Blanket speed reducations are a waste of public money and reduce air quality
Yet again there is an argument over possible further speed limit reductions to 20mph in towns and 40mph in the country. I imagine local councillors will be bombarded by requests for lower limits. There’s just one hitch though. Most of the arguments in favour of returning drivers to little short of a pre-1930 situation centre on safety and accident, death and injury reduction.
It is now two years since several towns and cities started introducing blanket 20mph speed limits – so we now have two years of accident statistics to study. Much has been made of the increase in accidents last year – but these figures deserve detailed study.
When you examine where the accidents were a pattern starts to emerge. Those places with reduced speed limits and/or traffic calming like speed humps (or as i call them ‘inverted potholes’), most notably Portsmouth, Bristol and Oxford, now have the worst records in the country. Portsmouth spent over half a million pounds on its scheme, and saw a rise in killed and seriously injured (KSI), 38 per cent increase in pedestrians and 11 per cent increase in cyclists. Although there was a 12 per cent reduction in KSI nationally, Portsmouth recorded a six per cent increase, despite a 12 per cent reduction in traffic volume within its 20mph zone. They also had more school child casualties in the two years following introduction of the scheme than the annual average for the three years before.
In Bristol overall casualties in the first year of operation reduced by five in the inner area but increased by eight in the outer area – a net increase of three. All 20mph schemes experience reduced traffic – it’s usually an objective – and drivers will try to avoid them if they can.
Warrington introduced an 18-month 20mph pilot from February, 2009. Serious injuries increased by 66 per cent; minor injuries by 48 per cent.
I could go on – but the trend is clear. The continuous reduction of speed limits is a demonstrably flawed and failed road safety policy that has been brought about by emotional and woolly wishful thinking. Vast sums of public money have been wasted – that could have been better spent on other road safety measures, like road user education and training. By that I mean all road users. How many times do we see cyclists flouting rules and pedestrians stepping out into roads without paying the slightest attention to traffic – immersed in music or texting? A case of lower speed limits giving a false sense of safety? If they paid half the attention that drivers have to I suggest we might see dramatically improved figures.
As for child safety, another fact often overlooked is that most child casualties do not occur outside schools, but elsewhere. That reduces the validity of campaigns to impose 20mph speed limits near all schools. The ABD has no objection to 20mph outside schools at times when needed – linked to the flashing signs that most schools already have. But nobody employs a lollypop lady 24/7, and to impose 20mph all day, every day is sheer stupidity.
There is another side to the speed argument that often gets overlooked. In 2008 the AA commissioned independent research, in summary the result was that forcing traffic to travel in low gears at an unnaturally low pace (try it, it is unnatural in all but the tiniest side streets, car parks or petrol forecourts) substantially increases fuel consumption and emissions. That may have implications for air quality in 20mph zones.
A final word about our country roads.Blanket 40mph limits without repeater signs are a recipe for confusion and criminalisation of perfectly safe drivers.Rural lanes have functioned for decades as a ‘shared space’ – without unnecessary regulation and expense.Let them continue thus.
Ian Taylor from Dover is spokesman for the Association of British Drivers (Kent Branch)