It’s official - 20mph zones don’t make our roads safer

In a four year study conducted by the department of transport, the official findings on the millions of pounds spent to try and make our roads safer has concluded: it didn’t work.

On average, the speeds fell by a mere 0.7mph, resulting in no fewer crashes. The blanketing of our roads in certain towns and cities across the country with this restriction, has cost the tax payer between £10,000 and £1.7 million for each location.

In a damming report, the figures show that we’re a nation of speeders, who routinely flout the law. The department of transport recorded 446.6 million car journeys over the four year time period in 76 areas and 46% exceeded the limits routinely on all roads monitored.
The troubling numbers are when you look at the lower speeds. In the new 20mph zones, which we paid so much for, 86% of drivers ignore the limit. This figure rises to 94% in the small hours.

It also showed that 35% of drivers are guilty of tailgating and frighteningly, 2 in 5 of those drivers are on motorways. Highways England believe that 12% of all road accidents are caused by tailgating, prompting them to start a campaign to educate drivers on this most unsafe of practises.

The other reason for converting to 20mph roads was to try and push motorists out of their cars and encourage walking, cycling and using public transport. Unsurprisingly, the report reveals there has been no shift in our travelling habits. An unmitigated disaster by all counts then?

Bristol’s ex-mayor, George Ferguson, was a stanch believer in this 20mph blanketing, citing safer, cleaner roads where motorists would switch their engines for pedals, but when he was caught speeding himself in a 20mph zone, he didn’t do his cause any favours.

Many motorists, including myself, quickly realised the roads would not be cleaner either, on the contrary, they’d be more polluted. My old fiat 500 twin air (at the time the cleanest and greenest production engine on the planet) was not able to go into 3rd gear when travelling under 20mph. The vehicle would not comply and would quickly stall. Meaning, I’d have to stay in second gear for far too long, the vehicles revs were continuously too high, drinking more fuel than was necessary and therefore causing excessive air pollution.

In addition to the air quality argument there’s this. Low speed road zones were flagged up as early as 1992 by the Rover Group, who were concerned that catalytic converters do not work effectively at low speeds - and certainly over road humps - leading to staggering increases in Nitrous Oxide and/or Carbon Monoxide levels. Slower doesn’t mean greener then.

It’s all too easy to wag fingers and say that this was a total waste of valuable money, but it’s important to understand why this expensive experiment has failed and perhaps we can put it right.

Edmund King, president of the AA, says: “We believe that targeted 20mph limits work best where they’re needed – outside schools or hospitals, or places where other vulnerable road users may be encountered. Speed limits need to reflect the nature of the road, and this report has vindicated the reservations of motorists with regard to 20mph zones”. (RAC website)

If motorists know the reasons why the speed has fallen, they’ll arguably adhere to it and positively, be on the lookout for that type of hazard. Figures show that drivers no longer slow down outside schools putting children at greater risk of accidents as too many streets have this consistently low speed and drivers do not take care when in an actual hazardous situation.

When interviewed, the vast majority of residents are happy to support these 20mph zones, but it seems that once behind the wheel of a car, they instantly forget their own commitment to lower speeds.

Is there a solution to this conundrum? We all think it’s a good idea, in places, but the majority of us refuse to obey…could this be a solution?

The definite positive in all of this to bear in mind is that if anyone were to be hit by a car, the slower the vehicle, the better their chance of survival becomes. Therefore if the majority of motorists are speeding a little in a 20 mph zone, that used to be a 30, isn’t that an improvement?

Share your thoughts on these 20 mph zones with us.

20 mph zone benefits