Hitting the 20’s Regularly – Just Like Phil Taylor.
Drivers face 20mph speed limits as new laws sweep the country
I’ve just finished watching Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor win the Word Darts Championship by pounding the 20’s relentlessly – and soon that could be the position that millions of drivers throughout the UK face themselves in as a report in The Independent newspaper suggests that as many as 1 in 3 of local authorities are either introducing (or are planning to do so) measures to stop drivers exceeding 20mph on some roads.
This seems to be a major shift in council policies that have often favoured cars over the safety of the pedestrian (and cyclists) – or so safety campaigners claim – with a possible 40% reduction in road casualties being achieved by the 10mph cut in maximum speed limit; not to mention a decrease in air pollution, increase in walking and cycling, and a somewhat dubious increase in local shopping – but we’ll let the campaigners have that one.
From a personal aspect, the roads around where I live in a suburb of Stockport are being made 20mph maximum speed limit (complete with the obligatory speed bumps) for ‘safety reasons’, with this policy being backed up by a ComRes survey for The Independent which found that “public backing for a blanket 20mph limit in built-up areas has reached more than 60% with support particularly strong among women, younger people and pensioners.”
This council-led speed limit is nothing new as around 8million people living in areas such as Liverpool, Bristol, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and parts of London are already living under authorities where 20mph limits are in operation; in fact, Islington in North London is set to become an entirely 20mph zone by March, except for those roads managed by Transport for London.
We are not talking main roads here – with the odd exception I should imagine, just to make me out to be a liar – but we are looking at the side roads off of main arteries leading to main thoroughfares, most of which are self-enforcing, as the police have already stated that they do not have sufficient resources to police these areas continually. Which streets are to be included and excluded will cause a major discussion in council chambers as Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, thinks: "We very much support 20mph limits on residential streets. The question is what is a residential street? Some roads are used for getting around town and they should remain at 30mph," he said.
Mind you, if you live or drive through Oxford, you need to be aware that Thames Valley Police recently stated that it was fully prepared to “prosecute motorists that seriously breached the limit.”
Obviously this news has been welcomed by safety groups such as pressure group 20's Plenty. Founder Rod King said communities saw levels of support for the speed limit go up after it had been implemented. "I think people are no longer trying to justify it only in terms of road safety. This is about making places better places to be. There is recognition of very wide benefits. There is a cultural shift that cars can't blight our communities like they have done in the past. It is not about being anti-car. It is about putting it in context of enhanced communities."
Not everyone is happy about it though. Keith Peat, spokesman for Alliance of British Drivers and former traffic policeman said: “20mph zones will be counterproductive and create more accidents. What you’ll get is drivers driving to the speedometer. It’s safer that drivers drive to what they’re seeing outside the car and not to what their speed needle is saying.”
But then others see it as reducing the recent figures from the Department of Transport that show that 24,870 people were either killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads in the year to June 2012, with pedestrian deaths up 5% and cyclists 9%. Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said: “Cutting the speed limit to 20mph in residential areas can save lives. Ministers must finally admit that they were wrong to propose a blanket increase in the motorway speed limit and properly support local authorities who want to extend 20mph areas, not simply pay lip service to road safety.”
These decisions are, it should be stressed, are the responsibility of local councils, and not the Government, as Local Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "We believe 20mph speed limits are useful in certain areas and support their introduction where it can be shown that they improve road safety and quality of life. However, this is a decision that should be taken locally by councils who know the needs of their area, not in Westminster."
But why is it 20mph rather than another speed? A lot of the research and campaigning has been done by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an architect, urban planner and traffic consultant whose work and research, according to The Independent, “was influential in moves such as the one by Islington Council in October to limit all of its managed roads to 20mph. Islington claims a 65% fall in accidents in its 20mph areas.”
One of the biggest influences on the research results was advice from cranial pathologists who showed Mr Hamilton-Baillie statistics that proved that proving that the risk of death from a collision with a car accelerates significantly after 20mph, as the human skull has actually evolved to withstand impacts up to and around 20mph – over that, serious injury and death.
Obviously there are downsides to the speed restrictions. Not only will it take longer to get somewhere but exasperated drivers may take more risks to get somewhere quicker.
But with an average one minute added to the average journey in urban areas, surely that extra minute of planning pre-driving is worth the safety of those out on the street and roads?