Wales: call for default 20mph limits in built up areas

07.53 | 20 July 2018 | | 34 comments

A Welsh Assembly member has called for the country’s default speed limit to be lowered from 30mph to 20mph in towns and cities.

Reported by BBC News, John Griffiths AM – the Welsh Government’s former environment minister – says the move would involve ‘very little expense’ but would ‘have great benefits for health, the environment and traffic flow’.

Councils in Wales have the responsibility for setting local speed limits – however, the BBC News report says most have only introduced 20mph zones directly outside schools.

Mr Griffiths’ proposal would mean the speed limit would automatically be set at 20mph, unless councils have a specific reason to raise it.

Mr Griffiths told BBC News: “We are talking about protecting life and limb, reclaiming the streets for children to play and for adults and children to walk and cycle to work and school.

“You will get better traffic flow through these urban areas which means, counter-intuitively, motorists will get through these areas quicker than they do at the moment. Emissions will be reduced because it will be a smoother passage through, rather than a lot of accelerating and braking.”

Mr Griffiths added that ‘community cohesion’ would benefit from 20mph zones – as a result of more people ‘out and about in the streets with their children and families’.

The Welsh Government is currently conducting a review on speed limits, and Mr Griffiths delivered a presentation on 20mph limits in the National Assembly of Wales on 18 July – click here to watch the presentation on (approx 4hrs 50mins into the session), followed by a response from Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s cabinet secretary for economy and transport.


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    Charles: You’re tarring them all with the same brush. Location is everything… there is a village near me where, since the limit was reduced from 30 to 20, speeds are significantly and consistently lower along the main road than before and that is definitely a case where the limit itself has brought about that change with no other external influences. Elsewhere, where an urban link road, used as a ‘short-cut’ has had its limit reduced, compliance is poor. I put it down to the neighbourhood, the general purpose the road is put to and by whom.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (4)


    I agree. We had been calling for such a review for many years. It should identify the factors and characteristics which result in greater success across a wide range of outcomes. We know that there are a wide range of implementations.

    Some were characterised by cross-party support and some by political polarisation, so affecting public consensus.

    Some were characterised by authority-wide consistent coverage and some were with isolated pilots showing little consistency so affecting compliance and speed reducction.

    Some were accompanied by police support whilst others had police refusing to enforce and so affecting compliance and speed reduction.

    Some were accompanied by engagement and education whilst some were literally “signs-only” and so affecting the understanding and “buy-in” of drivers.

    Some were on roads where speeds were higher and so reductions expected whilst some for consistency covered roads where speeds were already low and reductions not expected.

    And with benefits going far beyond road casualties and certainly beyond the often statistical insignificance of variations in small numbers of KSIs then we are in areas of greater difficulty to measure.

    So the key to the value of the report is to identify the factors which most influence success and results. And where there are implementations which didn’t work then these are not reasons throw out the concept of 20mph or 30km/h limits but to look how best practice and best results.

    And, of course, we should also look beyond our shores to where 30km/h limits are becoming the best practice recommended by WHO, OECD, iRAP, and so many countries where they are the norm.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (1) | Disagree (3)

    I think that we can all generally believe that injuries are reduced where the speed of impact is reduced. That said will the 20 is plenty scheme go so far as to say that due to the implementation of the new reduced speeds that the numbers of incidents or collision will also definitely reduce or are we still going to suffer the same numbers as before the implementation of the scheme. Perhaps with fewer deaths but a greater number with injuries. Are we going to see less smidsy’s at junctions or roundabouts or rear end collisions or head on or overtake collisions or indeed an actual reduction in the numbers of pedestrian collisions. It seems that they are actively arguing on a piece of research that was done way back in the 1970’s about reducing the severity of injuries suffered by pedestrians but not necessarily reducing the frequency of such incidents. Are they presuming that just to reduce the speed limit on some roads that all will be well.

    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    I am really looking forward to the Atkins report later in the year which should give a good view of speeds, casualties and attitudes and opinions in and towards 20mph sign-only speed limit areas.
    I will be interested to see if roads on which the average speeds were 24mph or lower prior to implementation changed and also what happened on streets which had average speeds of >24mph before implementation.
    Adrian – I think that your first sentence hits the nail on the head with regard as to why these news items generate the most comments…..

    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Adrian, I think you are misunderstanding the data and misrepresenting the effect of 20mph limits. You seem to be assuming that the reason for lower speeds in 20mph limits is the 20mph limits themselves. However, the reality is that it is the other way round – 20mph limits are only put where the traffic speeds are already lower. The data you need to look at is the before and after data for 20mph limit introduction and compare it with the background effects of unchanged similar roads. Then you will see that 20mph limits do not make a significant difference to traffic speeds.

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

    Is the argument (a) that 20mph is NOT safer than 30mph OR (b) is it that speed limits are ineffective in reducing speeds?

    a) The laws of physics seems to dictate that the first question is unarguable – 20mph IS safer than 30mph, particularly for those that are outside cars. Those inside a 2 tonne metal box might feel safe at 30mph; my 84 year old mother-in-law doesn’t when she tries to cross her street to visit a neighbour.

    b) As there is a growing body of evidence that speed limits with no / limited traffic calming ARE effective – Bristol, Edinburgh, Calderdale etc – I was troubled by the “no one obeys speed limits” statement. I looked at the DfT stats in SPE0111 “vehicle speed compliance” referred to below. Even if we leave aside the nature of the 9 20mph sites chosen by the DfT (and they certainly don’t look typical 20mph streets to me), they still show benefits of 20mph. Of course, the headline that “80% of cars don’t comply” is worrying, but a more detailed examination shows a different story:

    The average freeflow speed on 20mph is 6mph less than on 30mph
    On 30mph roads, 53% of drivers exceed 30mph and 19% exceed 35mph (including 6% > 40mph)
    On 20mph roads, 15% exceed 30mph and only 1 in a hundred go over 35.

    In other words, on a 20mph road, 38% fewer drivers are exceeding 30mph and 18% fewer are exceeding 35mph. There may be all sorts of reasons for the difference, but that feels like a good outcome.

    Adrian Berendt, 20s Plenty for Kent, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (2) | Disagree (6)

    Ah. “Social morning”. Either a cup of coffee with friends or the result of productive tax.

    I should, of course, have said “Social norming”!

    And yes Hugh I think that may be the case.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

    ditto to Pat’s question !!

    Aside from the four factors you mention though Rod, is it not the case that there is more sense of civic responsibility and willingness to conform in some areas more than others?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Morning Rod
    You mentioned social morning twice in your last post. I’ve never heard the phrase before, so could you please explain what it means to you?

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (5) | Disagree (0)


    I haven’t noticed this, but I suspect the casualty benefits of any speed reduction are greater in poorer areas. I think stats show that levels of child pedestrian injury are 4 times higher in most deprived wards compared to least deprived.

    I think other factors play a significant role in compliance.

    A) Degree of cross party support
    B) Whether police do any enforcement
    C) Multi-agency support
    D) Level of community engagement/education

    It is hoped that the Atkins review will shed light on the significance of these factors and how compliance can be maximised.

    A lot of this is about social morning rather than driver response to signs. They are primarily symbols of the social morning. That is why now the consistency that comes with a national limit is so important.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (3)

    Rod: Out of interest, from the information you may have gathered or even from personal observation on compliance of 20s over the years, is there any indication that there is better or worse compliance in affluent areas, than say poorer areas or areas with certain demographics? I think there may be a connection myself.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (0)


    DfT only carried out their surveys on 9 20mph sites throughout the whole country.

    In the report they say that these may not be representative of most 20mph roads.

    We submitted an FOI request to identify their locations. We put them on Google Maps for public view at

    Please take a look and form your own opinion regarding how typical these roads are of most 20mph limits for residential and high street roads. Then you can decide how significant their recorded results are.


    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Nick: Just to add a bit more info into the mix, the Dft’s figures are from permanent automatic loop counters in just some roads, usually strategic and are far from being representative of all 30 limit roads.

    In eight years of measuring speeds on 30 limit roads, I never got anywhere near 49% and 81% non-compliance – the highest (from memory) which was exceptional, was about 35% over 30 mph and plummeting if one set a threshold of say 35mph. As I said before it’s perception. I might have clocked someone at 36 in a 30, but the half-dozen drivers before and after were at what would have been the average for the road, say it’s generally still the minority who speed.

    With regard to 20s, it depends on the nature and purpose of the road. A road used as a link from one community to another, or linking to main routes, has very poor compliance possibly 50-60%, whereas local access roads within and leading to peoples’ own residential areas and homes are a lot better, possibly because drivers see them as ‘their’ roads leading to ‘their’ homes in ‘their’ community. The exception being delivery drivers, tradesmen, taxi drivers and the like who have no sense of belonging to that particular community, have a job to do and don’t want to hang around – no excuse though.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

    Unfortunately haven’t got time to analyse the tables properly just yet but my quick look over the tables at “” leads me to think that Hugh’s comments regarding NSL and 20mph limits are accurate enough (although 20mph non-compliance is way over 50%). However the proportion of non-compliant free-flow car drivers in 30mph limits is between 49% and 81% depending on time of day. This may be why we get most reports about excessive speed in 30mph and 20mph limits as most drivers in free flow conditions are actually speeding?

    Thanks to David for the table reference.

    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

    > Manuals and a smooth unhurried driving style don’t mix in my view.

    I agree. I for one – when safe to do so – drive with “greater intent” when driving a manual compared to my daily-driver automatic.

    Nick, the statistics the Government releases every year (SPE01) matches up to Hugh’s opinion regarding compliant drivers; and the statistics do say that as a proportion, the least percentage of drivers exceed posted limits on rural single carriageways in freeflow conditions.

    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (0) | Disagree (1)

    No data Nick – just observations made following many speed surveys I’ve undertaken over the years.

    Inappropriate vehicles?… anything which does not induce a relaxed, non-hurried style of driving. Utility vehicles, for want of a better description such as vans (not necessarily white) would be at the top of the list…also vehicles with an ‘image’ perhaps with pretensions of being ‘performance’ orientated.

    Interestingly, surveys carried out (a few years ago now) showed that out of 1500 vehicles detected speeding over a period at different times of day and different locations, only 8 were automatic, whereas statistically one might have expected in the region of 300, reflecting the proportions of automatic cars on the road. Not scientific perhaps, but to my mind, consistent enough to be significant. Manuals and a smooth unhurried driving style don’t mix in my view.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

    Hugh, please can you provide a link to the data which you are using as the basis for the proportions of compliant drivers that you state?
    Also, what is an inappropriate vehicle?

    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

    Perceptions of vehicle speeds can be inaccurate – we tend to notice speeders more than we notice the non-speeders and assume the situation is worse than it is. Single c/way roads out of the towns and cities are the best complied with – 90-95% even, if not 100%, whereas the 20s are the least complied with – sometimes 50%. Again, that doesn’t mean those limits are wrong or inappropriate, more to do with driver mentality. Inappropriate vehicles don’t help either.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (9)

    I think I must be missing something or are we lacking some rational thinking here?

    What good will altering the speed limits really do? Come on – let us be realistic who are you kidding, certainly not me and I bet I am not alone.

    Yesterday I travelled from near Daventry to Kings Lynn and back again, I stuck to the speed limits. Apart from just a handful of drivers I was the slowest vehicle on the road even though most of the time I was able to keep my speeds close to the maximum. I arrived back at base feeling calm and not fatigued.

    Cars were often bumper to bumper in the fast lanes, quite a number were certainly brainless Darwin award contenders, aggressive driving, risk takers, no respect for other road users, got to be in front at any cost, can I race you at traffic lights or junctions, weave in and out, tailgate, the majority of other road users certainly ignored the speed limits.

    Speed limits are a maximum, not a minimum speed. Until we either enforce what we already have in place and educated the minds of others and the responsibilities of handling the lethal weapon they are racing, it will not change. What are we doing by contemplating spending millions upon millions £s on altering speed limit signs and relevant infrastructure.

    You will be misspending spending public money and in the wrong place. Majority of motorists ignore speed limit signs, or had you not noticed! Or, is it just a box you want to tick?

    David Matthews, Northamptonshire
    Agree (14) | Disagree (5)

    Part of my brain refuses to accept the principle of signs when moving from a 20mph speed limit to a 20mph speed limit. However keeping existing 20mph speed limits within a town-wide default 20s world (if one ever arrived in Wales) as Rod suggested has some merit.

    Always on the lookout for unintended consequences, I think this would help to distinguish between those 20s which are evidence based and those which aren’t. Perhaps an important factor for the “caring speeder”? Also helpful for any other police force who like Hampshire utilize their finite enforcement resources on the basis of a threat risk and harm approach.

    Just in case anyone reads this remark literally, it is meant to be ironic – or is it?

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

    The notion of national speed limits wherever possible which, by default require minimal signing, is partly to counter the view held by too many drivers that a signed/posted limit facing them is a recommended or a required speed. Joining a 30 signed road from a 20 road, some drivers will perceive the speed limit signs to mean “It’s now okay to increase your speed to 30”. For this reason, the less speed limit signs the better.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (3) | Disagree (4)

    Perhaps I can answer James Weston’s questions as to how I would perceive such a change would be made:-

    Q. What will happen to existing 20mph zones and speed limits with traffic calming in a default 20mph world?
    A. Nothing. They will stay as they are. The change in limit would only apply to “restricted” roads. When a 20mph limit or zone is set then it is de-restricted in order to set a local rather than national speed limit. Hence the previous 20mph limits will remain the same and exist as local limits set at 20mph on de-restricted roads alongside 20mph national limits on restricted roads.

    Q. Would existing 20mph signs need to be removed?
    A. Some 20/30 boundary signs would no longer be required if the 30 side becomes 20. There may be a case for removing 20mph repeater signs in a tidying up of the TSRGD.

    Q. If so would we need new signs locally for the traffic calming so that drivers are advised of more “important” 20mph areas that the rest?
    A. The logic of which roads have got physical calming and which has not is very slim. Its often due to budget and history rather than “importance”.

    Q. Would all the orders for existing 20mph speed limits need to be cancelled?
    A. No. See the answer to the first question. They could co-exist

    For Guzzi

    It was the UK government in association with the devolved parliaments that agreed that the authority for setting national speed limits should be devolved. By its very nature this includes the ability for divergence. Just as in plastic bags, smoking in public places, etc there has often been initial divergence in national policy followed by harmonisation across the UK as a whole.

    It is anticipated that when setting a road as an exception to a national 20mph limit for a restricted road then highway authorities could either issue an experimental TRO to de-restrict the road with minimal administration and then 18 months later either make it permanent or default back to a national 20mph limit. However, any changes to the process to make it as administratively simple as possible could be considered.

    Consideration could also be made as to the benefits of any 20mph or 30mph repeater signs when the default of 20mph is the lowest limit that applies. This is a different situation from where drivers needed to know if the prevailing limit for a road was lower than the national limit for lit roads.

    Note these are just my views having thought about the issues.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (5) | Disagree (8)

    We have that situation now Guzzi, within some towns and cities in England, Scotland and Wales, there is already a mix of 20s and 30s anyway – not always logical and predictable and as you say ‘so much for uniformity’.

    A standard default street-lit, urban road limit of 20 would get around this, but it would be crucial – again for uniformity – for local authorities to be given robust guidance on which type of roads may be subject to 30.

    If one regularly drove around England, Scotland and Wales you would no doubt come across roads of similar characteristics (say single c/way) which are not always subject to the national speed limit and where the local authorities have made it something other than 60 mph. Even driving from one county to another one can notice the same thing – individual local authorities seem to be more expert and logical than others in this regard.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

    What will happen to existing 20mph zones and speed limits with traffic calming in a default 20mph world? Would existing 20mph signs need to be removed? If so would we need new signs locally for the traffic calming so that drivers are advised of more “important” 20mph areas that the rest? Would all the orders for existing 20mph speed limits need to be cancelled?

    James, Weston B , Herefordshire
    Agree (7) | Disagree (2)

    Following your line of reasoning Hugh about maintaining uniformity, England Scotland and Wales (maybe Northern Ireland to) would all change to default 20s together or not at all. That does not appear to be happening, so much for uniformity.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

    To clarify Guzzi, local authorities are not responsible for determining speed limits on their roads. As roads come into being, the relevant limits are already in place by default, via the Government’s national speed limits for that type of road.

    The LAs can make Orders for roads for a different limit if they see fit, but that is quite rare. Probably about 95% of the roads we drive on have national speed limits, not local ones. It maintains uniformity around the country.

    If and when 20 becomes the default national speed limit for street-lit urban roads, no Council in its right mind would think to make them all back to 30s wholesale – the members would not go along with it and there would be so many objections, I doubt they would even contemplate it.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (4) | Disagree (4)

    You are linking default 20s with an easier life by not having to make more individual TROs etc. However, default 20s are not acceptable for the many reasons mentioned in previous conversations on RSGB, no matter how many TROs would be saved.

    Local highway authorities are responsible for determining speed limits on the local road network. I don’t think governments in Wales or for that matter England can override that local power without amending an Act of Parliament.

    All a Local Council (who are always the local highways authority in Wales) need to do is introduce one TRO to turn all default 20s back to 30s to come into effect the day and moment the Welsh Government change the national default speed limit to 20. Result: no change – apart from some egg-on-face of some officials.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

    I think that’s what I said wasn’t it? LAs would rather manage default national speed limits, than go to the trouble of individual, local orders for some roads.

    If the Government one day make the default national speed limit for street-lit urban roads 20 mph then from the LAs point of view, they will have to go along with it, although nothing will be needed apart from new signage.

    At present, if a new estate is being built in a town or city and assuming the roads will be street-lit and not private roads, then there is little or no work for the Council to do, as opposed to making a local order for those specific roads to be 20s. If the default limit does become 20, then the councils will have to make local orders for those roads to remain at 30 which admittedly is a lot of work and may result in a bit more er.. focus on their urban speed limits. Locally, the speed limits near me are a baffling mix of 20s and 30s.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

    Yes Hugh, my phrasing could have been better.

    I repeat, very many LAs ARE happy with the current national default urban 30mph speed limit. When the consultation comes out from Welsh Government we will let the cabinet secretary know where our facts comes from. Will you be able to provide evidence to support your viewpoint?

    It is only the proposal to move to a default 20s that is causing ripples.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

    No Guzzi, I’m afraid I don’t know where your facts came from. How could I?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

    Sorry Hugh. Your comments are total rubbish. Many LAs are happy to continue the evidence based 20s policy we have today and are adverse to default 20s. No question. I know where my facts come from – do you?

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

    Guzzi – I can assure you that LAs would much rather have default national speed limits in place on their roads rather than a raft of Local Speed Limit TROs, as even one TRO can be time consuming and costly, not to mention all the signs – that is the whole point of UK national speed limits introduced many decades ago. The idea behind the current campaign is that 20 will become the default national speed limit and not 30, requiring the minimum of Local Orders by LAs. It will hopefully do away with the counter-intuitive and illogical mix of 20s and 30s which would otherwise arise.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (3) | Disagree (9)

    I wonder why Mr. Griffiths is calling for 20mph limits everywhere, rather than for more appropriate speeds. Surely the choice of the means to deliver appropriate speeds should be left to the experts in this field. Perhaps Mr. Griffiths is looking to score political points amongst the uninformed electorate?

    I also wonder what Mr. Griffiths would think if another AM called for signs saying “no burglary” to be installed in all the streets of Wales and saying that they would have great benefits for home security and the reduction of crime.

    Charles, England
    Agree (18) | Disagree (5)

    What else would you expect from an AM who is an enthusiastic cyclist?

    By the way, Local Authorities have the final say on speed limits on local roads having the power by Act of Parliament. I don’t believe the devolved powers the Welsh Government now have override that on local roads.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (8) | Disagree (7)

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