80 years of 30 mph – time for a change

CTC argues that 20 mph should be the norm in the majority of our built up environment
Sam Jones's picture

80 years of 30 mph – time for a change

As the 30 mph speed limit celebrates its 80th birthday, CTC Campaigns and Communications Coordinator Sam Jones makes the case for change.

Eighty years ago, it was a busy week for the UK’s transport system. Firstly, there was the  introduction of the first ever driving licence and this was followed on 18 March 1935 with a speed limit of 30 mph being brought in for built-up areas.

The speed limit followed an increase in deaths on the UK’s roads following the repeal of a blanket 20 mph limit in 1930. Reporting for the BBC, Chris Stokel-Walker draws the conclusion that this “spate of deaths caused a change of heart in government in 1934 and 1935”, resulting in the speed limit being introduced by politicians of the day more or less arbitrarily, rather than based on “hard evidence”.

Eighty years on, the speed limit in built-up areas is still a hot topic of debate and has inspired excellent campaigns such as 20’s Plenty for Us. As part of our wider work on road safety, CTC has also made reduced speed limits an integral part of our campaigning activity.

We firmly believe that 20 mph should be the norm for most streets in built-up areas and villages. Of course, we understand there will be exceptions to this, but these need to be identified by local authorities through consultation with their local communities.

A mistake in the road traffic environment should not result in a death sentence. Lower speed limits are proven to reduce fatalities and 20 mph should be the norm throughout the majority of the streets in our cities, towns and villages.”

Sam Jones, CTC Campaigner

Through campaigning by CTC and partners, the Government has made it easier and less costly for local authorities to implement 20 mph. Such limits are very popular, with 73 per cent of respondents to the 2011 British Social Attitudes survey supporting their use in residential areas. Even people who drive are broadly in favour, with only 14 per cent coming out against 20 mph.

Most recently at the Big Cycling Debate organised by CTC, which brought politicians from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties together to discuss cycling, 20 mph was a hot topic for discussion and division.

Dr Julian Huppert MP (LD) argued strongly for the case of 20 mph, pointing out that just as central government dictates the current 30 mph default limit, reducing it would not be a great infringement of the “localism” argument used by the Conservatives to justify maintaining the status quo. Labour was also keen on the change, but felt that various practical issues would need careful consideration.

While 20 mph zones and limits lead to a substantial fall in injuries, the broader benefits can be enjoyed by all as lower speeds will lead to more people-focused environments. Cycling and walking become more likely, resulting in better quality of life and the potential for cleaner air through reduced vehicle emissions.

Such zones are easily implemented, and no longer need expensive and unpopular traffic-calming features: Government guidance now says 20 mph signs or ‘roundels’ painted on the road are sufficient.

On wide straight roads, signing might not be enough, and in this case, physical traffic calming measures might have a role. These however do not have to detract from the area, and could be created by using planters or even children’s play areas to create a ‘home zone’. Community spaces are well-documented for encouraging people to drive more slowly.

Lower speed limits though are only part of what CTC campaigns for as we look to create cycle and people friendly streets. Our current campaign Space for Cycling embraces 6 themes which include lower speed limits.

  1. Protected space on main roads
  2. Removing through motor traffic in residential areas
  3. Lower speed limits
  4. Cycle-friendly town centres
  5. Safe routes to school
  6. Routes through green spaces

20 mph zones and limits, while playing an important role, can only do so much, and CTC believes that it is only through the positive promotion of each of the above themes that we can truly maximise the myriad benefits of cycling.

If you have not done so already, take action now and contact your local councillors, calling on them to support Space for Cycling.

 

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Comments

20mph should be reserved for cul- de- sacs and school areas when schools are going to and from. But not a blanket speed limit. In fact all speed limits could be scrapped and replaced by you drive by the conditions at the time.

20mph should be reserved for cul- de- sacs and school areas when schools are going to and from. But not a blanket speed limit. In fact all speed limits could be scrapped and replaced by you drive by the conditions at the time.

I have been advocating 20mph limits in built up areas for a long time.
Hit a child at 20mph & they might survive- at 30mph they are dead.
Yet too many of my friends say' it's not possible to drive at 20mph'!
The sooner the continental system of liability is brought in the better, as it may concentrate drivers' minds.
Ignore the 'Daily Mail' headlines screaming 'Drivers persecuted'.

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