'No evidence' pandemic has increased speeding on Lancashire's roads

A public perception that speeding on Lancashire’s roads has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic has been called into question by data showing how fast drivers were travelling when caught by the county’s enforcement cameras.

Residents have registered over 1,300 complaints so far this year about locations where excessive speeds have been suspected.

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A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s internal scrutiny committee heard that the monthly tally of concerns submitted by the public dropped to fewer than a dozen during the early days of the first lockdown - but has since “surged” more than tenfold.

Have drivers in Lancashire become more blasé about sticking to the speed limit during the pandemic?

A significant reduction in traffic volumes at the height of the pandemic makes it meaningless to compare the raw number of motorists snapped by speed cameras this year as opposed to last.

However, analysis of the speeds being reached by those drivers who have been captured breaking the limit since the spring shows that their feet have not been pressed any harder to the floor than fellow speeders in previous years.

Between 1st May and 31st October this year, there was barely any change in the severity of the speeding offences caught on camera compared to the same period in 2019.

The proportion of cases in which the driver was eligible for a speed awareness course - offered as an alternative to a fine and points to non-repeat offenders whose excess speed was below a set threshold - actually increased, albeit by a negligible 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of speeders caught going so fast they were prosecuted - rather than being given a conditional offer of a fixed penalty notice - also nudged up, but only by 0.4 percent.

Laura Jones, from the Central Process Unit at Lancashire Constabulary, said that the statistics were “quite surprising” - and did not bear out the seemingly widespread belief that much higher speeds were now being hit on the county’s roads.

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“We were expecting the [prosecution figure] to be higher,” she said.

Lancashire County Council’s highway safety manager Michael White said a “growing perception” that speeding levels had increased this year was reflected in the volume of complaints now being received by the Lancashire Road Safety Partnership.

However, the meeting heard that the unusual travel patterns that have emerged during the Covid era had not altered the biggest risks on Lancashire’s roads.

“It goes without saying that excessive speed is definitely a major concern - it is a safety issue and a factor in the accidents we see on our network - but it’s not the only one that contributes to accidents,” Mr. White explained.

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“In Lancashire, the number one factor by far is careless driver behaviour - [that includes] drivers failing to look, not paying proper attention or driving inappropriately for the road conditions.”

Lancashire Constabulary suspended its mobile speed enforcement action between March and May, as officers were redeployed to Covid-related duties - but it has now been fully reinstated.

However, the pandemic has had a longer-term effect on the operation of the county’s speed awareness courses, which were traditionally held over half a day at venues across the county. Social distancing has put paid to that option for the foreseeable future and a nationally-created online alternative is now being offered. In Lancashire, it was completed by 2,500 people last month alone.

In an average year, around 70,000 speeding offences are processed in Lancashire - but that figure is expected to fall by around 15,000 during 2020, because of the drop in the number of vehicles on the road during the strict national lockdown in the spring.