RAC hits out at 'truly shocking' lockdown speeding offences

Lisa O'Carroll
Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Two-thirds of Britain’s police forces caught people driving in excess of 100mph during the first three weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, new data has shown. 

The extreme speeds were not confined to motorways, as drivers also took the drop in traffic as an invitation to break the law on urban roads, thus endangering lives, police said.

The highest speed recorded was 163mph on the M1 in London, 93 miles over the speed limit, according to the Metropolitan police’s lead on road safety, Det Supt Andy Cox. That driver was in a Porsche but Cox said offenders were spotted in all types of vehicles, from across all demographics, and in all speed zones.

He urged drivers to think of the dangers to “vulnerable road users” during a period when people were being urged by Boris Johnson to avoid public transport and instead to walk or cycle to work.

Police data obtained by the RAC through freedom of information requests revealed that the second highest speed recorded in early lockdown was 151mph on the M62 in West Yorkshire, and the third 140mph on the A14 in Suffolk.

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams described the speeds as “truly shocking” and warned that motorists travelling this fast have “virtually no time to react should anything unexpected happen”.

He went on: “Some drivers have taken advantage of quieter roads to speed excessively, putting the lives of others at risk at the worst possible time. It’s encouraging that so many police forces have taken firm action even during the lockdown, which sends a strong message to other would-be offenders.”

Five other forces detected motorists driving at more than 130mph.

Cox, the Met’s lead for its Vision Zero initiative to eliminate deaths on the roads, said his team caught a driver doing 134mph in a 40mph zone in Enfield. Tracking cameras showed driving speeds in London were “above the limit on average in all categories from the first part of lockdown to early May”, he added.

Data for May showed a tenfold increase in the number of enforcements in the 20mph zone, with 530 drivers caught breaking the limit, compared with just 50 in 2019.

There were more than double the number of offences in the 30mph zone, and a near eightfold increase in speeding in the 60mph zones. The figures relate to physical interventions by officers and do not include data from speed cameras.

Local councils have also been concerned, warning that speed limits did not change with empty roads.

As schools reopen and more people return to work without using public transport, police are urging people to shun drivers who speed, saying it is the single biggest contributor to fatalities in the capital. 

“I can’t say the increase is a surprise, because we see reckless driving all the time. Too often people say this is about revenue-raising – ‘Why don’t you catch some real criminals?’ – which is offensive to me and my team because we have seen what happens when there are life-changing injuries or deaths and how lives are wrecked.

“There has to be a change in social attitudes. In the last 25 years, drink-driving has become socially unacceptable. People won’t get into a car when someone has been drinking, they will take the keys from friends,” he said.

“But that is not happening with speeding. The problem is these drivers or their friends don’t understand how dangerous it is, don’t think we will be there or they will caught, or that they will be the ones in an accident.”

He said the people caught speeding were likely to be those that would do so anyway but “saw more opportunity in lockdown as the roads were quieter”.

Department for Transport figures show traffic was down by two-thirds in the first few weeks of lockdown.

Top 10 violations

Here are the highest speeds by drivers breaking the limit between 23 March and 13 April, recorded by police forces that provided data to the RAC (speed limit 70mph unless stated):

1 London: 163mph

2 West Yorkshire: 151mph

3 Suffolk: 140mph

4 Northamptonshire: 138mph

5 Gwent: 136mph

6 Staffordshire: 135mph

7 London: 134mph (40mph speed limit zone)

8 Kent: 132mph

9 Humberside: 130mph

10 Scotland: 128mph