Is a 20 Mile Per Hour Speed Limit Annoying or Necessary?

Sep 16, 2023 | Insights

A cabinet minister has expressed concerns about the 20 mile per hour speed limit on residential roads coming into force in Wales from 17th September.

Approximately 7,700 miles of road will be transitioning from a speed limit of 30mph to 20mph on restricted roads. Mark Drakeford, the first minister, maintains that this change and resulting slower speeds will have a positive impact by saving lives and reducing noise pollution.

Drakeford said people will eventually look back on this moment and ask why “we were prepared to tolerate traffic going at excessive speeds in urban areas” citing it’s not much of a contribution from everyone when it’s only adding 5 minutes.

But there are some, such as Penny Mourdant, Leader of the House of Commons, who think “this is absolutely insane, even by the standards of Labour’s Welsh government.” The latest estimates are that this will cost the Welsh economy £4.5 billion and that it will increase fuel bills whilst also being harmful to the environment in the process. They believe council control is wavering away from more important priorities.

The move has been welcomed by road safety campaigners, who cited research from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents indicating that pedestrians have a 40% lower fatality rate when struck at a speed of 20mph.

Let’s dive in and see what all the fuss is about.

what is a 20mph speed limit

What is a 20 Mile Per Hour Speed Limit?

The 20 mph limit denotes the maximum pace at which vehicles are legally permitted to traverse on particular roads (usually urban roads) or within defined zones on restricted roads. This is usually enforced around residential and built-up areas.

This limit is markedly less compared to the standard national speed limits observed on primary thoroughfares.

The rationale behind instituting a 20 mile per hour speed limit is to foster safer and more sustainable communities by diminishing the gravity of injuries and severe injuries sustained in road traffic accidents and enhancing the overall safety of roads.

The reduction in speed is commonly implemented in metropolitan regions, residential lanes, and other areas where a greater likelihood of pedestrian or vehicular congestion exists.

In the preceding years, the adoption of the 20 mph speed restriction has been on the rise, recognized as an effective strategy to mitigate the incidence of mishaps and fatalities in zones with a dense population of pedestrians and/or vehicle flow.

This precautionary measure is frequently applied in city settings, neighbourhood streets, and other locales where heightened pedestrian or vehicular traffic is anticipated.

Why Wales? The Welsh Government’s Commitment to Road Safety

The Welsh Government is steadfast in its mission to protect its populace on the highways. To uphold the commitment to road safety, a 20mph speed limit has been instituted in specific zones as a measure to bolster community welfare, diminish grave injuries, and preserve lives.

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The fundamental reasoning behind this move is the conviction that reduced vehicle velocities will facilitate safer roadways and thriving communities.

By enacting this lowered speed limit, the Welsh Government endeavours to lessen the extremity of injuries occurring from road traffic incidents and carve out a safer haven for at-risk road users like pedestrians and cyclists. They also acknowledge that decreased speeds can yield considerable health gains, including a rise in physical activity and betterment of air quality.

Nevertheless, this initiative has spurred debates.

Advocates contend that a 20mph restriction can drastically cut down the instances of road casualties and injuries, thus safeguarding lives. They affirm that it fosters a safer and more agreeable habitat for inhabitants, particularly in residential sectors and bustling pedestrian pathways.

Critics are voicing apprehensions regarding the influence on travel durations and the actual efficacy of the 20mph limitation in curtailing accidents. They maintain that other aspects such as road structure and motorist conduct are more pivotal in ensuring road safety.

Reacting to the contentious discussions, an official from the Welsh Government’s policy leadership remarked:

The curtailment of vehicle speeds stands as a crucial component in our strategy to augment road safety and foster healthier communities. We recognize that this adjustment might encounter varied responses, but we stand firm in our resolve to scrutinize the repercussions of reduced speed thresholds and affirm that our resolution is grounded in empirical evidence.”

Benefits of a 20 Mph Speed Limit

benefits of 20mph speed limit

A lower speed limit of 20 mph offers numerous benefits for road safety and the environment.

By implementing this reduced speed limit, the number of road traffic collisions is expected to drastically decrease. Slower vehicle speeds not only decrease the severity of injuries in case of accidents but also make the streets safer for vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.

The 20 mph speed limit encourages the use of active travel modes like walking and cycling, leading to positive impacts on public health and air quality.

Also, the reduction in vehicle speeds can contribute to a decrease in fuel consumption and emissions, thereby contributing to environmental protection.

In collectively reducing the scale of implementation can yield even better outcomes for road traffic, resulting in a significant reduction in deaths and serious injuries from road traffic accidents.

The adoption of the 20 mph speed limit also helps create safer and healthier environments for everyone, improving the quality of life for current and future generations.

Road Safety for Vulnerable Road Users

Road safety is a crucial concern in our society, especially for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. Implementing a 20 mph speed limit in areas with high pedestrian and cyclist activity can significantly improve their safety and well-being.

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Reducing vehicle speeds in these areas helps to create a safer environment for everyone. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in accidents involving motor vehicles, particularly at higher speeds.

By implementing a 20 mph speed limit, we can reduce the severity of injuries in case of a collision, offering better protection for these individuals.

Lowering the speed limit also contributes to a range of benefits. Firstly, it improves air quality in urban areas. Slowing down vehicles reduces fuel consumption and thus decreases harmful emissions that contribute to pollution.

This not only benefits vulnerable road users but also future generations who will inherit a cleaner and healthier environment.

Additionally, a 20 mph speed limit makes streets safer and more inviting for pedestrians and cyclists. It encourages active transportation and reduces the reliance on motorized vehicles, leading to a reduction in traffic volume.

By creating safer and more accessible spaces, people are more likely to choose sustainable modes of transportation, improving overall public health.

A 20 mph speed limit in areas with vulnerable road users is seen by some as essential for protecting pedestrians, cyclists, and other individuals.

By reducing vehicle speeds communities are:

  • Enhancing road safety,
  • Reducing the severity of injuries,
  • Improve air quality,
  • and creating safer and more accessible streets for everyone.

It’s a small change that can have a big impact on the well-being of our communities.

Improved Air Quality

Implementing a 20 mph speed limit has a significant impact on air quality, contributing to a cleaner and healthier environment. By reducing vehicle speeds, this intervention helps to lower fuel consumption and the associated particulate emissions.

Driving at a reduced speed of 20 mph results in less frequent and aggressive braking, which in turn reduces particulate emissions from items such as tyres and brakes. Additionally, vehicles travelling at lower speeds emit fewer exhaust fumes, which are a major source of air pollution.

While it is true that some specific vehicular emissions may rise slightly at lower speeds, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO), the overall effect is still positive.

The reductions in particulate matter (PM) and other harmful emissions outweigh the slight increases in other pollutants. This means that overall, a 20 mph speed limit leads to improved air quality in urban areas.

A smoother driving style at lower speeds also helps to reduce congestion on the roads. With less frequent braking, traffic flows more efficiently, leading to a decrease in stop-and-go traffic.

This not only improves air quality but also reduces commuting times, enhancing the overall quality of life for residents.

Reduced Fuel Consumption

Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph can have a significant impact on fuel consumption. When drivers adhere to a lower speed limit, fuel consumption is reduced, resulting in fuel savings and increased fuel efficiency.

Driving at higher speeds increases aerodynamic drag, which requires more energy (and therefore more fuel) to overcome. By reducing peak road speeds in residential areas to 20 mph, vehicles experience less aerodynamic drag, leading to reduced fuel consumption.

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Several factors contribute to increased fuel consumption at higher speed limits.

  • Firstly, vehicles have to work harder to overcome increased air resistance, especially at higher speeds.
  • Secondly, higher speeds often lead to more frequent and aggressive braking, which wastes fuel. Lastly, driving at higher speeds decreases the efficiency of the engine, resulting in higher fuel consumption.

Research conducted by Future Transport highlights the relationship between speed limits and fuel efficiency.

Their findings show that reducing speed limits to 20 mph can result in reduced fuel consumption and increased fuel efficiency. By promoting smoother driving styles at lower speeds, vehicles can maximize their fuel efficiency and contribute to environmental sustainability.

Street Lights and Road Markings More Noticeable

Implementing a 20 mph speed limit can significantly improve road safety by making street lights and road markings more noticeable to drivers. Operating at lower speeds allows drivers to have a better awareness of their surroundings, including the presence and visibility of street lights and road markings.

By reducing vehicle speeds, drivers have more time to observe and react to road signs and markings, increasing their ability to navigate the road safely. By obeying a 20 mph speed limit, drivers are encouraged to be more vigilant and attentive, ensuring that they can easily spot important road markings, such as pedestrian crossings, zebra crossings, and speed limit signs.

To support the implementation of the 20 mph speed limit, relevant traffic and road safety manuals will be followed when installing signs and road markings. These manuals provide guidelines on the correct positioning and visibility of road signs and markings, ensuring maximum visibility for drivers.

A county-wide marketing campaign will be launched to inform residents about the speed limit changes.

Many believe the campaign will help raise awareness of the new speed limit and emphasize the importance of adhering to it for enhanced road safety.

Challenges of Implementing a 20 Mph Speed Limit

challenges enforcing 20mph speed

Implementing a 20 mph speed limit comes with its own set of challenges.

While the aim is to create safer road environments and reduce the number of accidents and road traffic casualties, there are certain obstacles and considerations that need to be taken into account.

From addressing concerns and resistance from drivers to ensuring proper enforcement and compliance, overcoming these challenges is crucial for the successful implementation of the 20 mph speed limit.

For example, when proposals are requested for bus routes, the authority will need to collaborate with the bus companies to evaluate the potential impact a 20mph limit will have on bus journey times, allowing for a fair and balanced decision to be made about the viability of routes.

Change in Habits and Behaviour of Drivers

Implementing a 20 mph speed limit in a community can bring about significant changes in the habits and behaviour of drivers. It requires drivers to adjust their driving habits and adhere to the new speed limits for the greater benefit of the community.

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One of the main challenges drivers face is breaking their existing habits of driving at higher speeds. This change may require conscious effort and relearning of driving behaviours. Drivers will need to slow down and drive at a reduced speed, ensuring they are within the new speed limits set.

Adherence to the new speed limits can be achieved through increased awareness and education. Providing clear signage and communication about the new speed limits is crucial.

Law enforcement efforts and potential penalties for non-compliance can help drivers understand the importance of adhering to the new limits.

However, resistance and non-compliance can still arise due to various factors and a sense that intervention on road traffic speeds is a lower priority in urban areas when it isn’t properly enforced at more dangerous speeds.

Some drivers may perceive the reduced speed limits as unnecessary or inconvenient, leading them to resist change. The absence of strict enforcement can also contribute to non-compliance with the new speed limits. It is important to address these factors to ensure the success of the speed limit intervention. Many hate speed humps in equal measure too.

20mph Speed Limits Appear to Make Little Difference According to Studies So Far

The outcomes of road traffic collisions after the implementation of 20 mph speed limits are still unclear.

A research project conducted by Queen’s University Belfast shed light on the potential effects of these speed limits.

The study examined the changes in collision rates (and fatal collisions), casualty rates, and average traffic speeds in areas where the 20 mph speed limits were introduced.

The data included average speed, average volume per range of speed, speed by time of day and average volume by time of day.

The 3-year study of the implementation of a 20 mph speed limit in town and city centres and Belfast city, found no significant reduction in road traffic collisions, casualties, or driver speed.

However, the scheme appears to show reductions in road traffic volume, according to the findings.

The main reasons for reducing traffic speed in urban areas are to decrease the chances of a road traffic collision and lessen the severity of any resulting injuries. At traffic speeds of 30–40 mph, the risks of pedestrian fatalities are significantly higher compared to speeds of 20–30 mph.

As a result, efforts to decrease road traffic speed to 20 mph, or 30 km per hour, have gained popularity in the UK and certain parts of Europe.

However, there is limited evidence regarding their effectiveness, as previous studies have yielded inconsistent results and few have examined long-term outcomes, according to the researchers.

Further research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of these speed limits in reducing road traffic collisions.

Another report published in 2018 in conjunction with the Department for Transport, concluded that 20mph limits don’t make our roads safer.

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The found that 20mph zones have shown minimal impact on road safety, with drivers only reducing their speed by 0.7mph within those zones.

The study was conducted over a period of four years in twelve distinct regions. A significant discovery from the study indicates that up to 94% of drivers exceed the speed limit if they typically drove above 24mph prior to the implementation of the 20mph zone.

Interestingly though, according to Transport for London (TfL) data, the implementation of 20mph speed limits in London has resulted in increased road safety, with a 25 per cent decrease in deaths and serious injuries within the central London Congestion Charging Zone.

According to reports, lower speed limits have been a key factor in the Mayor’s Vision Zero plan to reduce fatalities and severe injuries on the transportation network. TfL has decided to increase the implementation of 20mph speed limits on its roads, with a goal of having 220km of its roads set to a 20mph speed limit by 2024.

Are 20 Mile Per Hour Speed Limits Enforceable Already?

Yes.  Transgressing a 20mph speed limit makes you equally accountable for a speeding sanction just as you would be for breaching any other speed restrictions. The Metropolitan Police in London has also formerly indicated that it applies the usual ‘10% + 2mph’ criteria for enforcement.

The Debates Will Continue

20mph debates continue

Implementing 20 mile per hour speed limits is a debate which no doubt will carry on for many years.

There seem to be 3 core arguments for the introduction of a 20mph speed limit which are:

  • Directly transport-related reasons,
  • Health reasons,
  • Political reasons.

Notice that safety doesn’t feature  This is why many are so against the crusade bing put forward by the Welsh Government and potentially others in the near future.

The 20mph study, found that drivers ignored speed signage because they thought there was little chance of them getting caught for speeding.

The study also discovered that the primary cause of accidents was “failure to observe,” whether as a pedestrian (17%) or motorist (37%). However, the lower speeds could potentially provide road users with more reaction time in the event of an incident, resulting in a reduced likelihood of injury.

Even the head of the AA has come out and said they believe that 20mph zones are best used outside schools, hospitals and places where vulnerable road users are most active and not be used as a blanket speed across all urban areas.

What Do You Think About the 20 Mile Per Hour Speed Limit?

What are your thoughts on this growing topic?

Should 20mph zones become the norm in urban areas, or should it only be restricted to certain areas?  Do you believe 30mph to be appropriate given other road safety measures available such as zebra crossings and speed humps? Or perhaps the Welsh Government are leading the way?…

Let us know what you think below.

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