Cars on my street are supposed to drive at the 20 mph limit. The reasoning behind this speed limit is to make the road safer for pedestrians making their way to the three nurseries, a primary school and a park with a children’s playground within 50 yards of my house. Sadly, cars ignore the road signs, and humps in the road don’t slow them down as they simply drive around them.
There is clear global evidence that reducing speed in built up areas reduces the risk of accidents, cuts down on air and noise pollution, and saves money by using less fuel. It also avoids potential speeding fines. So, why do people continue to speed?
“The quicker I go, the sooner I get there….”
According to car insurance company Zego, the opposite is true:
“The best way to gain any time, especially in towns, is by slowing down. It allows you to look ahead, anticipate the actions of other road users, and be more aware of your surroundings.
Time isn’t lost through lack of speed, but rather lack of progress.”
Congested roads caused by traffic, road works and traffic lights all contribute to slow progress. The only way you’d ever really gain by speeding is on a clear road over a long distance. Since most journeys in towns are short distances, speeding does not make any sense. Especially since exceeding the speed limit can cost you a £100 fine and points on your licence.
“Say the speed limit is 30 mph and you’re travelling at 40 mph (33% over the limit). Over 10 miles, you’d gain 5 minutes (assuming the roads are completely clear).”
Are those five minutes worth the risk that speeding entails?
Accident risk increases dramatically over 20 mph
In a recent table of all causes of UK road accidents, “Driver/rider careless, reckless or in a hurry” contributed to 18% (10,806 accidents), and “exceeding the speed limit” adds another 7.4% (4,457 accidents). Travelling too fast for the conditions was a factor in 3,744, or 6.2% of road incidents.
Reducing the speed from 30 mph will make it easier for drivers to stop in time to prevent collisions. According to the Highway Code, in the distance a 20 mph car can come to a halt, a 30 mph car will still be doing 24 mph. Stopping distances are:
- at 20 mph, three car lengths
- at 30 mph, six car lengths
- at 40 mph, nine car lengths
A Transport for London report shows that since 20 mph limits were introduced on key roads in London in 2020:
- the number of overall collisions reduced by 25%
- collisions involving vulnerable road users decreased by 36%
- collisions involving pedestrians decreased by 63%
- collisions resulting in death or serious injury reduced by 25%
The World Health Organization states that the most effective way to improve pedestrian safety is to reduce the speed of vehicles.
Evidence from a study in Scotland shows a person is around five times more likely to be killed when hit by a vehicle travelling at around 30 mph than they are by a vehicle travelling around 20 mph. Kent County Council reports on a project showing the benefits of the 20 mph limit. Even the General Assembly of the UN has set a new target to reduce road deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030 in its second decade of Action for Road Safety.
On the street where I live
The road here is too narrow for a bus and a car, or two cars, to pass each other, especially where some cars are parked at the side of the road. Drivers are using the road as a rat run to cut out a traffic light on the main road running parallel to our street. If two people walk beside each other, or I walk with my two dogs, anybody coming from the opposite direction has to step off the pavement. There is no pedestrian crossing to the bus stop of the park with a playground to alert drivers to pedestrians needing to cross.
Parents with prams and toddlers pass my house in term time at least twice a day on their way to the primary school or nurseries. Many are trying to navigate the uneven pavement, hoping that none of the cars will come up onto the pavement when trying to avoid oncoming traffic. Often, they have to jump into my drive to save themselves because of speeding cars. There are three buses on my street, and many drivers also ignore the speed limit, I assume to catch up with time lost due to hold-ups.
Another factor making pedestrians’ progress on my street more difficult is the weather.
Cars on wet roads
This winter has seen an unusual amount of heavy rain. My street gets flooded frequently, as the drains don’t seem to be able to cope with the recent increase in torrential downpours.
The last few days’ rain made walking on our narrow pavement a real adventure. With the drains often blocked, little streams of water instantly run along the road. The uneven road surface and potholes create unexpected deep puddles. A car doing 20 mph would splash a bit onto the pavement, but cars doing 30 or 40 mph cover the whole pavement with a spray of cold, dirty water. Both my dogs and my trousers get soaked without any of the drivers caring, or maybe not realising that they are splashing us.
Do drivers never walk? Are they unaware of the extra noise tyres on a wet road make? Not only are cars polluting the air and splashing pedestrians with dirty water, but speed makes a big difference to the level of noise traffic makes. See study by New Scientist. My bedroom faces the road, and the noise made by speeding cars on wet nights is unpleasant.
Keeping to 20 mph in residential streets is sheer common sense. Both pedestrians and cyclists are exposed to the elements. They are not protected by tons of steel like drivers are. Children and animals are unpredictable and distractible. If you drive slowly, you can stop if needed without injuring or even killing somebody. For short distances, driving faster does not get you to your destination any sooner.
Editor’s note: A recent Guardian article reveals how the government is reversing previous policies of promoting walking and cycling, promising to crack down on “anti-car measures”.