DfT paves way for more 40mph and 20mph limits

12.00 | 15 July 2012 | | 12 comments

The DfT has paved the way for speed limits on many rural roads in England to be cut to 40mph, and for the introduction of more 20mph limits in urban areas (BBC News).

The DfT says in draft guidance that councils should consider reducing the limit from 60mph to 40mph on roads with many bends or junctions, where there is substantial development and where there is a considerable number of horse riders, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. The DfT proposals are open to public consultation.

Mike Penning, road safety minister, said: "Road safety is a top priority and the guidance will help councils make evidence-based decisions to introduce local speed limits that reflect the needs of all road users."

Talking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Ralph Smyth, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "It seems strange that you’ve got minor roads, often that are just tarmaced tracks, that have a speed limit of 60mph – just 10mph less than the motorways.”

He suggested that rather than erecting "repeater" signs, councils could use 40mph zones, similar to the 20mph zones in urban areas, where there isn’t the requirement to have the signs every few hundred metres. This approach, he suggested would mean less cost and less clutter in the countryside.

Milly Wastie, vice-chairwoman of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, said education and awareness about driving conditions are key to reducing accidents on rural roads.

She said: "I think instead of lowering the speeds on rural roads it’s more about education and awareness and I think it’s how to drive and how to manage different driving conditions.”

Brake, the road safety charity, said it "fully supported" the proposals.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive said: "60mph is far too fast for safety on many rural roads. Ultimately we would like to see our default speed limits lowered."

English councils will also be given more freedom to introduce 20mph speed limits and use variable speed limits outside schools.

No changes are planned to the national speed limits of 30mph on street-lit roads, 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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    It is my understanding that the CPS are withdrawing from the prosecution of “specified offences” which includes speeding and that this will fall to the Police to prosecute, which at a time of decreasing budgets and resources presents an interesting conundrum – do the Police employ lawyers to deal with such not guilty plea cases or are they not pursued due to a lack of resources?

    This will undermine any such initiative as referred to in the article above, whether it is based on “evidence” or not, let alone undermine the “rule of law”. The DfT refers to Councils making evidence based decisions on whether to implement such limits or not, therefore firstly considerable resource will need to be employed in collecting such evidence and secondly there will need to be “decision making model” applied to ensure consistency of approach………….

    All these things before even consideration of any Local Traffic Orders taking place by Councils…. this is in reality a funding issue.

    Andy, Gloucester
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    Portsmouth is an example of a city with a large 20 zone, yet its casualties have risen significantly since the limits were imposed as per this press release:-

    FIGURES have shown a large increase in the number of people seriously injured on Portsmouth’s roads last year.

    The Department for Transport has released data on the number of people killed or seriously hurt which reveals the city had the second largest rise of any in the UK – behind only St Helens which showed an increase of 62 per cent.

    No one was killed on Portsmouth’s road in 2011, as opposed to two people the year before, but the number of serious injuries jumped from 89 to 143.

    Overall the annual number of people killed in road accidents has increased by three per cent, from 1,850 in 2010 to 1,901 in 2011.

    This is the first increase since 2003.

    The number of people reported killed or seriously injured has also increased by two per cent to 25,023 from 24,510 in 2010 – the first annual increase since 1994.

    Bobbio, Saint Albans
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    I notice none of the comments here mention the possible cost of this pointless exercise. Where pray are these cash strapped Councils going to get the money from? Firstly they will have to remove all the existing signs and then replace them with new. Don’t forget that in a 40 mph limit there have to be repeater signs unlike the national 60 limit on single carriageways. Is the tax payer going to foot the bill or are the councils going to rely on funds from future traffic fines? It would be very interesting to know how much it costs to put in one repeater sign. Any Council bean counter reading this site, who can help me out please?

    Jan, Surrey
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    I am saddened by the knee-jerk plans based on overstated assumptions about the contribution of speed to accidents.

    Because more than 90% of drivers at any time drive at speeds they correctly judge to be safe, it has been usual for decades to set limits at the 85 percentile – the speed that 85% of drivers do not exceed even in the absence of limits. This sensible and scientifically based policy is now being ditched in favour of absurd limits close to the 50th percentile speed – in effect saying that at any given time and place 50% of drivers are driving at unsafe speeds. This is utter nonsense.

    It has been known for decades that unrealistically low limits can lead to increases in average speed – might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb – and also that it leads to dangerous increases in speed DIFFERENTUALS between those who believe that the law must be obeyed to the letter at all times and those who think – often rightly – that the law is an ass.

    Idris Francis
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    Speed is a factor in collisions but as others point out it’s driver behaviour that sets the collision risk in most situations.

    However, even if the police presence on roads were increased they would never cover all roads all the time so therefore we are back to driver behaviour. A nut that we may never find the way to crack.

    Dr James Whalen DSA ADI (Car), Wolverhampton
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    RTCs happen at any speed and my last one involved waiting to enter onto an A road from a minor road. I was parked and saw another vehicle on the A road start to reverse and so waited until he had completed his move. Much to my surprise he reversed at high speed in an arc and into our vehicle which sustained serious damage. Had any pedestrian been walking across that arc of travel they would have been killed. This was in a 30MPH area with a camera site within 200 metres. RTCs transpire at any point and at any time. Driver error/failure to observe, incompetence, being the main causes. Bring back policing as it should be and respect for those in uniform and safer roads will return.

    Reg Oliver, Derbyshire
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    So effectively the motorist is being forced on to the motorways; I use my car to get from A to B as fast as possible, not to crawl at 40 mph.

    Jim, Aberdeen
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    The percentage of injury collisions caused by driver error still stands at over 90%. There is no doubt that education across the board is the key to reducing collisions from children to the older driver. I would support the reduction in speed limits but there are two very important caveats. Firstly the reduction must be backed up by reasons developed by data analysis. The main argument against lower speed limits is the lack of any reasons as to why. The reduction should be based on collision history and traffic usage and not just on a whim. Second there is little point in any speed reduction if there is no enforcement. The Police have openly stated that they cannot and indeed will not enforce the current limits especially 20mph unless there is real danger and that happens rarely. Local Authority spending cuts have removed most of the safety camera partnerships and bringing back fixed cameras would be prohibitive to most authorities on financial grounds.

    Terry Beale Somerset SRS
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    Forget any idea of education? We might as well all go home now then…

    It’s not about training people to take bends faster, it’s about getting them to consider hazards and conditions and respond accordingly. 40mph is still fast enough to kill a cyclist, motorcyclist, pedestrian or even another driver in some cases. There are still KSIs in 20mph zones.

    What we really need is proper, effective roads policing, a robust legal system which actually deals with drivers that kill and maim. A driver and rider training system that’s fit of purpose and an education package for road users that ensures they’re all aware of their reponsibility to be safe and effective.

    Inappropriate speed use is a symptom not the overall illness.

    Dave, Leeds
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    What people behind desks who make laws seem to fail to realise is that if you don’t have an effective means of enforcing the law then it just gets ignored and the respect for the law goes down accordingly. You have massive reduction in police, and particularly in traffic units and you already have open abuse of speed limits in country conditions where there is no police presence, which is almost everywhere down here. Mobile phones are regularly seen being used, both in country and town. The law may be there but without the means (or desire) to enforce it there is no accountability. So bringing in further speed limits without the means to enforce them just encourages an increased lack of respect for the law. But also those who do keep to the limits are faced with frustrated (and sometimes very frustrated) drivers behind them. Bring the speed limit down further and you are going to get more of this.

    Nigel Albright
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    Forget any idea of education. No, it will never get to the people it needs to. And what’s the point of giving drivers or riders more confidence with the inevitable result in increased speed that it ends up with. Should we train drivers how to take bends faster?

    I agree it’s stupid to come from an A or B road with restrictions to a road just half as wide and with many more hazards, not necessarily being other vehicles, having a max of 60 mph. Doesn’t make sense, particularly when one realises that they are the most frequent and dangerous roads in the country. Many used as rat runs.

    I have no objection as a matter of principal in theory if all become 40 mph but I am sure that there are those who would argue that it won’t make any difference.

    As a motorcyclists I would like to see the reduction of KSI on our country roads but could argue against it, as most accidents are on bends that should not be taken at 40 mph anyway and on irresponsible overtaking, on bends or on straights, in circumstances other than that which could be considered safe.

    rob craven Lancs
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    This story is on BBC N24 today.

    Wasn’t the new government going to “end the war on the motorist”? The previous government performed a massive nation-wide reduction in speed limits which they rather dishonestly called a “speed limit review”, as if as many limits would be raised as reduced. At least the current government has honestly stated from the start that this is a determined attempt to reduce as many speed limits as is possible.

    But there is still a lack of honesty regarding the effect this policy might have. The official line is that there can only be positive benefits without warning of the many possible negative side effects, such as increasing collisions due to tiredness, inappropriate speeds, distraction, lack of attention, unsafe overtaking, fewer resources for safety due to damage to the economy etc.

    Many speed limits are already way below safe for most conditions and have brought the law into disrepute. It’s difficult to see how lowering them further still can’t make this even worse.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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