Sustrans says 20mph urban speed limit would save hundreds of children from death or serious injury

Charity's call comes as it welcomes cash injection from new Health Lottery

by Simon_MacMichael   November 5, 2011  

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Sustrans believes that as many as 580 deaths and serious injuries involving children could be avoided if a 20mph speed limit were introduced on roads in urban areas in the UK currently subject to a 30mph limit. The news coincides with the sustainable transport charity being named one of the first beneficiaries of the recently launched Health Lottery.

The organisation, which made its appeal as the clocks went back last week, described the need for safer roads as “urgent” and also highlighted that the fact that a rise in the number of children travelling to school by car was not only helping fuel the rise in child obesity, but also restricted youngsters’ freedom.

Miranda Krestovnikoff, Ambassador for the Bristol-based charity’s Free Range Kids Campaign, said: “Britain’s approach to road safety is deeply flawed. Dressing our children in high-visibility clothes from head to toe does not tackle the source of the danger.

“What we need is to reduce traffic speeds in residential and urban areas to 20mph, and invest far more in creating safe walking and cycling routes, to school and beyond.

“If we don’t then our children will be denied the freedom we so enjoyed when we were kids, and miss out on so much that makes childhood special.”

Citing a 1990 report, One False Move - A Study of Children's Independent Mobility, by Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg, Sustrans said that three decades ago, 80 per cent of children aged seven or eight years walked or rode their bike to school on their own.

It added that according to the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey 2009, that situation had now been reversed, with 80 per cent now undertaking the journey to school accompanied by an adult, with those trips increasingly likely to be made by car.

Sustrans launched its Free Range Kids campaign earlier this year with the aim of providing children with a greater opportunity to be active as well as independent. More information can be found on the charity’s website.

The campaign is also the subject of an Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, which reads:

“That this House welcomes the launch of the Sustrans Free Range Kids campaign; calls on the Government to reverse the decline in the proportion of children walking and cycling to school; acknowledges the barriers which prevent children from being able to walk, cycle and play outside as a result of safety concerns; and urges Ministers across transport, health, environment and education briefs to work in a joined-up way to inspire, encourage and support local authorities to invest consistently and coherently over the next 10 years to create safe and pleasant environments for walking and cycling which will not only benefit the health of children but alsothe environment and communities.”

So far, 110 MPs have supported the EDM – a list of those appears here – and if your MP isn’t shown, you can write to them to ask them to back it through the website, Write To Them.

Meanwhile, Sustrans has been awarded £43,375 from the People’s Health Trust, the independent charity set up to distribute money raised through the Health Lottery, run by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell group, which owns the Daily Express and Channel 5.

The launch of the Health Lottery has been accompanied by criticism of the amount per ticket put aside for good causes – currently 20.3 pence per pound, the legal minimum – its effect on other, smaller lotteries, and whether the way it has been set up contravenes the Gambling Act.

Those concerns have been rejected by the Health Lottery’s chief executive, Martin Hall, but last month Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed to House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee that the matter was being studied by the Gambling Commission.

In the meantime, Sustrans, which will use the money to support local ‘champions’ aiming to get more people active in their communities, has welcomed the funding, with the charity’s Wendy Johnson saying: “This is a great opportunity for local people to inspire and motivate the people around them, at work, at school or in their neighbourhoods, to be more active in their everyday lives.

“Our champions will be giving others confidence, skills and information to walk or cycle for more of their daily journeys, and helping them make a positive difference to their health in ways that don’t mean finding extra time or money.”

29 user comments

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Lowering the speed limit in built up residential areas to 20mph is such a complete no-brainer I can't believe it hasn't already been done everywhere. Truly we are a curious species...

Sometimes I think there's no hope. The other day I was walking my kids to school (*polishes halo*) and we watched agog as a woman in a massive Chelsea tractor Merc roared down a road teeming with primary school kids, some on foot, some on bikes. Thing is, she was dropping off her own kids at the same school. She must have been doing at least 40mph, maybe more. And that road's already a 20mph limit.

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
5th November 2011 - 20:00

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So adding 20mph limits will...?

posted by mbrads72 [117 posts]
6th November 2011 - 21:39

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Presumably Merc lady's excuse would have been that she didn't know it was a 20 zone. And that's the problem, they do tend to be a bit random at the moment. The easiest way to remove confusion is to make 20 the default in place of 30. But there are some 30mph roads where a 20mph limit will seem absurd to drivers, so they'll flout it.

Noli porcum linguere

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posted by captain_slog [264 posts]
6th November 2011 - 22:23

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I think the point Martin was making is that despite it being 20mph limit the numpty in the Merc was still over 40, by anyones maths thats still over the 30mph speed limit !

The best way is to build either traffic calming chicanes into the road or the speed bumps.

They slow everyone down.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2677 posts]
6th November 2011 - 22:49

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Adding 20mph speed limits will give the police more authority to hammer Merc-numpty when she's caught speeding, as she hopefully will be very soon. I would suggest that they'd also have a generally beneficial effect - even if some arseholes ignore the limit, most will not so the average speed of traffic will fall.

And if she didn't know that was a 20 zone then she's even more of a danger to herself and everyone around her than I thought she was. Her kids go to that school and the road is clearly marked as a 20 limit in several places.

Unfortunately there are already speed bumps on the road - which she was able to take at speed because of the enormous vehicle she drives.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
7th November 2011 - 10:13

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For information - this report is based on a computer modelling exercise in one region (the North West) and then extrapolated across the whole country.

For context - the average annual total of all road-related child death and injuries was for 1994-1998 was 6860 (source: DFT - RAS30005) (includes as vehicle occupants).

For context - the 2010 annual total of all road-related child death and injuries was 2502 (same source).

More context - the Government's target was 3430 casualties by 2010.

So without blanket limits, the Government's target was exceeded by over 25%. Fantastic.

So why the need for this blanket limit? The casualty rate has clearly reached an 'acceptable'level. It is the definition of 'acceptable' which can be argued about. Every death is a tragedy, but the only way to have zero deaths is to have zero road users - not an option.

If this limit were imposed, every single residential
mile driven by every car and every bus would take one extra minute - resulting in hundreds of millions of man-hours wasted being stuck on roads. This to possibly prevent 580 deaths and injuries out of the current annual total of 2502.

Why 20mph ALL day, EVERY day? Are school children "commuting" at 10pm? They're not heading off to school in August either.

The roads exist for vehicles. They are not playgrounds. You do not as a country invest billions upon billions of pounds in an infrastructure and then hamstring its effectiveness.

I cycle everywhere I need to go. I don't drive much, and when I do it's weekends and evenings, and I still just cannot subscribe to this 20mph limit. It is a "seen to be doing something" blanket response which would have a hugely negative impact, and which will still leave an environment in which 1900 child casualties will occur.

What would the next step be then?

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posted by neildmoss [179 posts]
7th November 2011 - 11:47

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Interesting points neildmoss. A few in response:

You say "the casualty rate has clearly reached an 'acceptable' level" but I wonder what makes it acceptable. The Government's target for road casualties may have been beaten but I think it's perfectly reasonable to question the acceptability of 2500 children being killed or seriously injured on our roads each year. I don't think that's remotely acceptable. We should be constantly striving to lower this number.

I don't buy the wasted man hours argument. I don't question its accuracy - what I do question is whether those lost man hours are more important than hundreds of child road casualties, potential or otherwise. And anyway, hundreds of millions of man hours are already wasted on the roads each year because there are far too many cars on them.

I agree that the 20 limit wouldn't be necessary all the time, but any kind of variable limit is going to open the door to confusion and people weaselling out of trouble by claiming ignorance. Easier I'd say to slap a 20 limit everywhere and then shout about it very loudly and clearly so no one could say they didn't know/understand.

The 20mph limit is not a comprehensive answer to the problem, I know. I don't know if there is one - I certainly don't know what it is if so. But it's very probably a step in the right direction and that's good enough for me.

Oh, and roads don't exist for vehicles, they exist for people! We are in thrall to the car far too much and I think some kind of fundamental shift in the way we think about it is becoming increasingly necessary. Where to go from here? I have no idea...

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
7th November 2011 - 12:43

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neildmoss wrote:
It is the definition of 'acceptable' which can be argued about.

In Sweden the definition of 'acceptable' is 'zero deaths'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_Zero

I don't think 2,500 children getting killed or injured on the roads is 'acceptable'. Frankly, I'm surprised anyone does. But hey.

neildmoss wrote:
If this limit were imposed, every single residential mile driven by every car and every bus would take one extra minute - resulting in hundreds of millions of man-hours wasted being stuck on roads

No it wouldn't, because the de facto speed limit on many urban roads is 20mph or less anyway at the time most work/commuting journeys are made, due to the volume of traffic. Every day i see people breaking the speed limit on clear stretches of my commute to join the tail of the next queue. often they show little regard to me or other vulnerable road users, and often they're going too fast to reliably stop at zebra crossings.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7262 posts]
7th November 2011 - 13:16

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I live in a village in North Lancashire which recently adopted a 20mph limit along residential roads. The first week was fantastic - we were able to stroll around the village without sprinting to avoid speeding 4x4s. Then it became apparent that, apart from the new signs, NOTHING would be done to enforce the 20mph limit. Now we are back to vehicles hammering through the village at 30-40mph with impunity. What does it take to challenge this lunacy? We've sacrificed our communities, our health, even the safety of our children, all in the name of getting from A to B as quickly as possible. And no-one seems to mind! It's time for a really major shift in the way we think about transport and people and how they interact. I don't have any easy answers, but a massive clamp down on speeding drivers would be a very good start.

posted by griffinvulture [2 posts]
7th November 2011 - 14:06

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How many of us would exceed that speed limit on our bikes? There are some locations near me where the new 20 mph limits could easily be exceeded - admittedly they are hills- I am not Fabian Cancellara. Would you obey a 20mph limit(I accept cyclists cant be charged for speeding)?

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [538 posts]
7th November 2011 - 15:05

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To clarify my comments about "acceptable" - I agree that every death/injury is tragic and one too many.

In cold hard engineering terms, it seems to me that the only way to guarantee zero casulaties is to ban all road vehicles. By vehicles I mean cars, buses, taxis, lorries, motorbikes, mopeds, push bikes, unicycles, skateboards and roller blades - namely anything that lets you move faster than by running.

The reason for this is that if someone runs out in front of you within your stopping distance (whatever you speed) and you hit them, then they could be Killed or Seriously Injured. This is "reductio ad absurdum" but it is a fact.

Sometimes, speed is not even a factor, such as those hideous cases where lorries do not see cyclists on their left hand side and drive them into railings. That has happened at less than walking pace.

So my position is, you can't eliminate casualties, so there has to be a position where the benefits of having vehicles on the roads outweighs the human cost.

It is just cold maths. A compromise has to exist somewhere between the two extremes of zero casualties and zero rules. Someone (thankfully, not me) has to decide on what is 'acceptable'.

Moving away from 'acceptability', and on to the issue of speed itself.....

Why the focus on speed? DFT reports (RAS50001, RAS50008) show "Failed to look properly" is a contributory factor in 25% of all fatal accidents and 33% of Serious accidents, versus "Exceeding speed limit or travelling too fast for conditions" at 24% for Fatal and 14% for Serious. "Exceeding speed limit" alone contributed 14% and 7%.

That says to me that greater education and training for all road users (drivers and pedestrians) could achieve a greater reduction in casualties than a blanket 20mph limit. Wouldn't that be great? Fewer casualties with the same travel time.

Martin Thomas wrote:
And anyway, hundreds of millions of man hours are already wasted on the roads each year because there are far too many cars on them.

dave_atkinson wrote:
neildmoss wrote:
If this limit were imposed, every single residential mile driven by every car and every bus would take one extra minute - resulting in hundreds of millions of man-hours wasted being stuck on roads

No it wouldn't, because the de facto speed limit on many urban roads is 20mph or less anyway at the time most work/commuting journeys are made, due to the volume of traffic.

I still assert that a blanket limit results in more wasted man hours, as it will slow everyone down all day, every day and not just during rush hour. Car drivers may well be wasting their time when commuting, but when I make my occasional car journey outwith those times, I'd like not to have to prolong the experience. Similarly, those using the bus - bus lanes wouldn't be exempt from a 20mph limit.

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posted by neildmoss [179 posts]
7th November 2011 - 15:18

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I'd agree that zero road deaths is unachievable. I just don't think the current levels of casualty are acceptable.

neidmoss wrote:
Why the focus on speed? DFT reports (RAS50001, RAS50008) show "Failed to look properly" is a contributory factor in 25% of all fatal accidents and 33% of Serious accidents, versus "Exceeding speed limit or travelling too fast for conditions" at 24% for Fatal and 14% for Serious. "Exceeding speed limit" alone contributed 14% and 7%.

Why focus on speed? because people 'failing to look properly' in a slow moving vehicle don't do nearly as much damage. a vehicle collision with a pedestrian at 20mph has a 97% survivability rate. That, to me, is an 'acceptable' level of risk for driving in a residential area. I agree that better education is necessary. perhaps when we've spent a generation educating people properly, we can put the speed limits back up again?

I'm not sure it's an education problem anyway - at least in the sense of road rules - it's more of a societal one. Currently we've got people looking to phase out zebra crossings because apparently drivers aren't able to comprehend that they don't have right of way without some kind of red signal. That, of course, is bollocks: Every driver, every day, yields to other cars at side junctions and roundabouts. The problem is one of perceived user hierachy and of cars being 'better' or 'more important' than cyclists or pedestrians, when they're dealing with 'equals' at road junctions it's okay.

That's a message that been drilled into everyone since the mass availability of the motor car, backed up with governmental provision, and one which some of the world's largest companies (oil and motor) have a vested interest in maintaining. Getting people to read their highway code won't help much while the powers that be still give precedence to the car at every turn. I'm all for education, but I'd rather have provision.

It can be fixed. But it's a harder fight than just making people go a bit more slowly.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7262 posts]
7th November 2011 - 15:54

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I'd be wary of those 'failed to look properly' statistics.

There's an interesting case history in Energy Glut, the book I reviewed on here last week. A 10-year-old girl was killed after being hit by a van on her way home from school in New Zealand. The police officer who was first on the scene said in his accident report that the girl stepped into the road without looking, leaving the driver no time to react. There was no indication that the van was speeding. For statistical purposes, the death was recorded as "pedestrian: crossing road heedless of traffic, unattended child". The inquest came to the same conclusion.

The week after the girl was killed, a researcher went to the same site and recorded traffic volume and speed. The limit was 50kph. The average speed of vehicles on the road was 58kph. Based on the collected data they worked out that the probability of any vehicle travelling at 40kph or slower was less than 1% and that 86% of vehicles were exceeding the speed limit. Traffic flow was 877 vehicles/hour or around 15 per minute, which translates to average slots of just four seconds to cross the road.

There's a reference to research asserting that children are blamed in 90% of all child pedestrian deaths. But research carried out by Ian Roberts, who wrote Energy Glut, suggests that such deaths go up considerably as volume and speed of traffic increase. He concludes: "Traffic and not erratic jaywalking children is the cause of child pedestrian injury. Children get hit by cars because the cars are there."

I'm not saying training & education isn't a good idea (although I'm not entirely convinced..but that's another story). All I'm saying is I don't trust those stats.

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
7th November 2011 - 16:31

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"If this limit were imposed, every single residential
mile driven by every car and every bus would take one extra minute - resulting in hundreds of millions of man-hours wasted being stuck on roads. This to possibly prevent 580 deaths and injuries out of the current annual total of 2502."

If lower av speeds from a 20mph limit meant lower car use as more people cycled due to lower danger perception, the time you lost doing 20mph i/o 30mph may be gained spending less time in queues at junctions.

posted by james-o [188 posts]
7th November 2011 - 17:48

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Plenty of evidence out there that 20mph speed limits rather than 30mph actually improves the traffic flow (as well as reducing fuel consumption and therefore saving money). Win Win! Not that I'd expect a lot of the motorists round here to get their heads round that.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7937 posts]
7th November 2011 - 18:10

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"The roads exist for vehicles."

Oh dear.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
7th November 2011 - 19:00

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"If this limit were imposed, every single residential
mile driven by every car and every bus would take one extra minute - resulting in hundreds of millions of man-hours wasted being stuck on roads. This to possibly prevent 580 deaths and injuries out of the current annual total of 2502."

Where on earth did you dream up this nonsense? Hundreds of millions of man-hours! Come on man, don't treat us for complete fools Sad

"The roads exist for vehicles. They are not playgrounds. You do not as a country invest billions upon billions of pounds in an infrastructure and then hamstring its effectiveness."

This is the sort of argument I would expect from Jeremy Clarkson, not another cyclist. Our streets have been "stolen" from society by the motor-car, to the point where our children are kept indoors by worried parents and are ferried everywhere by car. Almost every other country in Europe is waking up to the fact that we cannot keep allowing our towns and cities to be designed around motor vehicles and to hell with the consequences. Unfortunately, us poor mugs in the UK are still saddled with this damaging and outdated 1960s thinking.

Sorry neildmoss, but you need to wake up.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
8th November 2011 - 12:10

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don_don wrote:
"Where on earth did you dream up this nonsense? Hundreds of millions of man-hours! Come on man, don't treat us for complete fools :-("

(snip)

Sorry neildmoss, but you need to wake up.

From the UK Government statistics, the average number of passenger km per year by coach and bus, from 2000 to 2007, was 48 billion passenger km. Nerd

If even 20% of those kilometres were on residential roads, what would be the extra number of man hours spent if travelling at 20mph compared to 30mph?

48bn passenger km = 30bn passenger miles
20% of 30bn = 6bn passenger miles

At one extra minute per mile (at 20mph from 30mph), that gives you 100 million man hours.

So, travel by bus and coach ALONE gives us 100 million extra man hours spent going at 20mph compared to 30mph.

Granted, you don't always go at 30 when the limit is 30, but this clearly demonstrates the order of magnitude of the time lost.

Add on every passenger mile in every car driving along every residential street for a whole year, and yes, you get hundreds of millions of man hours.

Wake up? Check.

don_don wrote:
Our streets have been "stolen" from society by the motor-car.

I believe that without the car, we wouldn't have the amount of road that we have. I don't see how the motor car can "steal" what was created because of the motor car.

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posted by neildmoss [179 posts]
8th November 2011 - 15:06

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neildmoss wrote:

I believe that without the car, we wouldn't have the amount of road that we have. I don't see how the motor car can "steal" what was created because of the motor car.

Hmm… isn't the problem that actually quite a lot of our streets and roads, the vast majority indeed were built before the advent of the motor car - if you look at a picture of a suburban street from before the 1960s you won't see many cars on them. Even most of the 'new' bits of a city like Bath were built before cars ruled the roads and that even applies to places like London too.

Another point on which your argument over man hours seems to me to fall down is that given the average speed in London is 11mph during rush hour (when most commuters will be travelling) whether the speed limit on the roads buses are using is 20mph or 30mph is a moot point - however such a limit will make a big difference to those that live on and walk or cycle along residential and quieter roads.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
8th November 2011 - 15:23

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@tony_farrelly - The point I've been trying to make is that you have to consider the other 18 or so hours of the day, plus weekends, when congestion is not the limiting factor of speed.

When I do my weekly shop, it's a 5 "residential mile" round trip, made when traffic is light and the limiting factor of speed is the speed limit. Glibly put, that's 5 x 52 extra minutes, or 4+ extra hours in the car over the year. And that's just me. Multiply that by a few million UK households, and you are already looking at millions of extra man hours just to do the shopping.

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posted by neildmoss [179 posts]
8th November 2011 - 15:48

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Looking at 20mph speed limits solely in terms of the morning and evening rush hour is a bit blinkered; those may be the times when concerns are greatest, and I can understand why Sustrans is right to focus on children arriving at or leaving school, but it's an issue that affects others throughout the day.

I regularly take my dog out for a walk during the daytime in the small market town I live in. I, and many other pedestrians, particularly the elderly, the infirm, and mothers with pre-school children, would feel a lot safer here if the speed limit were 20mph, not 30mph.

It's certainly not the only road safety issue round here - the main route through the town was built for stagecoaches, not cars and certainly not the huge volumes of articulated lorries passing through - but it's one measure that could be implemented straight away, at minimal cost.

Coincidentally, over the past year or so we have had an ongoing water mains renewal programme here - there is always a bit of road being dug up. Outside the evening peak, that doesn't seem to cause undue delays, and even then we're talking just a few minutes. I can't see a 20mph limit causing people to lose a significant amount of time.

Why the rush to tear round everywhere?

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7937 posts]
8th November 2011 - 16:11

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Those five minutes a week you'd be 'losing' neil, what would you have to cut out of your week to make them up?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
8th November 2011 - 16:25

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Contributing to this thread, I suspect.

One trip a week, yes, 5 minutes is trivial, but it's an example which shows how much time is sucked up over a year for just that one trip a week.

For someone commuting a few miles on a bus every day, 5 mins less sleep for them.

Taking your kids to ballet lessons, 5 miles each way? Get ready to leave 5 minutes earlier, and get home 5 minutes later. That's 10 minutes of your post-commute, pre-sleep free life time. In a car in 3rd gear.

Every trip. Every day. For everyone.

I vote no.

That is all.

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posted by neildmoss [179 posts]
8th November 2011 - 18:38

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5 minutes less for everyone as opposed to a whole life time less for 580 kids who are either going to have their quality of life ruined by being either dead or maimed so that the rest of us don't lose five minutes a week which I'm guessing most of us could easily make back up by cutting down just slightly on staring vacantly out the window, picking our noses, or shouting at the TV.

I'm taking my finger out now and voting yes! Wink

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
8th November 2011 - 19:46

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tony_farrelly wrote:
I'm taking my finger out now and voting yes!

YES!

posted by nick_rearden [859 posts]
8th November 2011 - 21:17

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One more yes vote over here, surprise surprise.

Seems to me you've been a bit dazzled by the enormity of the number of potentially 'lost' man hours, Neil. I wonder if we reduced the figure to how much time each person would lose it would strike you any differently.

So, if you were individually asked if you would be prepared to sacrifice, say, an hour of your time each week to cut the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads by more than a fifth - which translates to nearly two lives either ruined or prematurely ended every day, remember, together with the untold anguish it causes to the victims' loved ones - what would you say? Is your time really *that* precious?

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posted by Martin Thomas [567 posts]
9th November 2011 - 0:43

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I'm a yes, though I must admit, if I had a car I would be able to get a 5min lie in. Devil Due to the fact that I have to get up at 4am for work.

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posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
9th November 2011 - 17:48

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Seriously though. A 20 limit can only benefit our urban areas. It will improve traffic flow, decrease accidents as drivers will be more aware of what's round them (drivers periphery vision decreases at faster speeds). This nonsense of lost man hours is urban myth! I can get from Paisley to West End of Glasgow (roughly 12miles) quicker on my bike than my friend in their car!! My personal observation is that a lot of the traffic jams are caused by a combination of speeding, harsh braking and light jumping. If a 20 limit was in place I would be hard pressed to beat him as I reckon the average speed in the city would increase as a result. But this is only my humble opinion...

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posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
10th November 2011 - 0:27

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Oh, and our roads exist solely because cyclists campaigned for and invested in better road surfaces. It seems that motorists were quite happy to endure what was in existence back then. Little did we realise..

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posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
10th November 2011 - 0:37

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