Scotland’s default 20mph limit in jeopardy

15.12 | 21 March 2019 | | 12 comments

The Bill was introduced to Scottish Parliament in September 2018

A Bill to make 20mph the default speed limit across Scotland looks unlikely to succeed, having received a lukewarm reception from the Scottish Government and Police Scotland.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee, which is currently scrutinising the Restricted Roads (20mph speed limit) Scotland Bill, transport secretary Michael Matheson said decisions about 20mph speed limits ‘were best left to councils’.

Mr Matheson warned that the Bill, which will be presented to the Scottish Parliament for its stage one debate later this year, could even jeopardise the Government’s active travel spending.

Reported by Transport Xtra, Mr Matheson told MSPs: “As the Bill stands, we do not think that it is the most effective way to take forward the agenda of getting a greater number of 20mph roads and zones in the right places.

“There are some restricted roads that we would not want to be 20mph and there are roads that are not restricted that we might want to have as 20mph roads.”

Mr Matheson also pointed to the recently published DfT report on 20mph, produced by Atkins, which found insufficient evidence of a reduction in collisions and casualties following the introduction of 20mph limits in residential areas.

He added: “(The report) reinforces our view that taking a blanket approach is not necessarily the best way to ensure that we achieve what we are trying to get from introducing 20mph zones.”

Mr Matheson said the Scottish Government is working with partners to explore ways of simplifying the implementation of 20mph limits.

‘Clear majority’ support the Bill
The 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.

Last week, Mr Ruskell published the findings of a survey, which he says shows that a ‘clear majority’ of people support his proposal.

The poll suggests that – once those who ‘neither agree nor disagree with the policy’ were removed – 72% of respondents said they support the introduction of 20mph default speed limits.

Mark Ruskell MSP said: “All the evidence demonstrates that introducing a 20mph limit in residential areas across Scotland would save lives.

“Given the evidence, and the public backing my proposition has, it is now time for the Scottish Government to get behind my Bill, ensuring that we put the lives of children ahead of maintaining the status quo.”

Enforcement ‘would not be a priority’ for Police Scotland
Chief Superintendent Stewart Carle, Police Scotland’s head of road policing, has told the Scottish Government that enforcing the proposed 20mph limits would not be a priority for the force.

Reported in the Scotsman, Mr Carle told the Government’s rural economy and connectivity committee: “I would have concerns that the Bill seeks to impose 20mph as a blanket.

“20mph will not be a priority. The majority of casualties are on higher-speed roads. I must prioritise where there is the biggest impact.

“Suddenly switching a lot of resources from faster roads would not give the same gain.”



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    Opinions are always interesting, particularly when they come from those with expertise, but it’s also worth including some data. Let’s examine the statements from Mr Carle and Mr Mathieson that switching resources from faster roads to 20mph schemes would not give the same gain. No, the would bring FAR GREATER gains just in road safety terms, aside from the other benefits of 20mph.

    As I don’t have a Scottish equivalent spend on faster A roads, I have used UK data.

    The UK government is spending £100m on “fixing the most dangerous stretches” of roads in England, with the aim of saving 72 KSIs per year – that’s 0.72 KSI pa per £1m spent. Even if that aim is met (I have my doubts), each subsequent £100m spent would, under the law of diminishing returns, reduce KSIs less.

    Let’s compare that with reducing the default speed limit on 30mph urban roads to 20mph. At £5 per head, each £1m spent would cover 0.3% of people (200,000 people out of 66m). DfT estimates of £4,000 per mile to implement 20mph * 85,000 miles of urban roads gives us a similar %age.

    There were 7,500 KSIs on non-A urban roads in 2017. Wide area 20mph schemes in Bristol, Brighton, Calderdale, Edinburgh etc indicate casualty savings of around 20%. Let’s use a conservative figure of 15%. That gives expected savings: 7,500 * 0.3% * 15% = 3.38 KSIs.

    That’s nearly 5x the number saved under the UK government faster roads scheme. AND, each £1m spent generates the same reduction, more if specific urban A roads are included.

    Further, concentrating spending on urban roads brings many more benefits, not least because that is where almost all pedestrian casualties occur.

    Adrian Berendt, 20's Plenty for Kent
    Agree (1) | Disagree (2)


    Whilst I appreciate a poster actually revealing their identity rather than remaining anonymous, yours is a personal opinion.

    I was referring to WHO, OECD, Global Network of Road Safety legislators, etc who all call for a 30km/h limit where motor vehicles mix with pedestrians and cyclists. They take into account the wide range of driving, physical and cognitive abilities of people who need to use such roads.

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (2) | Disagree (16)

    > keep speed limits 60% higher than the recognised safe speed limit of 30km/h.

    As a pedestrian, I find 48.4km/h safe.

    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (13) | Disagree (2)

    To clarify, I am not complaining that they are “clear and unambiguous”, merely noting that Pat’s comment that they are is somewhat wide of the mark.

    Its strikes me that there is something wrong when we are quite prepared to spend millions on speed cameras to protect motorists from other non-compliant drivers on the A9 yet when it comes to protecting vulnerable road users in towns and cities prefer to de-prioritise enforcement and keep speed limits 60% higher than the recognised safe speed limit of 30kmh.

    This is hand-wringing and hand-washing rather than taking responsibility for setting appropriate speed limits in communities.

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (6) | Disagree (16)

    Rod you never in the past complained about statements being ‘clear and unambiguous’if they had found in favour of your scheme now would you. Politics is politics and many such statements never answer nor address the real issues of the question, many answers the just avoid the question as if it had never been asked. Many answers just fudge the issues. Many such statements made are sometimes unclear or ambiguous and are generally their to defend a decision made by politicians and sometimes made in haste.

    Agree (13) | Disagree (0)

    I suppose that some of the points raised by the scheme owners and the questions given to the public to respond to are perhaps ‘Do you want safer streets’ ‘Do you want road speeds down’ ‘Do you want your children to be safer on the streets’ Or be able to play out on the streets with greater safety’ Do you want the air to be less polluted for your children’ and so on and so forth.

    It’s no wonder that they profess to have the majority of ordinary people on their side asking questions like that as no one in their right mind would vote against less deaths and injuries to anyone especially to their children or others childrens.

    End of. Its seems that the movement may falter. Without Atkins coming out in direct support of the schemes and of the purported stats. That might not be a bad thing as we can possibly concentrate on the rest of society who are at risk on our roads and reduce the risk to many more of them and not just the few.

    Agree (9) | Disagree (0)

    Perhaps it is neither what Pat or Rod said, but rather coded language to say that the police and government officials don’t really believe that signed-only default 20s will work well and so don’t want to go that way?

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (19) | Disagree (0)

    Why are the public being asked for their opinion on this anyway?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)


    Lets take a check on those statements which you claim are “clear and unambiguous”.

    “could even jeopardise the Government’s active travel spending.”

    That doesn’t seem very clear. This bill would only cost less than 1% of the next 2 year’s transport budget for Scotland. “could and even” seem rather ambiguous to me.

    “There are some restricted roads that we would not want to be 20mph and there are roads that are not restricted that we might want to have as 20mph roads.”

    No Surprise Sherlock!!!

    The bill allows for local traffic authorities to add or take away from the pool of restricted roads to be changed to 20mph.

    “(The report) reinforces our view that taking a blanket approach is not necessarily the best way to ensure that we achieve what we are trying to get from introducing 20mph zones.”

    One again “not necessarily doesn’t seem to be that “unambiguous”.

    So rather than being “bold” , the minister has merely taken a rather non-committal and ambiguous view.

    Rod King, Warrington
    Agree (3) | Disagree (27)

    Is anybody else bothered by the removal of the “neither agree nor disagree” cohort from the reported voting figures? Without it no-one can know what proportion of respondents are actually represented in the outcome. If people abstain from voting it’s fair enough to discount them, but votes that “neither agree nor disagree” should at least be taken as an indication that those people are not convinced by the case for change. Depending on the scale of that cohort that should prompt at least a review of what is proposed.

    At the risk of treading on dangerous ground, arguably there should be no option to vote “neither”, the vote should be either in favour or not in favour of a clear and articulated change. The existence of a “neither” cohort may be evidence that a proportion of the population recognise this is a complex problem that doesn’t lend itself to a binary solution.

    Tim, West Midlands
    Agree (16) | Disagree (2)

    Very sensible comments from Scotland’s transport secretary and the Head of Roads Policing in Scotland. It is good that these people are now stepping forward with clear and unambiguous statements and counter arguments to default signed only 20s bandwagon.

    We could do with a bit more of that boldness at the top of the tree here in Wales.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (27) | Disagree (4)

    It’s gladdening to see some common sense coming to bare at last. However it’s not just the ‘faster’ roads that are the problem – as roads with 30 mph speeds limits in urban areas are responsible for some 60% of all incidents/collisions and casualties.

    The greatest problem is not speed and not even tailgating. It’s that drivers have been instructed to drive at only the ‘thinking distance’ apart from the rear of other vehicles – and that leaves insufficient space in which to stop in an emergency.

    The sooner we discard this particular training the safer our roads will become.

    Agree (9) | Disagree (4)

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