The Manx Nationalist Party - Advocating Republican Independence since 1963

The following submission was made to the Isle of Man Department of Transport in response to views sought on the matter of a national speed limit..

It would seem that the majority of fatal and serious accidents are the result of the driver's own misadventure. It would also seem that the problem area here is quite definitely accentuated amongst the age group 17 - 27 yrs. Sex of the casualties is not available. The "spike" in driver casualties in this age group is reflected quite closely in passenger injuries. Pedestrian injuries, however, are concentrated in the under 10s.

The statistics reveal that the major single cause of fatalities is exessive speed HAVING REGARD TO CONDITIONS (our capitals).  The major cause of accidents is, however, misjudgement of clearance, distance or speed. The major cause of accidents is NOT excessive speed in itself  (where loss of control or inability to deal with developing situations results naturally).

The statistics do not reveal a significant problem with driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

There is no trend in fatalities over the past 10 years and serious injuries show an indistinct pattern. Slight injury and damage only accidents both show an upward trend.

There are now far more vehicles and far more vehicle miles travelled in the Island than previously. It is possible to argue that the Island's roads are now statistically safer than they were 10 years ago without special measures. That is not to dismiss the impact of death and serious injury on individuals and Manx society as a whole, but to put the use of statistics into perspective: A complete picture is not available to us.

You will be aware that Mec Vannin is not enamoured of continual comparisons with the UK. A comparison of worldwide road traffic fatalities has, however, revealed the UK and Sweden to have the lowest per capita death rate from road traffic accidents with approximately 6 : 100,000. Both countries have seen a reduction to this level from around 10 : 100,000. The nature of the figures (borne out by the figures for other countries) seems to indicate that this figure represents a "base line". The reasons for the decline in fatalities per capita in these countries is not available at this short notice but the UK, certainly, can rely on the extensive and statistically very safe motorway network to assist with a low figure. The UK's fatality rate comes more from the slower A road network. This demonstrates that it is the nature of the roads and traffic that lies behind accidents rather than the speed absolute.

The fatality rate for the Island remains at that which the UK  had 10 years ago despite a huge increase in the number of vehicles on the road and without the mitigation of the motorway network.

Our statistics indistinctly also include the TT and MGP periods when, unfortunately, road deaths seem to invariably occur. These are two special sets of circumstances that need to be policed in an exceptional manner. Consequently, they have a distorting effect on the "background" serious / fatal accident figures and should really be shown separately.

Interestingly, the USA has a far higher fatality rate than many other countries (including the UK) in its built up areas despite frequently having stricter limits and enforcement.

The argument for a blanket limit seems to be founded upon the assumption that the majority of serious and fatal accidents take place above an arbitrary speed. Proper evidence in support of this has not been offered other than an inference from the fatality statistics which tend to occur more in unrestricted areas. The majority of accidents occur in restricted areas.

It would seem that the major problems in road safety lie in inexperienced young drivers with access to fast vehicles, inattentive, distracted or inexperienced drivers in slow, congested traffic, minors travelling as passengers in vehicles involved in accidents and children under ten being injured as pedestrians. The Party believes that these must be the issues to be addressed rather than simplistic and likely ineffective speed limits.

Whilst discussing these issues, other road safety issues were discussed and some suggestions for consideration put forward. These will be dealt with later.

Arguments in support of a blanket limit include:

1. A reduction in speed automatically reduces the risk of accident.

This argument is flawed in that the statistics show the greatest number of accidents to occur in restricted areas. Although a greater potential for fatalities / serious accident exists when high speed is involved, the statistics do not reveal whether such fatalities as we have are the result of speeds in excess of 70 mph (the suggested Mountain Road figure).

2. Fuel economy and its associated benefits can be derived from a reduction in overall speed.

The natural traffic speed, even in unrestricted areas seems to be 60 - 70 mph. It would be difficult to envisage any meaningful benefit in a statutory limit especially when set against the effort in enforcing it. Furthermore, once speed drops below 60 mph, the fuel efficiency of many modern cars suffers as lower gears have to be used.

Arguments against a limit include:

1. What justification is there for preventing a road user travelling at any desired speed when safe to do so?

It is implicit here that the driver / rider has sufficient experience to assess this speed correctly. The accident statistics tend to indicate that mature drivers do.

2. Enforcement is near impossible.

It has been suggested that extensive use of remote detection and zero tolerance policies will achieve this. Given the statistics, the justification in terms of capital expenditure and police manpower is very questionable.

3. There is a potentially adverse social impact from over restriction.

Whereas reckless endangerment of other road users cannot be justified, various studies from various perspectives have identified the positive benefits of allowing people freedom and the negative results of making people feel watched or oppressed.

4. A limit, even if fully enforced, will not achieve its objective.

The statistics show that the real problem of road safety lies within already restricted areas and the more immotive matter of fatalities has not been sufficiently identified with speeds in excess of the proposed limit.

5. A rigidly enforced limit will increase congestion.

Casual observation has revealed that a vehicle moving at even slightly less than normal traffic speed quickly builds up a tail-back. This increases the risk of accidents resulting from traffic congestion. There is also a negative impact on fuel economy.

6. There will be a negative impact on the TT and MGP.

These events are already subject to special policing measures and this would have to continue to be the case. The true impact of an enforced blanket limit is highly speculative but it would certainly reduce the attraction for an element of followers.

In conclusion, the Party feels that a national speed limit will not achieve the stated objective and could have several negative impacts. As a result, the Party opposes the move.

The following suggestions have been put forward as a part of a strategy to make our roads safer:

1. Some sort of restriction upon the performance of vehicles available to younger drivers. The R plate restriction is of questionable worth and only applies for a year after qualification. Most young drivers find themselves find themselves driving without restriction whilst still in their teens and still in the statistically highest risk group.

2. Off-road training as a pre-requisite to gaining a provisional licence. At this time, learner drivers have to cope with learning both vehicle control and traffic negotiation at the same time. The theory test does little, if anything, to prepare learner drivers for the road. Driving training and testing is geared exclusively to highway code and simple vehicle management rather than good vehicle control.

3. Traffic flow should be improved to reduce potentially poor driving that can arise from frustration. This may include necessitating slower moving traffic to make way for normal traffic flow, minimum speed limits on certain stretches of road and better utilisation of existing roads to create safe overtaking lanes.

4. Stiffer penalties for drivers who cause accidents.

5. A possible need to raise the age at which a person can learn to drive.

6. Reduce traffic congestion in built up areas with an intergrated transport strategy (a long standing Mec Vannin policy).

7. The ability of certain drivers to actually be aware of their surroundings and concentrate on the task in hand while driving a mobile disco has been questioned. Apart from the public nuisance value of vehicle drivers who play music that can literally be felt by others, there is no way that these people can claim to have the awareness necessary for safe driving. Several studies have also revealed that the brain synchronises itself to loud, rythmic music. This is not condusive to safe driving. Perhaps a limit on the power output of vehicle entertainment systems should be investigated.

8. Whereas the statistics reveal the major problem in accident statistics to be amongst the younger drivers, the notion of periodic retesting of some form for older drivers should not be dismissed. Again, the driving of those whose faculties are failing could contribute to frustration and poor traffic flow.

9. A concerted effort to instill traffic awareness in the under 10s should be embarked upon, whether through schools or parents. One suggestion was that children have actually lost traffic awareness as they increasingly get taken everywhere in cars.

10. An investigation into why so many young passengers are injured should be undertaken.


8th September 2004

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