MSPs vote down Scotland’s 20mph bill

07.28 | 14 June 2019 | | 18 comments

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

The Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill was put forward by Green MSP Mark Ruskell in September 2018, who said the measures would improve child safety and save five lives a year.

However, in a passionate debate in Holyrood, opponents of the bill questioned the evidence for this claim and argued that local authorities are best placed to make a decision on where 20mph limits are appropriate.

In the vote which followed the debate, 83 MSPs opposed the bill, with only 26 – mostly Labour and Green MSPs and one from the SNP – voting in favour. Four SNP MSPs abstained.

No surprise
The result comes as no surprise, following the earlier decision of the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee to reject the bill, saying a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would not give local authorities enough flexibility.

Reaching its conclusion last month, the committee said that while it supported lowering some speed limits, it was unable to recommend the general principles of the bill.

Speaking at that time, Edward Mountain MSP, committee convener, said: “After considering extensive evidence, the committee has concluded that the introduction of 20mph speed limits on all restricted roads in Scotland in a one-size-fits-all approach is not the most effective way of achieving those objectives.

“The committee is of the view that local authorities should have the flexibility to decide where new 20mph zones would be most effective and appropriate for their areas.

‘Regressive vote’
The campaign group 20’s Plenty for Us has responded by accusing the Scottish Parliament of ‘lacking national vision’. It says MSPs ‘sided with the motoring lobby, ignoring public health experts and popular support’.

Rod King MBE, director of 20’s Plenty for Us, said: “This was an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to align its standard and values with best practice in European countries where 30km/h (18.5mph) is the de-facto default.

“But the vision they had was with the eyes of a driver rather than that of a child, or mother walking children to school, or elderly person walking to shops. Their vision was not of a healthier nation that was unafraid to walk or cycle in their communities.

“Our campaigns across Scotland will continue to keep up the pressure to set 20mph as the default for community streets and hold this Government to account for casualties on their life-threatening 30mph national limit roads.”



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    I’m glad you mentioned the BRITE study Adrian. Here is what I wrote about the BRITE Bristol 20mph limit evaluation report in February 2018

    “The ‘model’ headline of the article is a quote from the rather shameless self promotion in the authors report. I give credit for some of the detailed nature of some aspects of the report but the report is far from comprehensive, missing out some keys aspects altogether. Also some of the points are underplayed and need expanding upon to avoid leading people to draw incorrect assumptions.
    I wouldn’t endorse using this model as it is not fit for purpose in its current form.”


    Pat, Wales
    Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

    Charles, the BRITE study from UWE re Bristol and WS Atkins re Brighton. Have you have ever seen independent and irrefutable peer-reviewed evidence that 30mph is the right speed limit where people and motor vehicles mix, or do you think that any speed limits have no part to play in road safety?

    Adrian Berendt, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (0) | Disagree (4)

    Adrian, of the four places that showed a decrease in casualties, have you ever seen independent (e.g. not produced by the local authority concerned) and irrefutable peer-reviewed evidence that the reductions are statistically relevant and that they were exclusively caused by sign-only speed limits – and that no other influences could possibly have produced the reductions?

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

    Charles. Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Bath, Portsmouth, Hampshire as well as DfT statistics all point to lower speed limits leading to lower speeds. Physics tells us that lower speeds are safer. Of the places referred to above, the first four also show lower casualties (I don’t have the data for Portsmouth / Hampshire)

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (1) | Disagree (2)

    Adrian, have you ever come across any evidence that supports your apparent belief that speed limits play any significant or worthwhile part in achieving safe (or even safer) speeds?

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (5) | Disagree (1)

    Hugh – fully agree. In my defence, I did say that “a safe speed could be less in certain circumstances.” Where a collisions cannot be avoided, at least we can reduce the likelihood through lower speeds, particularly where there are likely to be pedestrians / cyclists. Speed limits seem to play a part in achieving that lower speed environment.

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (0) | Disagree (2)

    Adrian – I generally agree, however please do not claim that because 90% of pedestrians survive at 20mph it is therefore a ‘safe’ speed (if that is what you meant) – safe speed is one that does not cause the driver to hit anything or anyone at all – the severity of the impact is irrelevant.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

    As a 20’s Plenty supporter, I do not conflate speeds and speed limits. Charles is absolutely right to point out the difference.

    The first question is: what is a safe speed? It seems to be commonly accepted that a speed of no more than 20mph / 30kph is appropriate where people and vehicles mix. A safe speed could also be less in certain circumstances, but at 20mph, 90% of pedestrians will survive, so there is some logic.

    The second question is whether a 20mph speed limit plays a part in getting speeds down to, or nearer to 20mph. The evidence to date seems to be that lower speed limits DO reduce speeds.

    In an ideal world, we could rely on people’s abilities and judgements to judge a safe speed. There are 1800 fatal flaws with that argument = the number of road users that died in the UK in 2017 (plus the 25,000 seriously injured) because someone misjudged a safe speed! A safe speed to a driver in an air-conditioned, sound-proofed steel box is rather different from an elderly person trying to cross the road.

    But, we are where we are, with 30mph set as the blanket limit on roads with lighting. I’d like to hear the justification for that limit. If we are to have speed limits, then I suggest that 30mph is too high on most urban roads.

    Adrian Berendt, 20’s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (2) | Disagree (11)

    Hugh, whether that is a “plus” depends on your vision of who (in terms of cognitive skill level, IQ level, mental ability, physical ability, moral compass setting, risk thermostat setting, etc.) should be entitled to share our public roads, how those roads should be used, what responsibilities those who supply the road infrastructure should be expected to carry, and what responsibilities those who use the roads should be expected to carry.

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (8) | Disagree (1)

    On the plus side Charles, speed limits when enforced, is a way of bringing to book, those who are not responsible when behind the wheel – they tend to go together.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (8)

    Again we see the pro-20s lobby conflating 20mph speed limits with 20mph speeds, as if the former had any part to play in delivering the latter. The MSPs were clearly not fooled by this ploy.

    The sooner we totally forget about speed limits and start concentrating on measures that can actually result in safe and sociable speeds the better. We all know of places where, regardless of whether the speed limit is 20, 30 or 60mph, traffic speeds are safe and sociable, and we all know of places where, even with speed limits of 20mph, traffic speeds are unacceptable. Why can’t we put two and two together and reach four – that is: that speed limits are useless, pointless and not worth the value of the signs that they are painted on?

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (17) | Disagree (6)

    Hello Rod
    The comments from “Pat, Wales” on the news articles on the RSGB website express a personal view and do not speak for or express the view of Torfaen Council. If I were to make any public comments in an official capacity on behalf of my organisation, they would be clearly labelled as from “Pat Bates, Torfaen Council.” No such comments have been issued on RSGB news articles to date.

    I look forward to sharing the platform with you and another at the national conference in November and presenting a point of view on the 20mph speed limits “Hot Topic” .

    Pat Bates

    Pat Bates, Pontypool
    Agree (12) | Disagree (0)

    I watched the whole of the debate and, while the outcome of the vote on the motion itself was disappointing, hardly a voice was raised against 20mph. The principle of 20mph on residential streets is now established and accepted in Scotland. The question now is how best to introduce. I look forward to seeing alternative proposals from the Scottish government as to how it will meet the aspirations of its communities.

    Adrian Berendt, Tunbridge Wells, 20's Plenty for Kent
    Agree (6) | Disagree (10)


    I look forward to speaking and meeting. This bill was not for a “blanket speed limit”. It excluded all A and B roads regardless of whether they had lighting and also allowed local authorities to specify where a 20mph limit was “not needed”. It is far less “blanket” than other national speed limits.

    Regarding “engineering” we believe that this cannot cost effectively replace a speed limit setting and engagement/enforcement process that endorses the social norm that 20 is plenty where people are. It’s what successive government surveys show yet is diluted by parts of the establishment saying otherwise.

    I ask quite plainly, if “engineering” is such a vital tool in compliance then why are the speed limits that most protect vulnerable road users the only ones for which the rule applies? We never hear those same parts of the establishment saying they will take out space and build chicanes on dual carriageways where they want a 50 limit, or do the same to gain compliance where 30/40/50/60/70 limits are desirable.

    However, I do recognise that there may be particular issues in Torfaen County Borough Council that would nuance these issues and would look forward to constructively discussing how these can be accommodated.

    Best wishes

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (4) | Disagree (12)

    No problem with that Rod. I have said several times on other occasions that I’m not against specific 20mph speed limits where they are needed and with appropriate engineering measures to aid compliance to the speed limit.

    Just completely against blanket default signed only 20s. We obviously continue to disagree on the definition of “where they are needed.”

    Speak again soon, but that’s my two posts on this article.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (14) | Disagree (3)

    In reality, the current 30 mph limit on residential roads does not and has not not stopped children playing in those roads and they are are not eagerly awaiting the introduction of lower limits to enable them to play out even more.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (13) | Disagree (3)

    Pat shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

    Transport lead for SNP said

    “The Scottish Government’s clear view is that we support implementing 20mph limits in the right environment, because they have the potential to encourage more active travel and increase people’s feeling of safety.”

    Transport lead for Scottish conservatives said

    “We are happy to support the further roll-out of 20mph zones.”

    ” Mr Ruskell can rest assured that, if the Government does not react to his concerns or to the committee’s concerns, Conservative members will work with him and anybody else to ensure that, if there continue to be barriers to establishing 20mph zones where they are wanted, he will have our support in tackling them.”

    Transport lead for Labour said

    “My challenge to the Scottish Government today is for it to make clear that Scotland will show the ambition that other parts of the UK are showing; that when a child walks to school or to the play park, they will benefit from there being a lower speed limit on those roads; and that where they live should not determine whether they get those benefits. The Government should establish a task force, with a very clear aim of delivering 20mph in residential areas, and make clear that Scotland will become a safer place to live.”

    Transport lead for LibDems said

    “Many people in our rural communities want to reduce the speed limit to 20mph on our A-class and B-class roads that run through our villages, but the bill would not do that and, to be fair to Mark Ruskell, he does not pretend that it would.”

    And Mark Ruskell’s final words were

    “Every child and every other person living on every street in Scotland deserves their freedom and their right to play, walk and cycle and to live without fear. Every country and city across Europe that values those rights and freedoms is setting a safer speed limit—a 20mph speed limit. ”

    I look forward to many more 20mph zones being implemented in Scotland on residential and urban roads. It appears that all parties are in favour of that.

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (4) | Disagree (10)

    Great decision. and by a large majority
    It is good that there is a reality check in the grand but largely impractical aspirations of default 20s campaigners.

    It does seem as though the majority of MSPs agree that the emperors new clothes are invisible.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (17) | Disagree (5)

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