Lower speed limit wanted in some residential areas and near schools, but campaigners say only blanket approach works

The AA has issued a call for more 20mph zones to be put in place in residential areas and near schools to help improved the safety of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. The comments were made by the motoring organisation’s president, Edmund King, who was speaking to The Times as the newspaper continues its Cities Fit For Cyclists campaign.

“We accept that if we had more twenties it would help. If it is a residential street or a road outside a school, absolutely,” Mr King explained. “Our view is that we support 20mph zones where they work but there are still some roads in urban areas that are roads for movement. A blanket 20mph may stop people getting around.”

Road safety campaigners however have pointed out that the problem with adopting a piecemeal approach, as advocated by the AA, is that it leaves the decision to be made on a street-by-street basis, leading to delays in implementing such zones as well as confusion over which speed limit applies in a particular area, meaning that drivers are less likely to change their behaviour, as highlighted by Chester Cycling Campaign last month.

The Times says that research conducted by the government has found that reducing the speed limit if the most effective measure that can be implemented to cut cycling casualties, citing a 50 per cent reduction in the number of cyclists killed or seriously inured, and 60 per cent among child cyclists, in areas where a 20mph limit had been trialed.

A number of local authorities throughout the UK have introduced 20mph speed limits on all or some of their residential roads, with Portsmouth the first to do so and Oxford among those following suit. Recently, Liverpool said that it planned to introduce the limit on 70 per cent of its residential streets, and Manchester and the London Borough of Islington both intend to introduce the lower limit in place of the current 30mph one.

In June last year, Local Transport Minister Norman Baker announced revised rules that would make it easier for local authorities to implement such zones, and Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, told The Times: “There is definitely a case for more extended 20mph speed limits.”

The newspaper also quoted Road Safety Minister, Mike Penning, as saying: “I think local authorities need to wake up to actually what they can do and what they can’t do. They have the powers. They can do it.”

In response to police concerns regarding enforcement of such speed limits, Mr Penning highlighted average speed cameras as being effective, and moreover would pay for themselves through fines imposed on motorists breaking the limit.

Last year, Sustrans said that implementing 20mph zones on roads currently subject to a 30mph speed limit could save hundreds of children from suffering death or serious injury each year.


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


op1983 [45 posts] 5 years ago

"A blanket 20mph may stop people getting around.”

What an illogical argument

Wardy74 [43 posts] 5 years ago

It always gets my goat when average speed camera costs are justified by speeding fines. It sends mixed messages IMO, do we want to slow the traffic down or not? When they were introduced on Nottingham's ring road they worked well, actually increasing traffic flow and decreasing travel times. But not enough fines were being issued to pay for the cameras, leading to the crazy idea of getting rid of them (thankfully this idea was shoved back up the dark hole it came from). Initiatives like this should not be sponsored by drivers who don't care that they accumulate 9 points or so then drive carefully until a couple get knocked off. Mild rant over!

notfastenough [3728 posts] 5 years ago

I think the safety campaigners are wrong on the blanket ban , because drivers become blase about it. If it's 20 all (current 30) roads, then I would likely end up just using my judgement to assess when it is ok to go over, perhaps up to 30. In contrast, if I turn off a main road onto a residential street and see a 20 sign, I'm a lot more aware of it. It's a bit of a 'cry wolf' situation'.

HKCambridge [224 posts] 5 years ago

“Our view is that we support 20mph zones where they work but there are still some roads in urban areas that are roads for movement. A blanket 20mph may stop people getting around.”

Um, yes, strangely I also use my bike for getting around. A 20mph limit just on residential roads doesn't help me very much, because I need to move from my house to other places.

I'd very much welcome drivers not thinking they need to reach 30mph for the 5 seconds it's possible before they hit the next set of lights / congestion casued by the number of cars on the road. Isn't there an argument that 20mph actually improves traffic flow because it reduces the amount of stop-starting?

Cambridge is currently consulting on a blanket 20mph, but I doubt the general populace is going to do for it.

WolfieSmith [1382 posts] 5 years ago

You have to bear in mind that a 20mph limit will produce average speeds of approx 25mph as opposed to the current 30mph which, in my area at least, produces an average of perhaps 38mph. Or judging by my fellow local residents on a major school crossing 45mph+ 'Get out of my way Lolly pop lady!'

Rospa say that between 30mph and 40mph will cause between 3.5 and 5.5 times more deaths than speeds below 30mph so it seems pretty clear to me. They also state that speed is only 'a contributing factor' in 14% of accidents. Some stats say a third. I've always found the 'contributing factor' stat a bit suspect. If you're texting someone at 50mph and someone steps out in front of you that persons death has to be more likely than texting at 20mph. I suspect that the record might state' careless' or 'distracted driving' rather than 'speeding' and the death be logged as such but surely a shorter reaction window is the factor not just slow reactions.

I'm actively fighting for 20mph limits on a couple of key school
run junctions in my neighbourhood. I have no idea what the reaction will be but I'm expecting the best.