More than half of drivers and motorcyclists ignore the speed limit in 30mph zones.

Last year’s lockdown brings a noticeable increase in the proportion of motorists breaking the law.

The latest data from the Department for Transport shows that 56% of cars exceeded the 30mph limit in 2020. Furthermore, 58% of vans and 67% of motorcycles also travelled above the limit.

Generally, the DfT’s speed compliance figures vary little from year to year. However, the unique pandemic realities over the last 18 months have obviously had an effect. With less commuter traffic, less congestion and free flowing roads, the latest data shows a two to four per cent increase over 2019.

The DfT is attributing this to the effect of lockdown.

Compliance is less than 50% in 30mph zones and even worse in 20mph areas

Locked down, but uninhibited

The period during the first national lockdown when traffic levels plummeted saw a sharp increase in the proportion of drivers exceeding the limit. This skews the overall 2020 figures.

The DfT figures show that  traffic volumes dropped by as much as 80% following the lockdown announcement in March. The percentage of car drivers breaking the 30mph speed limit jumped from around 50% to more than 70%. As lockdown eased, the percentages dropped back in May and June.

The data shows a similar spike in speeding on national speed limit roads during March and April. However, the proportion of vehicles speeding was less – around 30% for cars.

Overall, in the second quarter of 2020 63% of cars broke the speed limit in 30mph zones. On national speed limit roads, 17% exceeded the limit, compared with 56% and 10% respectively for the same period in 2019.

Quieter roads during lockdown saw a greater proportion of drivers speeding

Smaller spikes were seen later in the year as further lockdowns were instigated in October, November and December.

Speeding on motorways did not spike in the same way, but the majority of drivers still broke the limit. Overall, 53% of cars, 55% of vans and 58% of motorbikes were recorded speeding across 2020.

Shocking need for more resources

The RAC’s road safety spokesman Simon Williams branded the lockdown-related spikes “shocking”. He is urging police to ensure the legacy of lockdown was not an increase in speeding.

“It’s clear that some drivers dangerously took advantage of quieter roads to drive far faster than they would do in normal times. What’s particularly concerning were the levels of non-compliance on 20 and 30mph roads, many of which are in residential areas and close to schools.” He adds that “it would be terrible if the lockdown legacy was an increase in the number of drivers who consistently speed. In short, speed kills and we can only hope that police forces across the country are able to put the resources in place to clamp down on dangerous drivers”.

The DfT data comes from monitoring sites on roads with free-flowing traffic and doesn’t relate to the number of speeding offences recorded by police. The recordings for 20mph zones was even more worrying. However, due to their layout and difficulties in finding “free-flow” 20mph roads, the figures do not fully represent 20mph limits in general. Nonetheless, the figures showed that almost 90% of car drivers ignored the limit in such zones.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said “It is worrying that one in two drivers on motorways and 30mph roads exceeded the speed limit in 2020 when they were given greater opportunity.” He adds that the “increases are not as marked as we might have expected”, and that “getting back on track will require greater investment in roads policing”.