Call to cut speed limit to 20mph across UK’s towns

Safety campaigners say stricter limits in residential areas will help save lives

GEM wants the Government to consider a 20mph limit in all residential areas
GEM wants the Government to consider a 20mph limit in all residential areas

A default speed limit of 20mph should be introduced on residential streets to help save lives, according to proposals from road safety campaigners.

The call comes ahead of the UN's Global Road Safety Week as campaigners urge governments to adopt “smart new policies” to cut vehicle speeds.

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Experts from road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist have urged the UK Government to consider introducing a blanket 20mph limit on residential streets, arguing that such a move would improve safety where people live and encourage more people to walk and cycle.

Niel Worth says that lowering the limit will make residential streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists

Neil Worth, chief executive of GEM Motoring Assist, said: “Low speed on roads can help save lives and are the heart of any community.

“20mph speed limits where people and traffic mix make for streets that are healthy, green and liveable. That’s why the UN is calling them ‘streets for life’.”

“So we are joining safety organisations around the world to make policymakers aware of the benefits of lower speed. We want to persuade them to act for low speed streets worldwide, limiting speeds to 20mph where people walk, live and play.”

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GEM cites a recent study carried out in Bristol which showed that the introduction of 20mph limits was associated with a 63 per cent reduction in fatal injuries between 2008 and 2016.

However, a 2018 report by Atkins and AECOM for the Department for Transport suggested the introduction of 20mph zones had “no significant change in collisions and casualties, in the short term”, and that the majority of drivers continued to drive at more than 20mph in the zones.

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A study into the effects of 20mph “interventions” published by the National Institute for Health Research found that the current evidence indicates that 20 mph “zones” are effective in reducing the number and severity of collisions and casualties but there was “insufficient evidence for 20 mph ‘limits’ and the reduction in number and severity of collisions/casualties”.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists has also cautioned against replacing the default 30mph limit with a 20mph one. It argues that 20mph limits should be an option where speeds are already regularly below 30mph, such as housing estates, but only where they are “self-enforcing” via signage and have the support of the local community.

Despite disagreement over their effectiveness, local authorities are introducing increasing numbers of 20mph zones, with an estimated one in three towns set to implement the lower limits. Wales is poised to become the first UK nation to introduce a nationwide 20mph limit for residential areas by 2023, following trials later this year.

A recent DfT survey also found widespread support for the zones. According to its poll, 70 per cent of motorists agreed that 20 mph was the right limit for residential streets, and one in four people thought it would make them more likely to walk or cycle in their everyday life.