London, 5 August 1998.
For immediate release.

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Flawed Variable Limits to be Extended To Birmingham and Manchester

The Highways Agency has squandered their potential on the M25 by using them to threaten rather than to inform drivers

The controversial variable speed limit on the M25 which is saturated with speed cameras set as little as 5mph over the posted limit is set to be extended to Birmingham and Manchester.

The ABD supports the concept of variable speed limits because they can prevent some congestion by slowing traffic in advance and also because they give drivers advanced warning of structions, thus preventing accidents.
However, the control freaks in the Highways Agency have, as usual, taken this excellent concept and turned it into a sickening exercise in threatening and oppressing drivers. In doing so, they have, of course, reduced its effectiveness.

ABD Chairman Brian Gregory said:

"It is almost as if they were looking for an excuse to put speed cameras on clear motorways after politicians had promised that they were not to be used in this way."

This camera obsession has undermined the effectiveness of the variable limit. It is claimed that accidents have fallen by 28% in the M25 experiment, but this is not too impressive considering the cost runs into millions and a reduction in accidents of 56% - twice as great - was achieved by the TRL in Leicestershire by simply painting chevrons on the M1 to encourage drivers to maintain proper following distances.

An ABD member who uses the M25 regularly explains why the original scheme fails to reach its potential:

"Driving through it is an intensely stressful and unpleasant experience. You know the cameras are set just above the indicated limit, so you have to concentrate really hard on your speedometer needle - it is so easy to get caught out. This means you can't really concentrate on what other traffic is up to, so its quite dangerous. Most people brake for the gantries where the cameras are then speed up afterwards, creating exactly the sort of waves the scheme was designed to prevent. It is a real shambles.

I have nearly been involved in two accidents on this section of the M25, both expressly caused by the variable limits and their associated cameras. In one, the limit changed from 60 to 50 just as I approached the gantry - I had to brake hard when another car was closing rapidly on my rear. In the other, a van pulled out on me because I was forced to sit in his blindspot because all four lanes were travelling at the same speed."

Speed cameras, we were told in 1992, were to be sited at proven speed related accident blackspots in mainly urban areas and definitely not on motorways, except in roadworks. But here we have cameras used without any primary safety purpose at all - people are losing their licences and being labelled as dangerous drivers for no other reason than they have failed to comply with the letter of a scheme designed purely to squeeze more traffic onto a motorway because the government are too tight fisted to build proper roads. This is a cynical abuse of the criminal law and should not be tolerated in a parliamentary democracy.

Furthermore, after an outcry from the AA, the cameras were turned off when the reduced limits were not operating. We now understand that they have been switched on again, resulting in speed cameras operating on open motorways - something we were promised would not happen.

This only goes to show how the public has been lied to over the whole speed camera issue by deceitful politicians and civil servants whose intention all along was to blanket the whole country with speed cameras without any safety justification whatever.

Of course, there is a better way forward for the introduction of variable speed limits, one which treats Britains drivers with respect rather than contempt and gives them the necessary information to minimise congestion and avoid accidents without threatening and bullying speed cameras. A civilised society should pay attention to it:

  1. Combine the speed limit signs on the gantry with intelligent signs advising the driver of the purpose of the limit - whether it is there to prevent congestion or warning of stationary traffic ahead, either due to congestion or accident.
  2. If people did not comply with the limit intended to prevent congestion, and the congestion subsequently occurred, a sign could then advise them that they would now be travelling at 40mph instead of standing still if they had obeyed the limit. They would soon get the message.
  3. Because this intelligent system both sets appropriate limits and advises of upcoming hazards, it can also facilitate an increase in limit when the road is clear. If drivers were allowed to speed up to 80 or 90 when the road was clear and told that this was safe because of the variable limit regime, then the scheme would be seen as sensible by all.

This simple three stage plan would guarantee total support from the public for the variable limits without the need for cameras and threats. The limits would work better, and drivers leaving the variable limit would be relaxed rather than angry and stressed, bringing system wide safety benefits.

The only people it would not benefit are the vindictive, petty bureaucrats who want to regiment and control the population to their own ends. Why on earth do we put up with these people?

 

Notes for Editors