Considering tomorrow today
Wales’ 20-Mph Default Speed Limit
Forum Member Gareth Stone gives his view of the 20mph discussion.
Wales’ 20-mph default speed limit…
On 17/9/23, Welsh Government legislation reduced the default national speed limit from 30-mph to 20-mph. A week later, I drove to Northampton for our grandson’s 10th birthday. As we neared, we noticed 20-mph zones in the surrounding villages and the residential area where they live. England seemed ahead of Wales here.
When the 20-mph default limit in Wales was initially debated, it had wide political and institutional support. Within weeks, there’s been a record-breaking petition calling for its reversal. I couldn’t understand the reaction, so I decided to take a ‘fresh look’ at the various arguments and viewpoints.
Some truths…? –
In 1990, the Department of Transport set out guidelines for the introduction of 20-mph limits. Road safety publicity messages at the time included ‘Kill Your Speed, Not A Child’, identifying speed as crucial to reducing risk of injury in accidents.
From 1991-1999, 450 such 20-mph speed limits were introduced in the UK. By 2003, there had been a 56% decrease in accidents and a 90% decrease in fatal / serious injuries. The biggest reductions were in child / pedestrian injuries.
Road safety – reducing crashes, injuries and accidents – saving lives…
50% of road casualties in 2018, occurred on 30-mph roads. The World Health Organisation identified the most effective way to improve pedestrian safety was reducing vehicle speed. Figures and evidence here alone justify the move to 20-mph. Speed (and longer stopping distances) significantly increases the risk of injury in collisions.
ROSPA identifies a fatality risk of 1.5% when struck by a car at 20-mph rising to 8% at 30-mph. If your child runs into the road and a driver hits the brakes, a car travelling at 30-mph would be doing 24-mph when the car travelling at 20-mph had stopped. The safety argument is hard to contest, saving up to 100 lives in Wales over 10 years and preventing up to 20,000 injuries.
Improved health / well-being…
Vehicle speed is the main reason why people do not walk, cycle or allow their children to walk, cycle or scooter to school. Lower speeds encourage active modes of travel such as walking & cycling. It’s not only safer for children to walk to school, older people also feel able to travel more independently and safely. This reduces the number of cars on our roads; and in turn reduces congestion for those with no other choice.
Improved air quality and environment…
Driving at 20-mph does not mean extra pollution. Speed in residential areas is not continuous or steady. You are always braking, accelerating, pulling out at junctions, stopping at traffic lights, overtaking parked buses, delivery vans etc.
Factors contributing to pollution levels are driving style; acceleration; braking; vehicle condition; distance travelled and engine temperature. 20-mph should improve the smooth flow of traffic. Driving smoothly reduces particulate emissions. Particulate emissions especially smaller PM2.5 ones are linked with respiratory problems, diabetes, mental health conditions, depression and autism.
Costs and savings…
Welsh Government analysis puts the direct costs of the policy (changing road signs, markings and the marketing campaign) at c. £32.5m (spread over 2022-27) and the cost to the economy, c. £6.4bn (over 30 years).
Hayward identified that the £32.5m will be quickly recovered as the cost-savings from reduced deaths and serious injuries will be substantial. This also benefits the Welsh NHS more widely across other areas.
£6.4bn over 30 years equates to c. £200m pa – still a huge number. Much of these costs are attributed to short journeys. If you remove these disproportionally expensive short journeys from the equation, the costs fall to c. £57m pa, which again could easily be offset by the savings from fewer accidents.
ROSPA received concerns that traffic calming in 20-mph zones had negative consequences, such as vehicle damage, injury to passengers, slowing down emergency vehicles and increasing vehicle emissions.
Research showed no evidence of vehicle damage from properly negotiating humps and no permanent changes to vehicle suspensions. Levels of passenger discomfort were generally acceptable if speed limits met, and spinal impact was an order of magnitude lower than that which caused injury.
Further research showed that delays to emergency vehicles were generally in the region of small numbers of seconds.
- Many countries already do it, and it works.
- Councils can keep major roads at 30-mph and arterial roads in/out of cities will not change.
- Over 0.5m children will find their walk or cycle to school safer and healthier.
- Fewer accidents and bumps which clog up towns/cities will lead to less congestion.
- Noise pollution reduced in built-up areas.
My final thoughts…
Evidence shows that 20-mph default speed limits on residential roads, outside schools and busy pedestrian areas saves lives and reduces injuries. They improve the environment create safer communities and make quieter, more pleasant places, where people feel able to walk / cycle. They reduce air pollution and benefit people’s health and the local economy.
Getting to 30-mph requires twice the energy as getting to 20-mph. People living in communities with existing 20-mph limits are positive about the changes.
Of course, 20-mph seems slow. That’s the point. It may be annoying at first as we all, as drivers, want to be at our destination. But think of the cyclists and pedestrians that benefit so hugely, and the reduced air and noise pollution.
Finally, consider that when seat belts were first introduced 40 years ago, in 1983, some will recall the widespread resistance to the change. Who would consider driving without them now?
A fuller version with references to research and evidence of pilots is posted on the Forum blog,https://wenvoeforum.wordpress.com/ where you can put forward your own views.