The latest data from the Department for Transport shows that throughout 2020 56 per cent of cars exceeded the 30mph limit, with 58 per cent of vans and 67 per cent of motorcycles also travelling above the limit.
Generally, the DfT speed compliance figures don’t vary much from year to year but the latest data shows a two to four per cent increase over 2019 for different vehicles, which the DfT is attributing to the effect of lockdown.
The period during the first national lockdown when traffic levels plummeted saw a sharp increase in the proportion of drivers exceeding the limit, skewing the overall 2020 figures.
The DfT figures show that while traffic volumes dropped by as much as 80 per cent following the lockdown announcement in March, the percentage of car drivers breaking the 30mph speed limit jumped from around 50 per cent to more than 70 per cent before falling back slightly as lockdown eased in May and June.
The data shows a similar spike in speeding on national speed limit roads during March and April, although the proportion of vehicles speeding was less - around 30 per cent for cars.
Overall, in the second quarter of 2020 63 per cent of cars broke the speed limit in 30mph zones and 17 per cent exceeded the national speed limit, compared with 56 and 10 per cent respectively for the same period in 2019.
Smaller spikes were seen later in the year as further lockdowns were instigated in October, November and December.
Speeding on motorways did not spike in the same way but the majority of drivers still broke the limit, with 53 per cent of cars, 55 per cent of vans and 58 per cent of motorbikes were recorded speeding across 2020.
The RAC’s road safety spokesman Simon Williams branded the lockdown-related spikes “shocking” and urged police to ensure the legacy of lockdown was not an increase in speeding.
He said: “These figures confirm that there were shocking levels of speeding during the first lockdown period in 2020, and it’s clear that some drivers dangerously took advantage of quieter roads to drive far faster than they would do in normal times. What’s particularly concerning were the levels of non-compliance on 20 and 30mph roads, many of which are in residential areas and close to schools.
“If traffic volumes don’t return to pre-pandemic levels, it would be terrible if the lockdown legacy was an increase in the number of drivers who consistently speed. In short, speed kills and we can only hope that police forces across the country are able to put the resources in place to clamp down on dangerous drivers and help ensure the roads are safe for everyone.”
The DfT data comes from monitoring sites on roads with free-flowing traffic and doesn’t relate to the number of speeding offences recorded by police. It records figures for 20mph zones but warns that due to their layout and difficulties in finding “free-flow” 20mph roads, the figures do not fully represent 20mph limits in general. Nonetheless, the figures showed that almost 90 per cent of car drivers ignored the limit in such zones.