Measures to reduce vehicle speed and road danger during and after Covid-19 lockdown

Difficulties of keeping a two-metre distance on the Walworth Road in South London. 

As streets emptied under lockdown, driving behaviour deteriorated. In one week in April, the Met Police enforced 2,020 speeding offences in London, including 50 in 20mph limits and 85 in 30mph limits. The combination of increasing traffic volumes and higher speeds will create an extremely dangerous environment for vulnerable road users, particularly for pedestrians stepping into the road in order to distance themselves from others. Jeremy Leach at Action Vision Zero presents a series of measures that authorities can implement now and in the longer term to reduce danger. 

Global patterns are now emerging about driving during the Covid-19 lockdown and the link between crashes and speeding vehicles. As volumes of traffic fall, often to a dramatic extent, so do the number of people killed and seriously injured. But an increase in speeding is linked to an increase in the severity of crashes. In addition, the number of crashes with speeding as a cause is slow to fall.

High speeds

In London, provisional data for the period of the first three weeks of the lockdown indicates a 60% fall in serious injury collisions BUT no fall in speeding related fatal and serious casualties. Some roads have seen an average speed of more than 50% above the speed limit.

Greater Manchester Police reported an increase of 57% of vehicles travelling above the speed limit in recent weeks. In the week commencing 20th April, the Met Police enforced 2,020 speeding offences in London of which 50 were in 20mph limits and 85 in 30mph limits, according to Superintendent Andy Cox of the Metropolitan Police. This is an estimated eight-fold increase over 2019 (268 offences enforced). Of these, 65 offences were for speeds of over 100mph. In one day in Lincolnshire, police officers dealt with speeds of 68mph, 70mph and 76mph in Woodhall Spa’s 40mph zone.  

Treacherous mix 

The dangers of speeding are well known. Transport for London estimate that inappropriate speed is a factor in up to 37% of collisions resulting in death or serious injury on London’s streets. If a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle at 20mph, they are about five times less likely to be killed than if they were hit at 30mph. We know that if we reduce speeds to an approximate maximum of 20mph in built-up areas, the number of people killed and seriously injured will be reduced by more than two-fifths (42%). Read our page on Safe Speeds here.

Speeding is a perennial problem, but its impact has been heightened during the Covid-19 crisis given our even greater reliance on safe streets – for local shopping on foot and bike, for daily exercise, and for key workers to have safe alternatives to public transport to get to work. The danger to pedestrians is magnified by their need to step into the road to maintain a safe social distance on pavements, often too narrow for people to both queue and pass each other safely.

Keeping speeds within the posted limits is also vital to minimise the impact on our already over-stretched health and emergency services. 

Measures that can be taken now

  • Speed-activated traffic lights that display red to vehicles travelling over the limit
  • Enhanced enforcement, such as being deployed by the police in LondonManchester and Lincolnshire
  • Politicians highlighting issues of speeding during the lockdown (Home secretary, Priti Patel has slammed ‘extraordinary dangerous driving’ in a UK government press briefing. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham targeted the 40% of drivers taking advantage of quieter roads). 
  • Speed limit messages on LED signs adjacent to the carriageway.
  • Change of the UK urban default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph (detailed in the 20’s Plenty Lower the Baseline campaign).
  • Increase in bus lane working times (24/7 with exceptions for loading only).
  • Shorter wait times for pedestrians at signalised crossings between junctions (mid-link crossings). These could be activated more quickly as speeding vehicles approach.

As we emerge from the lockdown 

Funding is likely to be reduced owing to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the economy, but there are a number of lower-cost interventions that may be possible, as well as more resource-intensive ones such as introducing low-traffic neighbourhoods.

  • Cycle lanes not only add more safe space for cycling, they also narrow carriageway widths to reduce vehicle speeds[1]. Authorities can improve, add, widen and upgrade cycle lanes from advisory to mandatory, using low-cost interventions such as removable tape road markings or wands. More detail from Cycling UK here.
  • Temporary pavement widening on shopping streets, including high streets and local shopping parades. These interventions, which reduce carriageway capacity, both reduce vehicle speeds[2] and provide additional, safe space for people walking and shopping.
  • Temporary removal of lanes in locations where excess capacity encourages high speeds.
  • Closing key shopping streets to through traffic or creating bus and cycle-only corridors. 
  • Low-cost carriageway capacity removal (eg change of tarmac colour).
  • Lowering maximum speeds to 10 or 15mph on high streets, such as the temporary 10mph speed limit for buses on Tottenham Court Road.
  • Mobile vehicle-activated signs (potentially with number plate recognition and identification).
  • Virtual speed humps.
  • “Enhanced” roundels on 20mph routes.
  • Low-cost street filtering (to remove through traffic) and enable safe social distancing.
  • Use of mandatory speed limiters (ISA) on buses along high risk routes in London.
  • Early deployment of the new tranche of speed cameras at appropriate high-risk locations in London.

Longer term

  • Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA). All new buses in London are being fitted with speed limiters as part of the wider TfL bus safety standard. ISA is about to become more widespread as “over-rideable” ISA is planned to be fitted to all new four-wheeled motor vehicles in the EU from 2022. Over time this will have a huge impact on the capacity to exceed the speed limit and with mass adoption and use, ISA is expected to reduce collisions by 30% and deaths by 20%.
  • Engineering-based interventions in locations with high speeds and frequent interactions between vehicles and people walking and cycling should must also be considered where funding allows. For more detail see sections two and three of the TfL Lower Speeds Toolkit (sections 2 and 3). Examples include median strips (to reduce carriageway capacity and provide informal crossing points) and bus-friendly raised tables (see images).

[1] http://content.tfl.gov.uk/achieving-lower-speeds-toolkit.pdf (section 5). Narrowing the carriageway involves lane alterations (lane narrowing or removal) so that space is allotted to different road users and types of activity. This can be done through lining, or can be more formally implemented through infrastructure such as median strips, pavement build-outs and cycle lanes. Reallocation of carriageway space is a good option when looking to change the feel of the road and urban realm surrounding it, and for promoting a place function. It also provides further opportunities for walking and cycling trips while achieving the broader benefits of a lower-speed environment.

[2] SMEED, R. J., Road Design in relation to Traffic Movement and Road Safety (Illus.) 129 (1955)

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