20mph-road-sign.jpg

Are 20mph zones safer than 30mph?

It may seem like an odd question to ask on the face of it, but the issue of whether the reduction of the speed limit from 20mph to 30mph in built-up areas in towns and cities has made a positive difference remains open to debate.

by Andrew Segal 9th March 2018

A report on behalf of Bath and North East Somerset Council has revealed that deaths and serious injuries have actually increased, despite them spending almost £900,000 on introducing 13 new 20mph speed zones 12 months ago. The worrying trend applies to seven out of 13 zones.

A review of a similar scheme in Portsmouth in 2010 found that the number of people killed or seriously injured on affected roads went up, not down, after the limit was lowered.

And figures released by the Department for Transport earlier this year based on data from 2016, showed that 20mph speed limits are ignored by 81 per cent of drivers (taken from cars recorded at nine different sites across the country). 15 per cent of cars were recorded travelling at more than 30mph in these zones.

So why are these zones appearing to have an adverse effect on driver and pedestrian safety?

The report suggested that drivers are perhaps looking more at the speedometer rather than the road ahead, coupled with pedestrians being less diligent when crossing roads as they assume cars will be driving slower and would have more time to react if necessary.

Simon Marshall, a retired civil servant, from Lower Weston has called the speed limits “unduly restrictive” and suggests Bath council should review the scheme.

He said: “More people are being hurt because less people are taking care.”

A review published by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in November 2017 concluded that there was a link between the introduction of 20mph zones and a subsequent reduction in casualties. However, the review did also point out that using other traffic calming measures (such as speed bumps) in conjunction with the 20mph zones were much more effective.

In Bath and North East Somerset the changes were brought in with a speed reduction and signs to indicate it only. This may prove beneficial in the long term as the Government has plans in place to remove speed bumps in order to cut pollution; the constant slowing down and speeding up can double the amount of harmful gases emitted.

What is the answer for the council then? It would cost approximately the same amount of money to remove the 20mph zones, which according to deputy council leader Patrick Anketell-Jones “is money we simply haven’t got.” He went on to say that “although the report advises against the expansion of the scheme, there are particular roads where it’s still a good idea to have 20mph limits, mainly around schools and vulnerable residential areas.”

A spokesman for the AA, Luke Bosdet, sums it up like this: “The aim of these 20mph zones is to get people driving below 30mph, and from that point of view we believe they are working. The problem is a knee-jerk reaction to introducing these zones everywhere, and ensuring residents are consulted before any changes are brought in. After all, without consultation you’re not going to get adherence.”