It feels like many critics of 20mph zones would have been the same people who railed against seatbelt legislation and the introduction of the 70mph motorway limit; a barking at the moon that’s soon forgotten by history.
In 1967, a noisy crowd marched through London protesting against Barbara Castle’s Road Safety Act because it included restrictions on drink driving. It’s likely that objections to 20mph limits will one day be viewed as a similarly curious historical footnote.
However, in the meantime, the fact towns and cities are cleaner, safer for walking and cycling, and generally nicer places to spend time when car speeds are reduced rankles with those who’d prefer to prioritise driving at any cost. No surprise then that some resort to flimsy arguments in favour of the status quo. Here are three:
20mph speed limits force me to drive in a lower gear
This might be the case if you’re driving a high-revving classic sports car, but if you’re behind the wheel of a modern car you’ll be able to comfortably maintain 20mph in third or even fourth gear. If you don’t believe us, then watch our our video. We drove a little city car with a one-litre engine on 20mph-limited streets to see how it performed.
20mph limits mean I’ll use more fuel
Reducing peak road speeds in areas where people live, work or play saves energy and cash. Research into typical stop/start urban traffic by Future Transport reveals fuel efficiency peaks with speed capped at 20mph. Drivers benefit from up to 10p per mile in fuel savings without trips taking longer. That’s a 30 per cent saving in urban fuel costs.
In built-up towns and villages, the key factor in fuel consumption is the number of times you accelerate back up to the speed limit after slowing down or stopping – the higher the speed limit then the greater that acceleration influences fuel consumption.
Engineering consultants at Future Transport modelled the fuel efficiency in accelerating from stopped to between 5 and 40mph. For a typical urban drive cycle – with repeated acceleration and deceleration – fuel efficiency peaks at a top speed of 15-20mph.
To drive at 20mph I need to keep my eyes focussed on the speedo and that’s not safe
If you’re unable to maintain a particular speed without your eyes glued to the speedo, driving’s not for you. One of the things learner drivers master early on is the ability to keep to a particular speed while occasionally glancing at the speedometer to check their speed hasn’t crept up. It’s a basic skill that’s assessed by examiners as part of the driving test. After all, driving steadily at 20mph is no different from maintaining 30, 40 or 70mph.
Reducing road harm
The most compelling argument in favour of 20mph limits is the reduction in road harm. When a person is struck by a car they are 7 times more likely to die if the vehicle is travelling at 30mph.
The ethical choice
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