear Mary,

I wrote to you on 23rd September but have had no reply.

I heard you recently speaking on BBC Radio Wales: “Eye on Wales”.

You persist in intimating that speed cameras will save lives. You said (exact quotes): 

“There is absolutely no doubt in the mind of any road safety professional that speed is the biggest killer. All the research and statistics show that one in three of our fatalities has speed as a major contributory factor…”
I am delighted to note that you seem to have stopped claiming that speed causes one third of accidents. But there are serious problems with those new words too.

Firstly, I know plenty of “road safety professionals” who know full well that carelessness and inattention are the “biggest killers”. Indeed, I am one myself.

Secondly, accident data from many Police forces proves you wrong. For example I have the following data at my fingertips: 

Grampian Police, 2002, Fatal accidents with excessive speed as a contributory factor: 20%

West Midlands Police, 1999, Fatal accidents with excessive speed as a contributory factor: 9.3%

West Midlands Police, 2000, Fatal accidents with excessive speed as a contributory factor: 15.79%

(And those were literally the first three I found, not some bizarre cherry picking exercise, nor the leftovers of an earlier cherry picking exercise.)

Excessive speed is more likely to be recorded as a factor in a fatal accident than in a lesser accident. So the first place to look for a speed camera benefit would be in fatalities. If speed cameras worked to reduce excessive speed accidents we would expect to see reductions in fatalities.
But we're not getting the reduction are we? In fact British roads fatalities dropped more in a single year from 1992 to 1993 than in the 9 years since. We've lost the long established drop in fatalities. I am absolutely certain that I know exactly why.

I know you care about road safety and road accident victims. But you are backing a flawed policy that is making our roads more dangerous. I know that there's an establishment view that says speed control is the answer to road safety. But the establishment view is quite quite wrong. You may well wonder how the establishment could possibly be so very wrong. (I frequently do) But look back just 10 or 11 years. The establishment view was quite different. I simply agree with the views of that former establishment. The principles deployed to improve road safety in the UK 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago gave us (more or less) the safest roads in the World. With the “new establishment” we are fast losing our World lead.

I would be pleased to explain in more detail. I shall be in London (travelling down from North Scotland) within the next fortnight. Can we please meet? I really must explain my most careful analysis to you.

Yours sincerely

Paul Smith

space for reply

Calling for real road safety, based on truth

We have a strict editorial policy regarding factual content. If any fact anywhere on this web site can be shown to be incorrect we promise to remove it or correct it as soon as possible.
Copyright © SafeSpeed 2003
Created 24/09/2003. Last update 30/10/2003