The Government has shown little leadership on 20 mph zones and limits
The Government has shown little leadership on 20 mph zones and limits

Government inaction on road safety costing lives

The Transport Select Committee report into road safety comes just a week after new guidance on setting local speed limits showed feeble leadership from Government. Where local authorities aren't performing, stronger direction is required from central Government to ensure road safety improves.

Much has changed since the Transport Select Committee inquiry into road safety took evidence from CTC's Roger Geffen in January and from CTC's President and Vice-President in May. The 'Cities fit for cycling' campaign by The Times emerged in February and radically shifted the debate around cycle safety. And, more recently, new figures emerged showing a massive spike in serious injuries amongst cyclists, but just a slight rise in cycle use.

In his evidence to the Committee CTC's President Jon Snow repeatedly made the point that there was a lack of proper coordination from Government on cycle safety, and the Committee picked up on this point, while also pointing to the failures of leadership on road safety more widely.

20 mph - an example of weak leadership

Shortly before the report was published, we were given a great example of this lack of leadership. For some months the Government has been preparing a revision to the guidance on setting local speed limits. CTC and other organisations have been pushing authorities to do more to adopt 20 mph as the standard urban speed limit. Together with partner organisations, we met with the Minister responsible last year to press our case.

To help, we are publishing updated guidance for consultation. This includes a number of initiatives we have introduced to improve road safety, including making it easier for local authorities and communities to put in place 20 mph schemes, or use common-sense measures such as variable speed limits outside schools."

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning

The outcome is slightly tweaked guidance - 20 mph schemes are given a little more prominence, but the wording of the guidance is still weak, leaving decisions on where and when to adopt lower speeds entirely to local authorities. While some areas are pressing ahead successfully with lower speed limits (like Portsmouth or Bristol), many others refuse to acknowledge the huge benefits - both environmental and safety - from lower speeds.

The Government is keen on 'enabling' and 'making is easier', but won't state unequivocally that 20 mph should be introduced on most residential and shopping streets. Localism is all very well when local authorities are doing a good job, but where they aren't taking a common sense approach, a stronger message from Government is needed.

Finally, on 20 mph as in so many other things, resources are required to achieve results. At the same time that the Government is telling local authorities to make all the decisions, they are reducing central funding for local transport. Furthermore, the Government takes a very dim view of local authorities raising their own revenues through measures such as congestion charges or workplace parking levies.

CTC will be responding to the consultation on setting local speed limits and would urge others to do the same, making the case that the guidance should be much stronger.

Chris Peck