Mike Waite served in the Dorset Police for twenty years, and as a police motorcycle instructor it was his job to train officers to the very highest level.
In this article he writes about current policy on speed limits.

The Question of Speed
by Mike Waite

For the last few years many local authorities have been going overboard with the question of speed. Many decisions have been taken which in my opinion are being called politically correct, and nothing to do with road safety. The driving public, the silent majority, were first bemused, I would suspect, regarding many changing speed limits and later despairing at many of the limits imposed, that local drivers could only describe as policies gone mad.
Take a case in my local area of Somerset, the A357, a small stretch of road, which runs from Wincanton down to the A30 at Henstridge, a distance I would say is approximately 4 to 5 miles in length. The road is a typical country road with a sparse selection of houses. It is of a good surface with a good line of sight and is as one would expect in this location, a bendy road. There are a few junctions leading from minor roads. Before the local politicians got their hands on it, it had a national speed limit of 60mph. The exception was through built-up areas, the villages, which have a 30mph limit imposed.
To many drivers who enjoy driving it would be classified as a delight to drive, with good line of sight to all junctions, except two, for traffic from the Wincanton towards Henstridge direction. There are signs, which indicated the junctions.
The local authority in their politically correct thoughts, decided that this road had become so dangerous that a speed restriction was urgently required. The result is that the road is now almost in its entire length a 30 to 40mph system.
Inexpert speed limits inevitably lead to dangerous contempt for the law
The driving public soon realised that the speeds that have been put in place were so stupid as to be dangerous. The reason I say this is as follows: On seeing any speed restriction, the driver gets a bird's-eye view of what the problems or situations are. With good lines of sight, good what on earth does a 30mph speed limit have to do with safety? It instantly brings the speed limit into disrepute. What it is telling us is that the vast majority of the public are so stupid that if we do not adhere to this limit we are in mortal danger. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence can see that the road is perfectly safe as no danger can possibly happen at reasonable higher speeds. The result is that many drivers will not conform and consistently break the new limit. This degenerates into frustrated drivers attempting to overtake slower drivers who adhere to the speed limit, which in itself creates more danger than there ever was or perceived to be. It also has the effect of bunching vehicles closer together where before there was never a problem.
This has a knock-on effect. There are so many examples of stupid speed limits being put into place all over the country, including the inappropriate placing of speed cameras, joined up now with civilian teams to catch motorists, that real speed limits which are required, are being brought into disrespect and or ignored.
Police experts must establish good speed limits - the only efficient way.
I would like to see the professional drivers from the Police Traffic Departments take much more direct action. They should be able to recommend a speed limit that they think appropriate for all stretches of roads. I believe that the people who are making decisions regarding speed are not trained or have a professional background to do an honest assessment. All you have is a few non-drivers or haters of cars who make unfounded complaints that get action to the detriment of us all.
I do not think there are many drivers who would not accept that speed limits are required at some locations. Cameras should be placed at blackspots; cameras for drivers jumping red lights; speed limits imposed near schools (during school opening times); dangerous junctions with the appropriate signs displayed.
Has it occurred to local authorities that unsighted junctions, with a small amount of intelligence, would be better served by good engineering? Look at the vast majority of unsighted junctions which could be developed to much better lines of sight by just cutting back an overgrown hedge, or redesigning the junction so as to give motorists a good view from both directions. In some cases the reconstruction of an exit to a more suitable location. Widening of some roads would eliminate lots of problems.
I have no problem with speed limits if they are sensible and fair, not just for the driver but pedestrians, and I suggest most drivers feel the same.
There will always be that small element of dangerous drivers who will flout the law even when it is justified who will not comply with any restriction.
To classify us all as mad and bad or as now preserving a moneymaking business is a dangerous route to take and turns the general driving public into an angered and disillusioned majority.
One observation I would like to point out is as follows: Speed cameras and enforcement has now become a business. To survive, a business must generate profits just like any other business. It would therefore be logical that to take the business forward it must have plans to keep profits up and expanding. How does one achieve this? The obvious answer is to give the purchaser (the driver) the opportunity to spend more of his hard earned money by encouraging him to exceed the speed limit. With stupid speed restrictions and unrestricted siting of cameras at inappropriate locations it will keep the business flourishing and growing. It has already been forecast that the speed restrictions imposed will generate millions of pounds more in the coming years.
No confidence in deceitful politicians who bring speed cameras into disrepute
I have no confidence with any politician who states that the placing of cameras are justified, because like politicians worldwide they can always say that their policy is working when the vast majority of the public can see through their deceit.
To conclude, the use of ridiculous speed restrictions is so far advanced as to make a mockery of proper and required speed limits and so brings speed limits into disrepute. The decisions of those in charge are making the public so apathetic that no one believes what they say and brings the law into disrepute. Finally the Police. The Chief Constables direct their officers, or should direct them, to priorities. By allowing speed to become political they become alienated from the public's good will.
As a nation we were always seen as a tolerant society with a high sense of fair play. It is the British tradition to laugh at ourselves. We are no longer laughing at this creeping correctness. This nation is rapidly deteriorating into a Britain I no longer like the look of.
Mike Waite
© Mike Waite 2004. Reproduced by kind permission.