Road safety charity Break are calling for a review of speed limits on rural single-carriageway roads as a report is released revealing that drivers don’t feel safe travelling at the default 60mph speed limit.
The report, by Brake, the road safety charity and Direct Line and based on a survey of more than 1,000 drivers, found 6 in 10 would feel unsafe travelling at the default 60mph limit on rural single-carriageway roads compared with 9 in 10 saying they generally aim to drive at around the limit on roads of any kind. Fewer than a quarter (23%) stated that 60mph is a safe speed for a vehicle on a road where there may be people on foot, bicycles and horses.
Safety on rural roads is incredibly important. Nearly half (4 in 10) of all deaths on Britain’s roads occur on rural single-carriageway roads. On average, 17 people are killed or seriously injured on these roads every day.
Most rural roads in the UK have a 60mph speed limit, which is the national default for single carriageway roads. However, these roads are unsuited to high speeds. They are often narrow with blind bends, brows and no pavements or cycle paths, with a lack of alternate direct and segregated routes for people on foot, bicycles or horses. These roads also have other hazards like the presence of animals or items in the road such as a tree branch. Overgrowing hedges and trees can obstruct visibility of the road and signs and can also present an additional danger in the event of a crash.
Even in dry weather, the stopping distance at the default 60mph limit is 73m, which is more than six double-decker bus lengths. This means that a driver travelling at the limit would almost certainly not be able to stop in time, if a cyclist on the road in front was hidden by a blind bend.
The report found that drivers either wanted, or were ambivalent, about a reduction to the default 60mph limit on rural roads, with less than one in five (19%) objecting to a reduction.
Commenting, Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said “Drivers have made their views clear – travelling at 60mph on rural roads doesn’t feel safe to them, and the majority would support or not object to the limit being reduced. The current default limit gives a false impression that 60mph is a safe speed and this is putting everyone who uses our rural roads at risk. With 17 people killed or seriously injured on these roads every day, the Government must review the default speed limit with a view to its reduction.
“Looking ahead to the publication of the Government’s new road safety action plan, we urge a focus on speed reduction, both in our towns and cities but also on the country’s many winding and narrow single-carriageway rural roads that are often overlooked but where so many of our road deaths and serious injuries occur. Simply put, slowing down vehicles save lives.”
Steve Barrett head of Direct Line Car Insurance, said “Speed and rural roads can be a deadly combination. However, a speed limit is not a target that must be attained and people should drive to the conditions of the road. Rural roads have many challenges for all those that use them and speed can exacerbate this, in both stopping distances and reaction times.”
Xavier Brice, CEO for Sustrans, walking and cycling charity, has also welcomed the report saying “This report highlights that we need to continue to make everyone feel and be safe on our roads. Evidence shows lower speed limits save lives and prevent injuries, as well as making our roads more inclusive and pleasant for all, in particular for vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, those who cycle, disabled people, horse riders and children.
“Our review of the National Cycle Network highlights that reducing speed limits in both rural and built-up areas can play a huge role in making walking and cycling more welcoming.”
Commenting, Alan Tapp, Professor of Social Marketing at UWE, said “The findings that drivers tend to drive around the speed limit but few feel safe travelling at 60mph on single carriageway rural roads, is significant. Of course, drivers are not obliged to drive at speed limits, and we should encourage policies promoting more rigorous driver training and more rigorous testing. But there is also a case to review the widespread use of default national speed limits on single carriageway rural roads, particularly country lanes.”
One tragic story of the dangers of rural roads is that of Jason Eaton. He was just 17 when he died in a car crash on a rural road in October 2010. Jason was a front seat passenger in his friend’s car travelling on the B4036, a single-carriageway 60mph rural road, near West Haddon in Northamptonshire. The driver failed to slow down when approaching a bend, lost control and careered off the road. Jason was trapped in the car for more than an hour before being freed and rushed to hospital, but tragically died of his injuries. The crash investigator concluded the cause was driving too fast for the bend and the inexperience of the driver.
Jason’s mother Marina said: “Eight years have passed since Jason lost his life, yet it still feels like it happened yesterday. Jason was a wonderful young man, loved by all his family and friends, and was taken from us far too soon. Speeding on rural roads is so dangerous – we all just need to slow down. I do not want any other family to suffer the life-changing effect Jason’s death has on all of our family every day.”