Default 20mph limits an ‘essential building block’

07.52 | 30 July 2019 | | 19 comments

Image: The Ramblers via Twitter

A coalition of transport and active travel charities is calling on the Government to introduce a default 20mph speed limit in England.

The 11 charities* – including Brake, 20’s Plenty for Us, Sustrans and British Cycling – say 20mph limits have been ‘largely overlooked’ in the DfT’s Road Safety Action Plan.

Published on 19 July, the plan sets out 74 actions the Government is considering to reduce the number of people killed and injured on the roads.

In a letter to the DfT, the coalition – headed up by 20’s Plenty for Us – describes 20mph limits as the foundation for lower road casualties, getting more people walking and cycling and improving social justice.

The partners point to research which suggests casualties in built-up areas are reduced by up to 40% when vehicle speeds are kept to 20mph or below.

The coalition is calling for the Government to adopt a 20mph default speed limit in urban areas – but stresses that this would not be a ‘blanket speed limit’ and that local authorities would still be free to retain higher limits on appropriate roads.

Rod King MBE, founder of 20’s Plenty for Us, said: “The imminent arrival of new technology such as speed limiters on vehicles and Government policies encouraging more people to walk and cycle makes the speed limit we set all the more important. 

“Moving to a default speed limit of 20mph is an essential building block in making our cities, towns and villages safer and more attractive places to walk, cycle and spend time outside.”

20mph – the current position
20mph limits are never far from the media spotlight – with ongoing debate about whether 20mph should become the default limit in urban and residential areas.

In June, MSPs voted down a bill which sought to make 20mph the default limit on residential streets in Scotland.

Opponents of the bill questioned whether the move would save lives and argued that local authorities are best placed to make decisions on where 20mph limits are appropriate.

In contrast, plans to make 20mph the default limit for residential areas in Wales appear likely to be implemented, with the country’s first minister, Mark Drakeford, issuing a statement of support in May.

Mr Drakeford cited the city-wide roll-out of 20mph limits by Cardiff Council, labelling it ‘a good example of what can be done’.

In London, TfL is adopting a similar stance and recently announced plans to introduce 20mph limits on all central London roads by May 2020.

The proposals, which were put out for consultation in June, are described as a key part of the mayor’s Vision Zero ambition to eliminate death and serious injury on the Capital’s transport network.

20mph limits, and whether they have a role to play in reducing collisions and casualties, will also be the subject of a debate at the National Road Safety Conference in November 2019.

The 11 charities behind the letter are: 20’s Plenty for Us, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain, Brake, British Cycling, Campaign for Better Transport London Group, Sustrans, Cycling UK, Living Streets, London Cycling Campaign, The Ramblers and RoadPeace.



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    Thanks Pat. That’s useful to know. Presumably you are happy to set a 20mph limit on roads with no casualty history and hence could not meet your second condition.

    I note that you have said (with engineering as required). Presumably you would accept that roads may not require any engineering, especially if accompanied by a national media campaign on education and engagement, as well as increased enforcement?

    And as a road safety professional would you be in favour of such education/engagement and increased enforcement? I tend to think that this is an area where RSPs can be of great assistance in changing the culture on vehicle speed in our communities.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (2) | Disagree (17)

    Certainly Rod,

    Where the average vehicle speed after the introduction of a 20mph speed limit (with engineering as required) was reasonably expected to be less than 24mph AND, ideally, where a reduction in the road casualty record was also reasonably expected.

    I don’t see most wide area default 20s ticking both those boxes. I think I have now worn out my welcome on this thread.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

    Just so we know Pat. How would you define a “credible solution”?

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (1) | Disagree (2)

    As I have said before on this subject, I am familiar with locations were compliance with a 20 limit is very high and sustainable without the need for enforcement or other aids to compliance and other locations where compliance is poor. It does seem to depend on the demographic of the area to some extent and where there is a stronger sense of civic responsibility.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (15)

    I will support a credible solution when I see one. Not seen one yet and not convinced that an effective default 20s plan exists or can be developed without heavyweight enforcement.

    Let’s see what gets worked through to a consensus in Wales by next summer.

    Methinks you put far too much expectation on ISA and Home Office approval for new lower cost automated enforcement equipment to catch speeders may take somewhat longer than that.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)


    Yes. The “elephant is still in the room”. But whilst some of us are working on getting the elephant out of the room, others are just wringing their hands and telling people “there’s an elephant in the room”!

    And with ISA and automated enforcement and a government committed to compliance then that elephant will certainly be pushed out of the room.

    Will you be one of the people helping us?

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (1) | Disagree (15)

    Although Pat says enforcement is ‘weak to non-existent’, perhaps the way forward is for volunteers to carry out enforcement as in the SERP example mentioned in the other current news story.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (13)

    I think we all know the imperfections of the current system and the national road casualty record however the relevant question is:- How much credibility should we give to the arguments that a default 20 is the answer to the problem. – Not much I believe.

    All the time enforcement is weak to non-existent, speeding will continue, and the majority of drivers mindsets will be resistant to change.

    I do agree with Rod that, if 20s are to be effective, we need more police enforcement but unlike Rod, I don’t see that happening any time soon. The elephant is still in the room.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

    Unintended consequences.
    A single road out of 100’s in a report.
    Questioning on the meaning of the word “overlooked”

    I am giving those arguments the attention they deserve.

    But David Matthews makes a relevant point, although I would be partially in agreement.

    Yes arrogant and habitual speeders will blatantly ignore any speed limit unless they fear being caught. And for that we need two things. First the right speed limit as decided by considering the whole community rather than one rubber-stamping what drivers think is appropriate, and secondly far greater enforcement.

    The first is clearly a 20mph limit where motor vehicles mix with pedestrians and cyclists as evidence-based and advocated by WHO, ETSC and all the rest.

    The second can be done. It doesn’t require a policeman on every corner. Speeding is a “strict liability” offence. You are either braking the law or not. And if so should suffer the consequences. Automated enforcement is now possible with complete systems available for less than £1,000 per site. And ISA will mean that non-compliance will become a pre-meditated act.

    There really is no excuse for opposing 20mph limits on the basis that people “might not comply”.

    But what of the rest of drivers. Evidence is that they do reduce speeds and 20mph becomes a new reference point for their speed on the roads. Communities become better places.

    And for Pat and his talk of “unintended consequences”. Tell that to the 100,000 casualties per annum on Britain’s 30mph roads where the limit set 85 years ago is clearly not meeting the needs of society in the 21st century.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (4) | Disagree (16)

    The habitual speeding driver will ignore any speed limit sign or adjustment, whether 10 – 20 – 30 – 40 mph. Adding or changing signs in the current driver attitude climate is a shameful waste of public money, the regular arrogant speeding driver just ignores the signs. We all see that every day.

    It is time for Cloud based over-speed detection installation legislation, serious speeding offenders to have their vehicles seized. The biggest deterrent is the fear of being caught. After a few vehicles have been seized and crushed plus driving bans put out things will change.

    No appeasing the snowflakes, “poor loves, it will affect their livelihood”, so will killing the innocent.

    The offenders ignore their responsibilities, so like a responsible adult bringing up a child to be responsible for their own actions, operant conditioning is a good educator. It works on apes!

    David Matthews, Northamptonshire
    Agree (5) | Disagree (8)

    The difference between the two recorded average speeds is so unlikely, it has to be an error Guzzi. Looking at the road in question on Google maps, it is a typical residential road with road humps and an average speed of 30mph would just not be possible. I’ve surveyed streets like this for speed and even without road humps, an average of 25 mph would be the norm.

    What are the practical scenarios you mention that would explain it, if not an error?

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (4) | Disagree (15)

    Thanks for pointing that exception out, Guzzi. Even if Hugh is not correct (although I suspect that he is), that road is 1 of just 6 (3 * 20mph and 3 * 30mph) out of a total of 106. On the other 100 roads, average speeds fell. I think that supports my point.

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (2) | Disagree (9)

    Changing to a default 20 will inevitably have unintended consequences.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (11) | Disagree (2)

    Why do you presume it should be an error Hugh? Changes to roads and speed limits can cause drivers to change their routes and behaviours. And not always for the better. The original report didn’t give a reason but I can think of at least a couple of practical scenarios that could be the reason. I’m not going to mention them as that would be presumption on my part.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

    Re Mowcroft Road, Guzzi – I would suggest this is an error! Either in the method used to measure the speeds or the analysis and reporting thereof, or simply not comparing like with like. It really should have been checked before including it in an official report.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (5) | Disagree (16)

    Since you ask Adrian, how about what happened on Mowcroft Road in Bristol? The UWE report says that average speeds were 19.47mph when it was a 30 speed limit. Yet after it changed to a 20 speed limit average speeds went up to 30.78mph.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (11) | Disagree (2)

    While Guzzi is right to point out the difference between actual posted speeds and speed limits, it’s not quite “chalk & cheese”. The causal link between speed and casualty severity is undeniable (physics / biology), so the question is whether lower speed limits lead to lower speeds? All the evidence that I have seen – Portsmouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, etc – is that they do. I’d be genuinely interested in evidence that lower speed limits do NOT lower speeds. So far, I have seen none.

    In arguing for lower speed limits, I don’t deny the need for more enforcement, for safer road design and for education about the negative impacts of speed.

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (7) | Disagree (10)

    I see the campaigners are quoting the advantages of 20mph vehicle speeds and equating them to 20mph speed limits. Chalk & cheese.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (13) | Disagree (3)

    I don’t think “largely overlooked” is the correct phrase as that may infer that 20s were forgotton and I’m sure that wasn’t the case. I would be surprised that if the lack of mention wasn’t intentional. You can read a lot into what’s not mentioned.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

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