The Big Debate on the road safety merits of 20mph speed limits lived up to its billing as one of the potential highlights of day one at the National Road Safety Conference in Harrogate.
At the opposite ends of the spectrum, Rod King MBE and Eric Bridgstock argued passionately about the merits or otherwise of 20mph limits, while Suzette Davenport, Tom Horner and Trish Hirst trod the middle ground while at the same time making their views clear to the audience.
A straw poll, conducted at the outset and repeated at the end of the debate, with the help of the Quizdom interactive technology, suggested a decisive swing towards the ‘no’ camp when asked the question whether 20mph is good for road safety.
It was interesting to hear in person from Eric Bridgstock, who so often portrays himself as the road safety bogey man in discussion threads on this newsfeed. In reality, he turned out to be much more mild-mannered than perhaps his often ferocious posts on the topic of speed management imply, describing as abhorrent the notion that somehow it is more acceptable to be knocked over at 20mph than at 30mph.
In the opposite camp, Rod King, founder of the 20’s Plenty campaign, talked about 20mph as part of a move to a utopian society in which we all share the roads and enjoy communities that are better and safer places to live.
Suzette Davenport, ACPO lead on roads policing, emphasised the need for speed limits to be realistic and reasonable in the eyes of the motoring public, and enforceable with current resources, suggesting that blanket 20mph limits such as that proposed in the city of Bristol do not fall into that category.
Tom Horner and Trish Hirst, from York City Council, outlined the practical challenges in implementing 20mph on the ground – and in getting drivers to comply with the limits. Tom Horner presented statistics from two established city-wide schemes in Oxford and Portsmouth which suggest that in terms of long-term casualty reduction, the benefts of 20mph schemes are far from conclusive.
At the end of the debate the audience voted with their handsets to indicate that they were less convinced of the benefits of 20mph than they were at the outset of the debate.
One thing is for sure – the 20mph debate will rumble on. But on the evidence of this hour long session – which was expertly chaired by assistant chief constable Sean White from Cleveland Police – Rod King and the 20’s Plenty campaigners have much work to do to convince road safety officers of the merits of the cause in which they believe so passionately.