Road Traffic Policies
 

Scrap the national differential road pricing idea, and instead focus a "carrot and stick" approach based on fuel consumption.

I'm aware that if you measure roads as an economic "utility" and express the problem as a "demand has outstripped supply, hence congestion", the differential road pricing idea makes sense.  However, this argument is over-simplistic as it does not take into account the fact that car use is escalating primarily because of the inferiority of the alternatives.  In a balanced, integrated transport system, which is what this manifesto is aiming for, the different forms of transport would compete with each other.

In addition, differential road pricing may result in many motorists using minor roads to avoid high charges, it gives the authorities a large amount of power which can be misused (black-box monitoring systems) and will cost a lot to implement and require a lot of bureauocracy.  It also takes emphasis away from penalising consumption/pollution and towards penalising driving regardless of the amount of congestion/pollution caused.

Taxes on fuel are a more effective way of addressing the wider issue as they penalise consumption rather than raw car use, where consumption is the bigger overall threat.  Car use is good in moderation but bad in excess, whereas consumption is always bad.  In addition, if there are concerns over people living in rural areas being disadvantaged by fuel taxes, it may be possible to offer fuel tax discounts to those living in rural areas.

More investment is needed in cleaner fuels and wherever cleaner fuels become available taxes should be raised on pollutive fuels to push motorists into making the switch.  Wherever possible cleaner alternative technologies should be made so that they can be fitted to existing cars.

 

Wherever possible, take measures to improve the efficiency of the existing road network, avoiding unnecessary hold-up of traffic, but only build new roads as a last resort.

I propose the following amendments:

  • Remove, or reduce the extent of, hazards wherever possible.
  • Reduce the extent of potential conflict sources between different transport users, rather than restricting one group to fit the needs of another, wherever possible.
  • Improve traffic light systems to reduce the incidence of lights being on red while nothing is approaching, wherever possible.  This may include improving sensor based traffic lights and implementing combined timed/sensor traffic lights rather than taking the easy "sensor only" option.  This applies to cycle/pedestrian traffic lights as well as motorists’ traffic lights.  Any "that's life" attitudes to people waiting while there's nothing coming need to be eliminated.
  • Bus-only lanes should be replaced with either combined bus/cycle lanes, or “high vehicle occupancy lanes”, and in cases where they increase congestion per unit amount of car use, take them away.
  • Redesign current road networks that lead to much unnecessary build-up of congestion, improving junctions.

 

 

 

Road pricing or congestion charging should only be used as a "stop gap" measure, in areas where congestion is high and immediate action is needed.

In major towns and cities where congestion is severe and improving alternatives will take time, and immediate action is needed, small scale road pricing and congestion charging may be a necessary evil in order to force a reduction in congestion.  The idea should be to improve alternatives to the car in the meantime, and when they become good, test what happens when the congestion charge/road pricing is removed.  If it results in an equilibrium, no need for a congestion charge.  If roads become gridlocked again, the congestion charge can be re-introduced for another spell.

These kinds of road charging systems are less complicated and expensive to set up than a national road charging system will be, will be easier to make temporary, and will have fewer side-effects.

 

 

Offer alternatives to travelling at all wherever possible.

Possibilities include encouraging more local, smaller-scale production and movement of goods (requiring less long-haul travelling), and carrying of goods in bulk, avoiding multiple trips wherever possible.  We also need to encourage more long-distance communication within and between businesses in order to reduce the amount of business travel.  This will have numerous social, environmental and economic benefits, as it will reduce the amount of time spent travelling, time that could potentially be spent much more productively.

My proposals on working practice, including less regimented hours and more provision to work from home, will help to reduce the extent of the rush hour.

 

 

Encourage a higher vehicle occupancy- less "one person per car" travelling, particularly in the drive to work/school.

People who share the driving reduce the number of cars making a given journey, while drivers taking passengers out is, in general, much more sociable than travelling one inhabitant per car, providing a useful taxi service for non-drivers as well.

I propose that high vehicle occupancy lanes may help with this, in addition to things like having guaranteed parking for employees who travel in a vehicle carrying passengers, as well as encouraging more sociable attitudes generally.

I'm not generally in favour of strictly regulated methods where organisations set up car share rotas, in some cases car sharing can be inconvenient and arrangements can break down.  I'm also not in favour of discriminating between passengers who can drive and those who can't (so as to ensure that car sharing genuinely causes a reduction in number of cars travelling), while this might make sense from an environmental perspective, the moral/humanitarian side is less good- it penalises people who can't drive, preventing them from taking advantage of the increased car-share opportunities to get a lift off someone.

Car sharing should be a voluntary thing, encouraged by general measures to promote high vehicle occupancy.

 

Cut out the overemphasis on speed in road safety analysis and when evaluating speed, do not ignore the positives, as this provides a biased cost-benefit analysis.

Most cost-benefit analysis of speed ignores the two key benefits: convenience and pleasure.  Convenience is often dismissed because "people shouldn't be in such a hurry" and the pleasurable benefits of speed are being socially marginalised because of the minority who drive too fast in the name of reckless thrill-seeking.  Both are deemed unimportant relative to safety.  Yet if we go down the route of ever-more draconian curbs on speed, we run into a law of diminishing returns where we end up curbing large amounts of liberty for the sake of only small improvements in safety.  If we do not factor the benefits of speed into account, there is no end to how far one can argue for reducing speed limits.

Overemphasis on speed results in lack of emphasis on the other aspects of driving that can be dangerous.  I suppose they could reduce speed limits to such an extreme that it wouldn't be possible to harm anyone through dangerous driving within the speed limit, but that again would require very extreme draconianism re. speed.  Instead it is better, from a safety vs liberty perspective, to crack down on dangerous forms of driving directly.

 

Give a leeway of 10mph (not inclusive) in good driving conditions, keep motorways at 70mph, national speed limit at 60mph and towns generally at 30mph, but reduce non-major routes in residential areas to 20mph and minor country lanes to 50mph.  Penalties for speeding by large amounts should be increased.

The idea of the 10mph leeway is simply to accommodate the fact that many people disregard speed limits because many of them are set on the conservative side- and the main speeding problem lies with a minority who drive recklessly fast.  By modifying the law such that most of the general public obey it voluntarily, enforcement can then be directed specifically at the minority of offenders.  In accordance with making speeding more of a "hardcore minority" offence, penalties should be increased, especially for speeding by large amounts.  Police should maintain and use the discretionary right to apply "driving too fast for the conditions" when people are within the law speed-wise but driving at inappropriate speed for the conditions. 

The proposal of the tolerance system would in effect replace speed limits with "recommended speeds" and people would be expected to drive relative to those, rather than relative to the point at which the tolerance ends (which would apply if we simply raised a lot of the speed limits).

However anything above 30mph is generally too fast on a minor route in a residential area so I propose that this proposal should come hand-in-hand with 20mph "home zones".  Also part-time 20mph zones can be considered around schools.  The national speed limit is fine at 60mph, even given the above leeway, but is probably too high for most minor country lanes, hence my proposal to cut those to 50mph. 

Mobile police speed checks should generally be used on major routes and speed cameras for around residential areas, where speed is a bigger issue than it is elsewhere.

If we still find we have a speed problem even after the reckless minority have been addressed effectively, we can then look at ideas like scrapping my proposed leeway and reducing the speed limits.  But it will mean we only get draconian to the minimum extent necessary.

This proposal is not intended to "allow people to get away with driving at up to 39mph on 30mph zones" and the like, even though on the surface it might sound that way.   People who did close to 39mph regularly would risk veering up to 40mph or above on occasion, and getting done for speeding.

 

Eco-friendly driving can be encouraged simply through the carrot and stick policy on fuels.

...and not through continued social marginalisatioin of "enthusiastic driving" for pleasure, e.g. leaning a little around the corners on twisty country roads.  With emphasis on fuel tax based incentivising, the more inefficiently you drive the more you pay.  There are of course ways of driving in an eco-friendly manner that do not have any recreational offsets, for example optimising the weight distribution of the vehicle and making sure tyres are fully pumped up.

 

Make driving tests focus on safety rather than driving style, and with more emphasis on coaching/training rather than error-based testing.

The emphasis on conformity to a set driving style is flawed because drivers are basically being tested more on how strongly they conform to a set style of driving than on how safe they are- plus it is the kind of thing drivers tend to disregard once they have passed.  And they are often too inexperienced to know how far they can disregard it without it being unsafe, which in turn fuels the teenage boy racer type problem, where they learn the hard way- if there was less emphasis on conformity to a set driving style people might not feel so inclined to drive very differently once they pass the test.  Tests should be more thorough and test judgements in potentially dangerous situations.

Nowadays most people learn how to pass the test rather than understanding how to drive, so the test does not prepare many drivers fully enough.  More emphasis on driver training is needed, teaching them how to adapt to particular situations.  The introduction of the theory test was a welcome step and it should be maintained.

 

Update out-of-date rules and adapt rules to align with what is morally right and wrong instead of being clouded by "the rules are right because they're the rules".

For example, in the driving test, it is deemed "breaking the peace" if someone toots the horn, regardless of whether it's out of frustration on the roads (in which case the rule is fair), or in a harmless manner in the test centre to alert the instructor that the test is over (in which case it's absurd).  A candidate will fail a driving test if parts of the instructor's car fail.   Braking distances have not been updated since 1940.  The rule "responsibility for an accident always lies with the car behind, because you've gotta keep your distance", while a good generalisation, is applied too absolutely and allows people to get away with things like pulling in front of others and slamming on the brakes, or brake-testing in general, and then claiming compensation after getting hit from behind.  There are also cases when someone may hit someone else from behind partly in order to avoid a much worse accident, and yet gets penalised for it.  Those are just some examples of rules that could do with a bit of a shake-up.

 

Resist the temptation to bring in draconian restrictions on new drivers.

There are all kinds of policies in the pipeline- restrictions on night time driving, restrictions on passengers, lower speed limits etc.  They are all guilty of punishing the many because of the few- responsible people being punished purely for being inexperienced, to legislate for the boy racer culture among teenagers.    Better enforcement against the fastest drivers and better training/education for learners are alternative ways of addressing that culture.

 

Punishments for, and enforcement against, drivers who are uninsured, unlicensed, drive while banned, and drive while over the drink-drive limit, should be increased.  But the drink drive limit should not be substantially reduced.

As for the drink-drive limit itself, I can see a case for reducing it from 80 to 50, to bring it in line with European countries, if concentrations between 50-80 are significantly likely to increase chances of accidents.  But no more than that, if we reduce the drink-drive limit close to zero we will be in "diminishing returns" territory.  At the extreme, a zero tolerance drink drive limit would make every motorist a criminal by default because the body sometimes produces alcohol on its own.

 

When defining "driving without due care and attention" and the like, enforcement should draw a line between activities that have a significant risk of causing accidents, and those that have a negligible risk.  

This should also include, in the case of pre-emptive checks where people’s behaviour “might” be consistent with a crime, focusing checks on cases where the crime is serious and/or the probability of it being committed very high.  E.g., people should be punished for talking on mobiles without hands-free kits while in moving vehicles, but not for sipping water while waiting at traffic lights!  Police should be given more specific guidelines as to what to and not to allow.  The more time is spent policing trivial ‘offences’ where negligible-risk things are criminalised, the less time remains to police serious offences.

The cynic in me thinks that many of these prohibition measures stem from the agenda of making driving unattractive relative to the alternatives in the vain hope that it might make motorists' lives miserable enough for them to consider the alternatives a lesser evil.

We need to have a tougher clampdown on tailgating- one of the main causes of accidents.