Sunday 13 February 2011

Big differences in attitudes to speeding by age, gender and income

The Department for Transport have published some fascinating research recently (funded by the previous government, I imagine) which has unfortunately received very little media attention, presumably because they have chosen not to highlight it themselves by spoon-feeding the media with press releases and the like. In December they released the results of a big survey into attitudes towards transport and climate change (which I picked out some cycling-related factoids from) and now we've got the results of a survey into attitudes towards road safety. I'm just going to highlight one particular aspect below, but I would encourage you to read the report and/or the accompanying tables yourself.

According to table A1.12 here, 21% of respondents think the level of police enforcement for speeding is 'too high', 45% 'about right' and 33% 'too low'. Seeing as speeding is also dangerous for drivers and pedestrians and costly for society as a whole, you might wonder why the police don't enforce the law on this more strongly. Then you look at the detailed breakdowns:

  • Men are slightly more likely to think there is too much enforcement than too little, while women are three times as likely to think there is too little. 
  • Those on low incomes (up to £15k a year) are two to three times as likely to think there is too little enforcement as too much, in contrast to those on higher incomes who are more likely to think there is too much than too little.
  • Around half of the elderly (aged 75 or over) think there is too little enforcement of the speed limit, compared to only 12% who think there is too much.
  • Drivers are almost evenly split on the issue, while three times as many non-drivers think there is too little enforcement as think there is too much. 
We shouldn't ignore the substantial fraction of people (40% to 50% in most socioeconomic groups) who think current enforcement levels are 'about right', but I think these figures should still be of concern to the police and the government. On one side you've got groups of people who have historically been fairly culturally dominant (i.e who are affluent, male, middle-aged or all three) and who by their own account are also more likely to drive (see table A1.1),  to break speed limits (table A1.36) and to break them by a lot (table A1.63). These people either think the law is either about right or too harsh. On the other side you've got groups who have often been marginalised (women, the elderly, the poor) who are much less likely to drive, who drive more safely when they do drive, and who think that current levels of enforcement are too low. In an era when the state is meant to be actively promoting 'equalities' (as well as, y'know, enforcing the law), I'd suggest that the police and the government should seriously think about whether they are striking the right balance.

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