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Government launches raft of pro-driver initiatives

Low traffic neighbourhoods, 20mph schemes and moving traffic enforcement are under review as transport secretary Mark Harper seeks to deliver his Plan for Drivers

17 March 2024
Local authorities will be expected to follow new guidance ensuring local people support LTN plans

 

Local authorities seeking to introduce low traffic neighbourhoods and 20mph speed limits will have to do more to prove they have support among local people, says transport secretary Mark Harper, who also wants to tackle what he views as over-zealous traffic enforcement.

The transport secretary has announced a raft of measures:

The announcements are part of Harper’s desire to deliver the government’s Plan for Drivers, a 30-point document that aims to improve the lives of drivers by shortening journey times and ensuring traffic measures have buy-in from the people they are impacting.

Mark Harper said: “We want local people to have their voices heard, and any traffic schemes to have the consent of those they impact. Well thought out schemes, like 20mph limits outside schools, can make our roads safer, but we are raising the bar to help ensure all traffic schemes work for everyone in the community. We’re on the side of drivers, and these latest measures show we’re getting on with delivering what we promised in our Plan for Drivers – making their lives better, fairer and cheaper, and helping people travel in the way that works best for them.”

Harper’s previous Plan for Drivers measures include a crackdown on disruptive streetworks, cutting traffic and is anticipated to generate up to £100m over the next 10 years. It has also launched grants for schools to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle chargepoints, making it easier for drivers to make the switch.

The transport secretary states that £8.3bn has also been pledged over the next 10 years for road resurfacing, made possible by reallocated HS2 funding.

Implementing low traffic neighbourhoods

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published draft statutory guidance for councils on low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), setting out that they must gain buy-in from local residents, businesses and emergency services when considering implementing new schemes.

Engagement with communities could involve in-person events, online engagement, and leaflet drops to involve the whole community in the process and will mean that authorities must consider whether an LTN has local support before it is implemented.

The DfT said the new guidance would raise expected standards for LTNs and will come into force this summer when local authorities will be obliged to consider it when shaping new and existing schemes. Local authorities will be expected to follow the guidance and ensure local people support their plans.

The DfT argues that recent examples of places where councils have implemented these schemes without public support have been shown to cause disruption and have unintended negative consequences. The government warns that if local authorities fail to deliver sensible road schemes that work for local people they could see future funding withdrawn, and under powers from the Traffic Management Act, the government could ultimately take control of an authority’s roads where they are deemed to be widely mismanaged.

A consultation will also be launched this summer on measures including the removal of local authorities’ access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) data to enforce such schemes by camera.

Low traffic neighbourhood review

The transport secretary says his actions on LTNs are supported by a DfT review that highlights only 13% of residents have responded to council planning consultations on LTNs, and just 18% feel that their views have influenced council decisions.

The report found that local authorities operating LTNs issue an average of 36,459 penalty charge notices (PCNs) per scheme, with the highest number of PCNs issued for a single LTN scheme exceeding 170,000.

Harper said the review showed only a quarter of people understood the benefits of LTNs and also flagged concerns over the impact on disabled residents, high numbers of penalty charge notices, the cost of LTN schemes and even concerns from emergency services that delays to crews caught up in LTNs could “potentially risk lives”.

The new guidance aims to prevent councils having to reverse what are claimed to have been poorly-implemented or locally unpopular schemes – as with recently removed LTNs at Jesmond in Newcastle and Streatham Wells in Lambeth, London.

Setting local speed limits

Councils have received strengthened guidance on setting 20mph speed limits, reminding them to reserve them for sensible and appropriate areas only – such as outside schools – and with safety and local support at the heart of the decision.

The new guidance could affect funding decisions.

The DfT states speed limits should be evidence-led and self-explaining and seek to reinforce people’s assessment of what is a safe speed to travel. They should encourage self-compliance. Speed limits should be seen by drivers as the maximum rather than a target speed. Traffic authorities should set local speed limits in situations where local needs and conditions suggest a speed limit that is lower than the national speed limit.

The new guidance is to be used for setting all local speed limits on single and dual carriageway roads in both urban and rural areas. The guidance should also be used as the basis for assessments of local speed limits, for developing route management strategies and for developing speed management strategies that can be included in local transport plans.

The department states traffic authorities should use the right speed limits in the right places. Traffic authorities should also keep their speed limits under review and only introduce 20mph limits and zones in the right places, over time and with local support in urban areas and built-up village streets that are primarily residential, using the criteria in urban speed limits.

Restricting the generation of surplus funds from traffic contraventions

In the Plan for Drivers, the transport secretary announced action to address concerns about councils generating surpluses from issuing penalty charge notices (PCNs) for contraventions of moving traffic restrictions including:

  • no entry
  • no left or right turn
  • prohibited vehicles
  • unlawful entry into box junctions
  • driving in mandatory cycle lanes.

The DfT acknowledges these enforcement powers help free up police time while helping councils to reduce traffic congestion. However, Harper said enforcement should be undertaken proportionately and not used as a means to raise revenue.

A call for evidence has been launched on preventing local councils from turning drivers into ‘cash cows’ by profiting from enforcing traffic restrictions. This includes fines for drivers going into yellow box junctions or parking restrictions. The call for evidence will seek views from residents and will also quiz local authorities on how money from fines is reinvested.

Local people will have their say on whether they think enforcement is currently fair or believe authorities should be restricted in their traffic enforcement powers, and the findings will inform future government decisions on restricting authorities. As with LTNs, the government will also look at restricting local authorities access to third-party data, such as the DVLA database, for enforcement purposes.

Bus user priority guidance

The transport secretary believes restrictions on bus lane use are too rigid, creating delays and causing regular fines for drivers. New guidance has been issued on bus lanes to make sure they only operate when it makes sense, like when traffic is heavy enough to delay buses. Harper says this move will prevent drivers being hit with unfair fines.

The new guidance covers a broad range of measures as well as providing advice and information on how to take schemes from planning through to successful delivery. It covers the "how” to deliver as well as the “what”. The guidance is intended to support local transport authorities to plan and deliver bus priority schemes which
can support the role buses play in local communities, and improve passenger outcomes, through:

  • showcasing integrated design principles
  • identifying how to develop an evidence base of benefits to generate support for bus travel
  • creating bus services that are accessible by design
  • being realistic and recognising that there is no one size fits all approach
  • providing practical tools and techniques for all local authorities to follow when consulting on and evaluating the benefits of bus priority schemes
  • helping to build local authority internal capability relevant to the range of local situations and challenges they face
  • future-proofing bus priority and considering what the future public transport system could offer.

Motorcycles in bus lanes consultation

The Plan for Drivers included commitments specifically aimed at making it easier for motorcyclists to access bus lanes. The government believes this would lead to many positive benefits including shorter journey times for those on motorcycles and less congestion for motorists in normal lanes, all while potentially having little impact on bus journeys.

The first was to remind local authorities already have this ability, as set out on 15 January through an updated Traffic Advisory Leaflet that made clear that local authorities should allow motorcyclists to use their bus lanes, following the advice set out.

The second commitment was to carry out a consultation on whether to make access to bus lanes the default position. While motorcyclists have been able to use some bus lanes for some time, access is neither universal or consistent across local authority boundaries.

Street works lane rental charges

The government believes that lane rental is effective at reducing congestion from works on the busiest roads at the busiest times, and would like to see more schemes put in place.

Lane rental allows an authority to charge up to £2,500 per day for works that can cause congestion on critical parts of the highway network. The schemes incentivise organisations to either move their works to less busy times, or complete their works quicker to avoid accumulating charges, thus reducing congestion and helping to create smoother journeys for all road users.

The guidance has been updated to support the uptake of lane rental by addressing perceived barriers to lane rental development and implementation, including:

  • advice on joint lane rental schemes
  • updates to cost-benefit analysis requirements
  • and other updates to help reduce the administrative burden for applications to operate lane rentals.

Noise camera technology

Nuisance boy-racers who illegally modify their exhausts and disturb streets are being targeted by the government. New search will be used to encourage local authorities to install noise camera.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has been trialling noise camera technology to understand if it can be used to automatically detect when vehicles are excessively noisy. Roadside trials took place from 18 October 2022 until 1 February 2023 in Keighley, Bristol, Great Yarmouth and Rubery, Birmingham.

The new technology uses a video camera in conjunction with microphones to accurately pinpoint excessively noisy vehicles as they pass by. The camera takes a picture of a vehicle and records the noise level to create a digital package of evidence that could be used to fine offending drivers.

The trials had funding of £300,000 and the objective was to provide local authorities and police with effective enforcement tools capable of capturing sufficient evidence to support successful prosecution of offenders.

These reports were produced by an Atkins and Jacobs joint venture on behalf of DfT and comprise:

  • Part A: how the noise threshold was defined
  • Part B: testing the technology in a track environment
  • Part C: the noise camera trial and results.

Traffic Signal Obsolescence Grant and Green Light Fund allocations

Traffic lights will be upgraded across the country thanks to £50m – £30m to replace outdated equipment, and £20m to reduce poor traffic light performance through innovative technology that responds to live traffic conditions. A total of 80 highway authorities across England will receive funding.

The Plan for drivers announced various measures to fund traffic management systems maintenance and upgrading by local authorities, including the:

  • Traffic Signal Obsolescence Grant (TSOG): a £30m fund to upgrade traffic signal systems, replacing unreliable and obsolete equipment to improve reliability
  • Green Light Fund (GLF): a £20m fund to tune up traffic signals to better reflect current traffic conditions and get traffic flowing

Funding for these measures totals £50m, of which £10m of TSOG will be distributed automatically to all eligible English local highway authorities using the Integrated Transport Block allocation grant formula. The remaining £20m of TSOG and the £20m GLF will be awarded, in March 2024, to combined authorities and local highway authorities following a competition process held in autumn 2023.

The challenge application process for bids was open between October and December 2023 and attracted 103 bids, covering 118 of the 121 eligible English authority areas.

A total of 100 grants will be paid, 67 authorities will receive funding from both the £10m automatic element of TSOG and £40m available for the TSOG and GLF challenge elements, which is being awarded in £500,000 lots following scoring and ranking. This comprises 65 single-area bids from individual highway authorities and two consolidated bids from combined authorities.

A further 23 authorities that have not qualified for the challenge element of the funding will receive a share of the £10m automatic TSOG fund only.

Removal of uninsured drivers’ access to property damage compensation consultation

A consultation has been launched to prevent uninsured drivers from claiming property damage from the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB).

The government is proposing the reintroduction of an exclusion previously removed because of incompatibility with European Union (EU) law, so that uninsured drivers are no longer able to claim compensation for property damage from the MIB. Currently, uninsured drivers are able to claim this compensation if involved in an accident with:

  • other uninsured drivers
  • untraced drivers.

The MIB is responsible for compensating drivers involved in an accident with an uninsured or untraced driver. The MIB covers its costs by means of a levy on all motor insurance companies, which might in turn pass this particular cost onto law-abiding premium-paying motorists who do insure their vehicles.

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