1 May, 2024
3 minutes read

Wales recently introduced a default speed limit of 20mph in built up areas. This was brought in with the aim of reducing the number and severity of injuries caused by collisions with cars. These are particularly prevalent among people not in motor vehicles. We’ll call them ‘people’.

As you might expect, there was a fair bit of push-back on this issue. Angry motorists protested, signed petitions and blocked roads in an attempt to have the decision reversed. Now, under new leadership, the Welsh government is looking to review the policy. It’s likely that any changes will take the form of changes the guidance given to local authorities on exceptions to the default 20mph speed limit. One would imagine that this will lead to more roads permitting speeds of 30mph.

My experience of the change has been largely positive. I have noticed that it’s generally easier to pull out at a junction, as a gap between cars affords more time at slower speed. If I glance at the radio, I’ve not moved very far when I look up. The slower speed also makes it easier to be a good citizen to those around me: slowing from 20 to allow a pedestrian to cross or let someone out of a junction seems easier than at 30. As a pedestrian, the reduced speed and noise of passing cars increases my sense of safety, and I don’t feel that I need to hold my kids’ hands quite so tightly.

When speaking to other motorists, there is universal acceptance of the concept that 20mph is safer — this seems to have been well understood for a long time. Where there is opposition to the policy, it’s in its nature as the default speed limit. ‘Of course’, they say, there should be 20mph limits around schools, perhaps even in residential areas. However, cases of motor vehicles colliding with school buildings are vanishingly rare, as are collisions with residential properties. What we need to look out for, are people. And they have the annoying habit of moving around.

I would like to propose that speed limits could be higher on the understanding that we consider a motorist to be driving dangerously if they exceed 20mph in the presence of a pedestrian or cyclist. However, this is both hard to police, and overlooks the fact that most drivers already know that 20 is safer, but refuse to drive slower than the speed limit.

On balance, I would recommend that 20mph zones be extended to anywhere pedestrians or cyclists could be, and that those limits be enforced enthusiastically.

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