The annual Safety Culture Report conducted by independent road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, has revealed some positive long-term trends in relation to speeding. Motorists in the UK now consider it less acceptable to speed than they did five years ago.

The findings come after recent provisional figures, released by the Department for Transport, highlighted that the number of UK road deaths was down significantly compared to the previous year due to less traffic being on the roads due to COVID-19.

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The report tracks drivers’ attitudes to key road safety issues over time. It reveals that while there was a significant improvement in attitudes towards speeding, the figures were still worryingly high. It comes after the officialDepartment for Transport statistics show a reduction in annual road deaths across the UK. This welcome reduction probably has more to do with the huge cut in traffic volumes during lockdowns than anything else.

Out of the 2,000 motorists surveyed, 43% (down from 55% in 2016) thought it was acceptable to drive up to 80mph on a motorway and that 23% (down from 28% in 2016) thought it was acceptable to drive even faster than that.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart Director of Policy & Research, said: “While there are signs of improvement, the results of this survey are still deeply concerning and there is clearly much more work to do on education and training.

“Speeding consistently causes more than 4,400 casualties on UK roads each year, which is an average of 12 people a day killed or injured on UK roads.”

Ongoing issue

The vast majority of drivers find it unacceptable to speed in towns. This has remained basically unchanged in the last five years. However, a disconcerting one in five of those surveyed still think it is acceptable to drive five miles-per-hour over the speed limit on a residential street. Nearly one in ten thought it was acceptable to drive at these speeds outside a school.

In recent years the government has mooted the possibility of raising the national speed limit on motorways to 80 mph. However, they have stepped back from the decision after protests from road safety campaigners and organisations. It’s believed that such a move would only encourage drivers to increase their speeds. Attitudes to acceptable speeding on motorways would see 90 mph as the limit. This would be inherently more dangerous. Vehicle emissions would increase and increasingly damage the environment.

At the same time, government seems unwilling to make 20 mph the default legal speed limit in urban areas. This is despite the evidence of the road safety and environmental benefits. Without the legal change, 20 mph limits are difficult to enforce. Many police forces state they will not prosecute offenders in local 20 mph zones.