Media criticised for misleading coverage of stats showing jump in casualties in 20mph zones

CTC and 20's Plenty for Us say coverage of 24 per cent rise ignored fact there are now more roads with 20mph limit

by Simon_MacMichael   August 15, 2012  


National cyclists’ organisation CTC and road safety charity 20s Plenty For Us have criticised what they see as inaccurate coverage in the media regarding the effect on road safety of 20mph zones after government figures showed that casualties on roads with that speed limit had increased by a quarter during 2011, while those with a 30mph limit saw a minimal increase.

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) showed that on urban roads with a 20mph speed limit, casualties rose by 24 per cent to 2,262 during 2011. On 30mph roads, the increase was just 1 per cent, but there were 125,494 casualties.

Many media outlets seized on the figures as evidence that that 20mph zones had no effect, one example being The Sun, which began its story: “Controversial 20mph speed limits designed to cut road casualties are not working, official figures show.”

In a blog post on the CTC website, its policy co-ordinator Chris Peck pointed out that coverage of the figures failed to take into account any increase in the extent of the road network now covered by 20mph zones; if that has grown by more than 24 per cent, the casualty rate will have actually gone down, he explained.

“Only a few commentators have seen through this nonsense,” he said. “Unfortunately these issues will reoccur as long as the Department for Transport continue to publish data on casualties without regard to the rate of injury per mile, per trip or per hour.

“The damage from this episode is likely to be ripple out and used by the small minority of people who oppose 20 mph limits to block further moves to introduce lower speed limits.”

20’s Plenty for Us likewise insisted that coverage of the statistics had failed to take into account that during the same period there was a big increase in the number of roads subject to the lower speed limit as a number of local authorities switch to it in urban areas, with the charity saying that in some places it now applies to 70 per cent of the road network.

“Without reference to the total number of miles of 20mph roads in 2010 and 2011 no conclusion can be drawn from these particular statistics,” it said.

The charity pointed out that in cities including Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, Portsmouth and York, local authorities have already made the switch to 20mph “because there is ample evidence that 20mph limits create a better road environment for all users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

“Those seeking justification for high vehicle speeds on roads are failing to make a convincing case against the abundance of evidence in support of lower speed limits.

“It is because such counties as Lancashire have changed the speed limit on most of their residential roads in the last 3 years that there will inevitably be an increase in casualties on 20mph roads as the total road length increases.”

20’s Plenty for Us founder, Rod King, said: “Rather than jumping to conclusions on the basis of minimal evidence, those interested in reducing danger on our roads should be a little more analytical in their assessment of any trends.

“As roads are transferred from 30mph to 20mph we will not eliminate casualties, and there will inevitably be increases as the total miles of 20mph roads increases.

“But all the evidence, including the Laws of Physics, shows that danger to all road users reduces.

“The real concern from these statistics is that pedestrian casualties rose by 12% in 2011 and as most of these were on 30mph roads then it really makes the case for more widespread adoption of 20mph limits”

According to Local Transport Minister Norman Baker, “British Medical Journal research has shown a reduction in casualties and collision of around 40%, a reduction in children killed or seriously injured of 50% and reduction in casualties among cyclists by 17%.

"That is why we believe 20mph speed limits are useful in certain residential areas and support their introduction where it can be shown that they benefit road safety and quality of life.

"It's vital that speed limits are suitable for local conditions and councils are best placed to determine what these limits are, based on local knowledge and the views of the community.

"Authorities up and down the country have been concluding that 20mph limits are indeed beneficial to their local areas."

On Monday, the DfT published for consultation new speed limit guidance for local authorities that is aimed in part at making it easier for councils to implement 20mph speed limits.

“It is vital that speed limits are suitable for local conditions and councils are best placed to determine what these limits are, based on local knowledge and the views of the community,” said Road Safety Minister Mike Penning.

“To help, we are publishing updated guidance for consultation. This includes a number of initiatives we have introduced to improve road safety, including making it easier for local authorities and communities to put in place 20 mph schemes, or use common-sense measures such as variable speed limits outside schools.

“Road safety is a top priority and the guidance – along with the speed limit appraisal web tool – will help councils make evidence based decisions to introduce local speed limits that reflect the needs of all road users.”

12 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I would want to look very carefully at the stats to make sure they were comparing apples with apples.

In the case of speed cameras they often quote reductions as specific sites without understanding if there had been similar or better reductions at sites without speed cameras.

The results for Portsmouth are not conclusive.

In my opinion often speed limits are introduced because the authorities cannot be bothered to sort out the problems. Introduction of a speed limit is good PR even if it doesn’t help.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see an increase in accidents at specific locations after the introduction of the 20mph speed limit. In my experience pedestrians seem to take more chances when a vehicle is travelling at 20 just walking out without a care in the world.

I would rather be overtaken by a car at 30 mph that gives me wide berth rather than some idiot crawling past with six inches to spare at 20 mph.

Mixte Rider

posted by adriank999 [83 posts]
15th August 2012 - 15:23


[[[[[[[[ Yes, Mixte Rider....and at 20mph, some drivers will be even more tempted to use the mobile (and other gadgets) at his/her disposal within the smelly polluting vehicle---Toys'R'Them---and podestrians (sic) dancing through the slower traffic are perhaps more likely to collide with can't win. It's a jungle out there, innit.


posted by PhilRuss [326 posts]
15th August 2012 - 16:47


Like you two I'm an experienced cyclist who takes his chances with the traffic. I'm also a dad and, bearing in mind that my son has a 90 per cent chance of survival when hit by a car at 20mph and only a 50% chance when hit by a vehicle doing 30 (, I'd like the 20mph on my street to remain. If you don't like it go and ride somewhere else and don't make ill-informed remarks suggesting that drivers speeding on my street will make my son safer.

posted by Alistair [8 posts]
15th August 2012 - 19:32


20mph zones may well encourage more poeple to cycle, which is a good thing.

Butfor various reasons the safety debate still tends to ignore the fact that the biggest risk of serious injury to cyclsits is not from collision with cars, vans, buses or fixed and stationary objects, but from single vehicle, non-collision incidents.

So we might expect the effect of 20mph zones on cycle casuality numbers to be fairly marginal. Their effect on getting more people fitter and reducing risks to pedestrians may be more significant.

Injury Prevention Manager
NHS Bristol

posted by Rob Benington [16 posts]
16th August 2012 - 10:14


What is a single vehicle non collision incident incident in normal English?

I've been cycling in Bristol for over ten years and done many thousands of miles in the process. My few incidents have all involved other vehicles or cyclists.

posted by Monsieur Velo [23 posts]
16th August 2012 - 11:53


Monsieur Velo wrote:
What is a single vehicle non collision incident incident in normal English?

Someone fell off all by themselves...

posted by step-hent [714 posts]
16th August 2012 - 12:38


On personal level I agree with the first two comments. My commuting speed is usually close to 20mph, so non-speeding motorists have to take ages to get past, usually meaning that having misjudged my speed they end up cutting me up as an oncoming vehicle forces them back onto the correct side of the road.

posted by mbrads72 [157 posts]
16th August 2012 - 13:42


There's no police to enforce the limits any way.... Thinking

The accident stats are simply recorded along with the posted speed limits for the stretch of road that is applicable...generally lump all the incidents into 60/50/40/30 mph and get an average.

End of year figures are then usually compared with a 10 year the article says the figures for 20mph zone incidents will rise as the numbers of 20mph zones increase.

They're also looking at dropping the National limit on rural/country roads and lanes to 40....uummm Confused

colhum1's picture

posted by colhum1 [98 posts]
16th August 2012 - 14:11

1 Like

step-hent wrote:
Monsieur Velo wrote:
What is a single vehicle non collision incident incident in normal English?

Someone fell off all by themselves...

AKA "Doing a Menchov" Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9320 posts]
16th August 2012 - 14:14


Rob, the HSE statistics show hospital admissions. You cannot make the link between the causes for hospital admissions and "the biggest risk of serious injury" without further evidence.

posted by qwerky [183 posts]
16th August 2012 - 15:00


Well just goes to prove the old adage -

Theres Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I am pretty sure that I read on this site that a significant proportion of the riders killed in london have been hit by HGVs. Maybe its just classed as a non vehicular collision when the vehicle doesnt stop after knocking you off your bike ?

posted by Monsieur Velo [23 posts]
16th August 2012 - 21:53


Am I missing something here? The 24% Increase was on roads that were previously 30 or more and the increase is at 20MPH. They are saying that this increase was after they became 20 zones. So how does claiming the extent of 20 zones is responsible for the figures then? Surely the longer these routes, the less cycling casualties? Are you saying there is too much 20 zone and that is the problem? Reduce them and the casualties will go down again then? Seems like some gross denial and sillyness going on here to me. Oh the increase of cyclists has nothing to do with it then and that 20 zones are dangerous too? And yes, in BUA 20 zones pedestrian casualties will go up too.

But I predicted publicly that 20 Zones will cause accidents and casualties before 2011. You can see it at Killer 20s will kill kiddies. I explained in detail why too. Of course cycling casualties will rise the more that do it too. I also predicted that prior to 2011.

We are talking about mixing, mingling, competing & sharing the same track as loads of heavy fast moving essential machinery operated by any diverse character here. Is that wise on a personal basis? How do we know that all these will safely steer past us? Can anyone seriously and sincerely recommend and advise anyone they love to cycle in today's carriagways? Having done so, when they are cabbaged or killed, does the blame game then kick in to mitigate it all and blame everyone but the reality then? Seems like it to me.

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [90 posts]
19th August 2012 - 14:13