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Number of 20mph zones set to increase

Research by the Independent newspaper has found more than a third of local authorities have introduced 20mph zones or have plans in place to do so in a bid to improve road safety.

Many councils are considering reducing speed limits in built up areas to 20mph.
Many councils are considering reducing speed limits in built up areas to 20mph.

Of the 75 English and Welsh authorities that responded to the Independent survey, 27 confirmed plans to adopt the new 20mph speed limit, adding to the 12 areas where the system is already in place. Bristol, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames all have zones governed by the new limit.

A further six local authorities are awaiting new guidelines from the Department for Transport before deciding on a course of action, while another four were seemingly undecided. 39 local authorities have no plans to act, it was reported.

Reducing speed limits in built up areas from 30mph to 20mph could see road casualties reduced by as much as 40 per cent. Statistics show only 1 person in 40 dies in a crash at the lower speed limit. There are other potential advantages, such as a likely reduction in pollution and congestion, and with cars travelling more slowly, an increase in the number of pedestrians and cyclists, who may feel more comfortable walking or cycling alongside slower moving traffic.

Naturally, some drivers are not keen on the adoption of the lower speed limit, claiming a reduction in speed leads to more speedometer checking and less time looking at the road, increased fuel bills, lower fuel economy and more pollution. Others fear such speeds are difficult to enforce and that motorists will simply ignore them.

Then there’s the issue of where local authorities place these new zones. AA road safety chief Andrew Howard admitted 20mph zones are necessary but was cautious of their placement: “We very much support 20mph limits on residential street,” he said. “The question is ‘what is a residential street?’ Some roads are used for getting around town and they should remain at 30mph.”

Islington council has claimed a 65 per cent decrease in accidents in its 20mph zones, suggesting there are merits to driving more slowly, but it is so far unclear how well the system stacks up against the faster alternative. Official figures from the Department for Transport in 2011 showed the number of people killed or injured in 20mph zones had actually increased by 24 per cent on 2010, totalling 2,262 cases, but that statistic ignores the increase in 20mph zones over that period.

While there is no arguing with the simple logic that suggests hitting a child at 20mph instead of 30mph will reduce the impact and increase their chances of survival, is bubble-wrapping problem areas the answer, or do drivers simply need to exercise more common sense? Let us know your thoughts below.

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