Default 20mph limits in Scotland: ‘the time to act is now’

11.53 | 1 April 2019 | | 8 comments

Image: Sustrans

The Scottish Government is being urged by a coalition of active travel charities to ‘seize the opportunity’ and support a Bill to make 20mph the default speed limit in urban areas.

The Restricted Roads (20mph speed limit) Scotland Bill was first introduced in September 2018 by Mark Ruskell, a Scottish Green Party MSP, who says making 20mph ‘the norm’ in urban areas would reduce injuries and deaths and cut air pollution.

The Bill is currently being scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee ahead of its stage one debate later this year.

However, the Bill received a lukewarm reception from Michael Matheson, Scotland’s transport secretary, who said decisions about 20mph speed limits ‘were best left to councils’. Mr Matheson warned that the Bill could even jeopardise the Government’s active travel spending.

Meanwhile, chief superintendent Stewart Carle, Police Scotland’s head of road policing, told the rural economy and connectivity committee that enforcing the proposed 20mph limits would not be a priority for the force.

On 26 March, a coalition of charities – including Sustrans Scotland, Cycling UK, Living Streets Scotland and Paths for All – published an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon, which calls on the First Minister to support the Bill.

The letter says a Scotland-wide reduction in speed limits will save lives every year, not only ‘through reduced casualties’ but as more people ‘choose active forms of travel and the air quality in our communities improves’.

The letter addresses concerns over a ‘blanket’ approach to implementation, saying the method is equitable, cost effective and offers the greatest scope to reduce casualties.

The letter reads: “A Scotland-wide reduction in speed limits will save lives every year, not only through reduced casualties but as more people choose active forms of travel and the air quality in our communities improves.

“We cannot wait for individual local authorities to implement this in a few limited areas, as and when they have the resources. We cannot wait for more studies.

“We need Scotland to lead, as it did banning smoking in public places and reducing the alcohol limit for drinking and driving. The Safer Streets Bill offers the best chance of safer, fairer roads. The time to act is now.”



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    Rod. Space has everything to do with road safety whether its 20 mph or 70 mph. Without the proper safe distances collisions are going to happen and to a great degree the speed can be taken out of the equation.

    Human nature being what it is,if one reduces the speed limit to 20 mph one will make more queues which will also reduce the following on distance between vehicles and so one will still have tailgating at its worst. Closer. Drivers being now closer together will fixate more on the vehicle in front and their rear brake lights of said vehicle. They will see even less of the road ahead of the vehicle in front, vision which is paramount for safety. With safe following on distances that vision is not impaired in any way. Not only the sight of potential dangers ahead is lost but so will peripheral vision.

    All these matters and many more will make our roads and driving more dangerous and not less dangerous you assume. There will in fact be less room and time to react to avoid a collision as you say.

    Agree (3) | Disagree (1)


    I don’t see how any of those effect the speed limiting. In any case, having a 20mph limit on most urban roads will provide greater room and time for action to avoid a collision.


    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

    My problem with driver assist is about safe following on distance. Will losing the human element mean that we can expect cars fitted with drive assist to be closer to the vehicle in front? And will that driver know the vehicle behind is fitted with a device?

    Just who is going to decide just what the safe stopping distances will be – or will it vary from one manufacturer to another?

    The other problem is that if we have an agreed distance, if we ever do, what will happen to it when it is raining? Will it be doubled? Or if not raining then if it’s that there is standing water and that the road surface is wet and therefore the same distances apply as if its raining, how will that one work?

    Just a few observations.

    How will that one work Rod?

    Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

    Dear Pat

    So, you think that having ISA that does not work when vehicles are in congested traffic that is travelling less than the speed limit is a limitation to its effectiveness.


    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (2) | Disagree (7)

    As far as I am aware I have not criticised ISA itself. What I have been highlighting is the “over-egging” of its likely success and effectiveness in the short term i.e over the next 5 to 10 years.

    Pace cars can/do work in reasonable traffic density (apart from the overtakers) but congestion does the same now with non ISA equipped cars. So the opportunities for ISA to make a difference to vehicle speeds may be less than many are expecting.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (8) | Disagree (2)


    Maybe it would be useful to understand whether the ISA can actually be “Switched off”. I understand that it may be “overidable”, but that is entirely different. As I currently interpret it, switching off ISA in some way by disconnecting it may well make the vehicle illegal.

    And in environments with a reasonable traffic density then ISA will reduce the speed due to the pacer car effect.

    The elephant in the room to me are the people who complain about lack of compliance and then complain about something that is designed to increase compliance. Maybe you should address your criticism of ISA to EU, ETSC, BRAKE, RAC, TRL, TfL, IAM RoadSmart and Road Safety GB who all believe that in their experience and judgement ISA will reduce non-compliance to all speed limits.

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (2) | Disagree (8)

    As mentioned in another article last month, the average age of a car in the UK is 7+ years old. Therefore it is going to be more than a decade before substantial numbers of cars equipped with ISA arrive to mass market second hand car buyers in Scotland and the rest of the UK. And all these new cars will have an “ISA off” switch.

    Don’t expect technology to give any quick fixes to people ignoring 20mph speed limits.
    Non-compliance is still the elephant in the room as confirmed in the DfT Atkins report.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

    And this will be well timed to take advantage of the roll-out of ISA equipped vehicles. All the previous arguments about compliance start to fall away when drivers either have a speed limiter limiting their speed or evidence of over-riding a limit captured in their black-box.

    With ISA coming it makes sense to put the correct speed limits in place, and it can be done for a small fraction of the Scottish road spending budget.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (2) | Disagree (12)

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