9. Extend 20 mph speed limits in towns, and consider 40mph limits on many rural lanes


This recommendation is grouped into the topic: Safe driving and safe speed limits.

9. Extend 20 mph speed limits in towns, and consider 40mph limits on many rural lanes

Official Department for Transport Response…

Local authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits in line with their local conditions and requirements.

It is important that local authorities take a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects.

On 18 January 2013, the Department published a revised speed limit circular, ‘Setting local speed limits (DfT circular 01/2013)’. The Department also published a speed limit appraisal tool, to help local authorities assess the full costs and benefits of any proposed speed limit schemes.

In October 2011 the Department for Transport made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits and zones in residential areas, by giving more flexibility in the combinations of physical features and signs allowed. In both ‘Setting local speed limits‘ and the Traffic Signs Policy Paper ‘Signing the Way‘ the Department also said it would be open to considering applications from local authorities for 40mph zones.

All of the successful Cycling Ambition Grant cities have plans to introduce area-wide 20mph speed limits as part of their programme to make city streets more cycle-friendly.

Extracts from DfT Circular 01/2013 Setting Local Speed Limits

Traffic authorities are asked to keep their speed limits under review with changing circumstances, and to consider the introduction of more 20 mph limits and zones, over time, in urban areas and built-up village streets that are primarily residential, to ensure greater safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Roads should be designed so that mistakes made by road users do not result in death or serious injury.

There is clear evidence of the effect of reducing traffic speeds on the reduction of collisions and casualties, as collision frequency is lower at lower speeds; and where collisions do occur, there is a lower risk of fatal injury at lower speeds.

Research shows that on urban roads with low average traffic speeds any 1 mph reduction in average speed can reduce the collision frequency by around 6% (Taylor, Lynam and Baruya, 2000).

There is also clear evidence confirming the greater chance of survival of pedestrians in collisions at lower speeds.

Important benefits of 20 mph schemes include quality of life and community benefits, and encouragement of healthier and more sustainable transport modes such as walking and cycling (Kirkby, 2002).

There may also be environmental benefits as, generally, driving more slowly at a steady pace will save fuel and reduce pollution, unless an unnecessarily low gear is used.

Walking and cycling can make a very positive contribution to improving health and tackling obesity, improving accessibility and tackling congestion, and reducing carbon emissions and improving the local environment.

Fear of traffic can affect people’s quality of life in villages and it is self-evident that villages should have comparable speed limits to similar roads in urban areas…consider 20 mph limits or zones in built-up village streets which are primarily residential in nature, or where pedestrian and cyclist movements are high.

20 mph zones are very effective at reducing collisions and injuries. Research in 1996 showed that overall average annual collision frequency could fall by around 60%, and the number of collisions involving injury to children could be reduced by up to two-thirds. Zones may also bring further benefits, such as a modal shift towards more walking and cycling and overall reductions in traffic flow, where research has shown a reduction by over a quarter (Webster and Mackie, 1996).

The key objectives of this guidance are:

  • the provision of up-to-date and consistent advice to traffic authorities;
  • improved clarity which will aid greater consistency of speed limits across the country;
  • enabling the setting of more appropriate local speed limits, including lower or higher limits where conditions dictate;
  • achieving local speed limits that better reflect the needs of all road users, not just motorised vehicles;
  • ensuring improved quality of life for local communities and a better balance between road safety, accessibility and environmental objectives, especially in rural communities;
  • improved recognition and understanding by road users of the risks involved on different types of road, the speed limits that apply, and the reasons why;
  • improved respect for speed limits, and in turn improved compliance; and
  • continued reductions in the number of road traffic collisions, injuries and deaths in which excessive or inappropriate speed is a contributory factor.

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