Drivers Fact Sheets

Stay Within The Speed Limit

Ten Tips

Drivers who travel at higher speeds have less time to identify and react to what is happening around them. It takes them longer to stop. And if there is a crash, it is more severe, causing greater injury to the occupants and any pedestrian or rider they hit.

Excessive speed contributes to 28% of collisions in which someone is killed, 18% of crashes resulting in a serious injury and 12% of all injury collisions. This means that around 1,000 people are killed each year on Britain’s roads because drivers and riders travel too fast, and over 6,000 are seriously injured.

Approximately two-thirds of all crashes in which people are killed or injured happen on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30 mph.

Drivers are responsible for the speeds at which they choose to drive, but there are some simple and practical things drivers who find it difficult to stay with speed limits can do to help themselves.

1. Check Your Speedometer Regularly, Especially When Leaving High Speed Roads

Modern cars are so powerful and comfortable they give drivers little sensation of their speed, so many drivers find themselves exceeding the speed limit without realising it.

This is particularly true when coming onto a lower speed road after driving on a high speed road for a long period. It can often feel like you are moving at a snail’s pace when you reduce your speed to 40 mph or 30 mph after coming off a motorway or dual carriageway. In reality, 30 mph and 40 mph are still very substantial speeds and a pedestrian hit at those speeds will be seriously injured, and quite likely killed.

It is misleading to rely on a ‘feeling’ of speed. The only way to be sure of your speed, and to check you have reduced to an appropriate speed (even if it ‘feels’ slow) is to check the car’s speedometer regularly. Although you should never rely on ‘feeling’ your speed, you may be able to improve your judgement of it by regularly comparing how fast you think you are driving with what the speedometer says.

2. Know The Limits – Look For Signs, Especially At Junctions

You need to know the speed limit of the roads you are using. Far too many drivers who have been caught speeding, complain that they thought the road had a higher speed limit (40 mph instead of 30 mph).

In many cases, the nature of the road does not indicate the speed limit. In urban areas, for example, dual carriageways can have limits of 30 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph, 60 mph or 70 mph.

Speed limit signs tend to be placed at junctions because this is often the point at which the limit changes. However, junctions are also where you need to absorb a wide range of different information and it is easy to miss a speed limit sign when concentrating on one or more other things (e.g., which way am I going, is that driver going to pull out, etc). So you need to get into the habit of checking for speed limit signs at junctions, and looking for repeater signs after the junction, especially if the nature of the road has changed. If you are not sure, assume the limit is lower until you see a sign.

3. Assume Lamp Posts Mean 30 mph, Until Signs Say Otherwise, But Remember It Could Be 20 mph

When driving on built-up roads, assume the limit is 30 mph until you see a sign saying otherwise. But, remember the limit could be lower – 20 mph.

The law does not allow highway authorities to put repeater speed limit signs on 30 mph roads that have street lights. This is because putting repeater signs on all such roads would require hundreds of thousands of extra signs.Instead the Highway Code advises that street lights usually mean the limit is 30 mph unless there are signs showing otherwise.

4. Remember, Speed Limits Are A Maximum, Not A Target

Speed limits set the maximum speed for that road. However, there are many circumstances when it is not safe to drive at that speed. Examples of situations where drivers should drive at lower speeds than the limits are:

  1. Around schools at opening and closing times
  2. When children are about (especially residential areas, near playgrounds or parks)
  3. On busy, narrow roads
  4. Where parked vehicles reduce the width of the road
  5. On rural roads which are narrow, bendy and hilly and visibility is restricted
  6. In poor weather or reduced visibility
  7. On wet, icy or snowy roads
  8. At roadworks.

5. 20’s Plenty When Kids Are About – And May Even Be Too Fast

Children’s awareness of the dangers of traffic is much lower than that of adults’. Many cannot judge how fast cars are moving nor how far away they are. As we all know, children are more easily distracted and they are likely to do things, such as dash into the road after a ball, that adults would not dream of doing.

As adults who have been trained and licensed to drive cars in an environment that children also use, it is our responsibility to drive in a way that enables us to cope with mistakes and misjudgements made by children.

One of the most effective ways we can ensure that a child who dashes into the road or who makes a mistake while cycling does not pay for that mistake with their life, is to drive slower when children are, or may be, about.

6. Try No Higher Than Third Gear In A 30 mph Limit

It is easier to notice if you are creeping above 30 mph when travelling in thirdgear, and this can act as a warning to reduce your speed.

Drivers should, of course, choose the appropriate gear for their speed and the road, weather and traffic circumstances, and change gear as those circumstances change. The most appropriate gear to use when driving at 30 mph will depend on your engine size, but in many modern cars it is possible to drive at 30 mph in thirdgear without making the engine labour.

If you struggle to keep your car within 30 mph when driving in a 30 mph zone, try driving in thirdgear (or lower when necessary). If you can comfortably travel at 30 mph in thirdgear without feeling that the engine is laboured, adopt ’no higher than thirdin 30 mph as a principle.

Automatic cars normally have several forward gears, so the driver should choose the gear which makes it easiest to keep the vehicle under 30 mph.

7. Recognise What Makes You Speed – Keeping Up With Traffic, Overtaking Or Being Tailgated

We all have our ‘speed triggers’ – things that make us more likely to speed up and perhaps exceed the limit unintentionally. This could be feeling pressurised into keeping up with other drivers, or feeling stressed by a driver too close behind. Being tempted to overtake a vehicle in front may also mean exceeding the limit to complete the manoeuvre.

Distractions, such as listening to loud music, often result in speeding. It could be something a simple as going down hill.

Learning to recognise your own ‘speed triggers’ will make it easier to avoid being ‘pushed’ into speeding. It will also make driving less stressful and more relaxing.

Keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front will also help to reduce your stress levels when driving. Use the 2-Second Rule: leave at least a two second gap between you and the vehicle in front. Double this distance on wet roads and increase it even further on icy roads.  

8. Concentrate – Distracted Drivers Speed

Although it is a familiar everyday task, driving is actually a very complex thing. Trying to do something else (use a mobile phone, light a cigarette, unwrap a sweet) at the same time, is distracting. Listening to music with the volume too high can encourage drivers to speed up. Distracted drivers find it much more difficult to maintain their awareness of what’s happening on the road around them, and are more likely to speed. Using a mobile phone while driving is a classic example of this.

The law requires drivers to be in proper control of their vehicle at all times, and drivers who, for example, smoke or eat while driving could be prosecuted under this law. There is also a specific law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones, or other communication devices, while driving.

9. Slow Down When Entering Villages

Villages are in rural areas and normally surrounded by roads with 60 mph limits. But, of course, in the village itself there are pedestrians, cyclists, junctions, slow-moving vehicles.

The speed limit will normally be reduced as you approach a village. It may be reduced gradually from 60 mph to 50 mph or 40 mph as you approach the village and then go down to 30 as you enter the village, or it may go straight down from 60 mph to 30 mph through a village. Begin to slow down as you see the speed limit sign ahead so that you have already reduced your speed to 30 mph by the time reach the speed limit sign.

It may feel like you are only crawling through the village, especially if you have been driving at 60 mph for while, but at 30 mph you are still covering 44 feet (about three car lengths) every second, and if you hit a pedestrian at that speed, he or she will be severely injured, and possibly killed.Even if it ‘feels’ too slow, do not exceed the limit. Check your speedometer regularly.

10. Give Yourself Time – There’s No Need To Speed And You Won’t Get There Quicker

Exceeding the speed limit makes little difference to your arrival time. The time it takes to complete a journey is determined much more by your average speed during the whole journey, rather than the maximum speed you achieve for part of it. This is especially true in urban areas, where you constantly have to slow down for junctions, traffic lights and other road users.

The faster you drive, the sharper you have to brake. This also uses much more fuel and so makes driving more expensive.

Knowing that you have plenty of time to complete your journey will help you to relax and avoid the temptation to push your speed.


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