20mph default limit for Wales

Road safety 20mph

Wales is to introduce a default speed limit of 20mph making it the first UK nation to lower the default national speed limit from 30mph.

Despite only 2.5 per cent of Welsh roads currently being 20mph zones, over a third of the country’s roads are expected to adopt the lower limit next year.

According to the minister for climate change, Julie James: “The evidence is clear; decreasing speeds not only reduces accidents and saves lives, but helps improve people’s quality of life – making our streets and communities a safer and more welcoming place for cyclists and pedestrians, whilst helping reduce our environmental impact.

“We know this move won’t be easy – it’s as much about changing hearts and minds as it is about enforcement – but over time 20mph will become the norm, just like the restrictions we’ve introduced before on carrier bag charges and organ donation.”

Rod King MBE, founder and campaign director at 20’s Plenty For Us, said: “Many councils in England are requesting that the UK government should follow Wales and take the same approach by setting a national 20mph limit. It is understood that the outcome of the Welsh 20mph implementation could well influence a decision on a 20mph national limit for England.”

Scotland is planning a 20mph default limit for urban and rural streets by 2024.

Speeding traffic – a global challenge

In England alone there are around 35,000 non-fatal admissions to hospital every year related to road traffic accidents. In Canada, lowering the speed limit from 40km/h to 30km/h was associated with a 28% decrease in pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and a 67% decrease in major and fatal injuries.

Road safety experts and ministers from 130 countries have resolved to tackle road danger, air pollution and the climate emergency by adopting 20 mph limits wherever vulnerable road users and vehicles mix.

A global road safety conference in 2018 resulted in the adoption of a ‘Stockholm Declaration’  – a list of 18 resolutions linking road safety to sustainable development. Resolution 11 specifically mandates universal use of 30km/h or 20mph limits:

Focus on speed management, including the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent speeding and mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner, except where strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe, noting that efforts to reduce speed in general will have a beneficial impact on air quality and climate change as well as being vital to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries.

Rod King MBE said of the Stockholm declaration:

“This really gives the lie to the idea that the UK’s 30mph default speed limit in towns or villages is either safe or sustainable. Our current 30mph limits are killing and maiming people and fail to meet our 21st century mobility needs. The declaration sets a clear and unambiguous message that adoption of 20mph or 30km/h limits as a default is necessary on urban and village streets where people live, work, play and shop. Local and national governments must now expedite the setting of urban and village speed limits to 20mph or 30km/h wherever motorised vehicles mix with cyclists and pedestrians with exceptions only where it can be proven that higher speeds are safe.”

20mph limits reduce road danger and help encourage cycling

How to enforce 20mph limits

Figures released by TfL revealed that 87% of divers flout 20mph limits when they have an opportunity to do so. Unfortunately such opportunities are common; it’s unusual for roads to be engineered to prevent speeding despite the police being told that 20 mph limits should be self-governing in this way.

A lackadaisical approach to 20mph limits extends beyond the police. The AA appears to overlook the safety benefits of lower limits and 20mph limits as little more than a means of keeping drivers below 30mph.

AA comment 20mph

Meanwhile, the Dutch long ago learned that speed limits alone do not solve the problem of road danger –  roads need to be engineered to prevent inappropriate speed. Maartje van Putten was the first president elect of the Stop de Kindermoord protest movement and a former MEP.

The ethical choice

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