Speed limits: should they be lowered during coronavirus pandemic?

13.56 | 30 March 2020 | | 13 comments

A temporary 40mph national speed limit has been introduced on the Isle of Man in a bid to improve road safety during the coronavirus outbreak.

The speed limit, which came into effect on 27 March, is designed to lower the number of traffic collisions – leading to fewer hospital beds being occupied.

Authorities on the Isle of Man are asking drivers to be responsible ‘for the good of the community during this difficult and unprecedented time’.

They hope the move will enable the Island’s health service to deal with the expected spike in the number of people needing hospital treatment in the coming week and months.

Drivers are also being reminded to observe 30mph and 20mph limits – as they are currently required to do.

Medics call for emergency 20mph limits
Meanwhile, medics are calling for the Government to ‘urgently explore’ the introduction of an emergency 50mph national speed limit – as well as reducing limits to 20mph in urban areas.

A British Medical Journal blog, published on 24 March, points to evidence from around the world, which it says shows lowering speed limits can lead to ‘major reductions in injuries’. 

In Canada, for example, lowering the speed limit from 40km/h to 30km/h was associated with a 28% decrease in pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and a 67% decrease in major and fatal injuries.

The blog post reads: “First, we suggest an immediate reduction in motor vehicle speed limits.

“This measure would be particularly important in supporting those who follow Government advice and avoid non-essential use of public transport in order to maintain social distancing. 

“We therefore suggest that the government urgently explore an emergency reduction of all national speed limits to 50mph, and to 20mph in urban areas.”

The call is supported by the campaign group 20’s Plenty for Us, which says every road death is an unnecessary drain on emergency services and the NHS.

Rod King MBE, founder of 20’s Plenty, said: “Every road injury is a preventable and unnecessary drain on emergency services and NHS at a time when both are facing critical Covid-19 workloads. 

“Now is not the time to defend the no-longer-fit-for-purpose 30mph limit for roads on which we have 100,000 injuries each year. It’s why we support the doctors’ call to say 20’s Plenty for built-up roads and lower the baseline load on the NHS.”

Drivers urged to ‘Take Extra Care’
Last week, a campaign was launched encouraging all road users to do their bit to reduce the strain on the emergency services, by taking extra care if they must make an essential journey.

The Road Safety GB campaign, backed by a number stakeholders and the Met Police, stresses to all road users the importance of reducing the number of collisions in order to help ease the strain on the NHS.

Statistics show 160,597 people were killed or injured on Great Britain’s roads in 2019 – an average of 440 people each day.

Alan Kennedy, executive director of Road Safety GB, said: “These are unprecedented times and society as a whole has a responsibility to ease the strain currently being placed on the NHS – and all emergency services.

“Whether you are a driver, rider, cyclist or pedestrian – we can all play our part over the coming months by only travelling when necessary, and taking extra care on every journey.

“Our key message – as is always the case – reduce speeds, wear a seatbelt, drive sober and alert, and stop your vehicle to use a mobile phone.”



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    Just saying, but I am not sure if you have noticed but the fact that trains run on rails may be more of a factor in keeping trains apart than the training of drivers. I also understand that turning right at junctions is highly managed and overtaking is prohibited.

    Of course that is not to underestimate the value of the training of train drivers in any way.


    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (3) | Disagree (15)

    Geoff – if only the human body had evolved in the same way, to withstand an impact at 30mph rather than 20mph.

    It’s only a matter of time before 20mph becomes the default speed limit on urban roads. Sadly that will not help the many road crash victims in the meantime. It’s imperative that we lower the baseline load on the NHS by reducing the speed limit as an emergency measure at this crisis time.

    Adrian Berendt, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (1) | Disagree (19)

    > 35,000 non-fatal admissions from RTC a year

    Notwithstanding High Speed 1, trains in the UK can travel at up to 125mph where line speed permits it. Post Hatfield, a considerable amount of effort has gone into making the railway the safest form of transport in the UK – as a direct result of this, the last passenger fatality was over a decade ago and fatalities amongst staff are very rare.

    What’s the difference between road and rail – might it be the lack of training on offer for car drivers?

    David Weston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
    Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

    I’m with Hugh Jones’s comment on this one – and also with Paul Luton’s comment.

    I’m sure there will be less collisions on the roads simply because of the massive reduction in traffic volumes (at least in my part of the country). However as typical speeds go UP on these now less busy roads, unfortunately more of these fewer collisions are likely to be KSIs. A higher percentage of serious and fatal collisions.

    We don’t need lower speed limits, we need alert drivers complying with the current speed limits. Active and visible policing has a part to play as a restraining influence on speeders.

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

    With regards to the less traffic fewer collisions argument. I seem to recall that in the US states with lowest populations have a highest rate of road mortalities.

    Paul Luton, Teddington
    Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

    Now that there is less traffic about surely, it’s a good opportunity to increase the speed limits on the motorway system and revert those sweeping country roads back from 50 to 60mph. Vehicle design has improved the safety and reliability of cars and HGVs that they could easily cope with a higher speed. That would free up more police officers workload so they can be deployed more usefully and goods would be transported more efficiently and people would spend less time at the wheel to get to a destination so be less tired. The present period could enable a trial with a view to resetting the limits once over.

    Geof Buttler, Birmingham
    Agree (43) | Disagree (11)

    Further to my earlier comment, I am astonished that so many disagree that with so much less motorised traffic on our roads over the next few weeks – or even months – there will inevitably be far less collisions.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (6) | Disagree (23)


    When you say “we have seen an increase in negativity towards speed enforcement” it would be interesting if you could expand.

    Who is being more negative to speed enforcement? The general public or those caught? Maybe the attitude of those caught should be compared to the attitude of victims of speeding vehicles. I am sure that the latter haven’t reduced their support for enforcement.

    When you say “lowering limits would be difficult to enforce”, is that because of our method of enforcement. What could change? Maybe automated, random, covert enforcement. The technology is there. What will be the effect of ISA. Won’t that help? And when pre-crash data is recorded in cars, won’t allowing that to be used in civil and criminal prosecutions assist?

    Surely if Corona Virus tells us anything then the idea of just wringing our hands and saying “its very difficult” is not an option. 35,000 non-fatal admissions from RTC a year says that the system isn’t working. And 100,000 casualties per annum on 30mph limited tells us that they are no longer fit-for-purpose.

    Lower speed limits and ubiquitous enforcement can deliver a huge reduction in road casualties. Its time to do it now.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (6) | Disagree (47)

    The local roads where I live are very quiet. I wouldn’t be surprised if vehicle traffic is down by 70%-90%. Yes you do still get the odd idiot driving fast but that has always been the case.

    The police have been over-stretched for years and even more so with recent Coronavirus related events. But if there is any spare policing capacity (ha-ha) I would prefer them to be deployed to remind walkers of the social distancing rules as our cycle routes and canal towpaths seem to be pretty busy at times now, especially when it is sunny and it is obvious that not everyone is careful enough about maintaining distance.

    I never dreamt that “close following” and “close passing” would ever be terms used for pedestrian safety (regarding infection control), but we are in very strange times.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (13) | Disagree (2)

    The Safer Roads Humber team are using the #TakeExtraCare campaign to highlight the need to use the roads carefully. We have noticed a reduction in traffic and an increase in speeds. It’s still early days on the speed monitoring side but we would welcome information from other areas to see if this is a national picture.

    BUT we have seen an increase in negativity towards speed enforcement, so lowering limits will be very difficult to enforce or get people to accept.

    Ruth Gore, Safer Roads Humber
    Agree (34) | Disagree (3)

    I’m very glad to see this story. Road safety needs to be flagged as a key issue during Coronavirus special measure by both governments and police. As more people are being encouraged to walk and cycle near their homes, I strongly support the introduction of lower speed limits in urban areas and on minor roads in particular. My own impression was that drivers were fewer and more civilised for a couple of days after the shutdown by have now returned to their usual ways.

    Janet Mackinnon, Caersws
    Agree (13) | Disagree (34)

    Worth pointing out that for the next few weeks at least, there will be considerably less traffic – of all types – on our roads anyway which will inevitably reduce the number of collisions.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (11) | Disagree (32)

    In the last few days I have seen increased speeding outside my property. This is likely to be a combination of reduced police presence, less traffic and also probably a bit of unwelcome de-stressing after people are confined to houses.

    I would the public could broadly support risk reduction measures in this difficult time for the NHS.

    Peter Whitfield, Liverpool
    Agree (9) | Disagree (37)

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