A Look at 20 MPH Speed Limits in Towns and Cities
contributed by Emma Hitchen

Is 20 Really Plenty?

Speed limits have always been an area of motoring legislation that have caused controversy. The 20 miles per hour limits imposed in various towns throughout the UK in recent years have, too, caused their fair share of discussion — particularly when a 30 mile per hour limit has previously been an acceptable standard for decades. Advocates of the 20 miles per hour speed limit argue that a reduction in the speed limit in all cities and towns throughout the country will reduce the number of accidents on our roads and will ensure drivers maintain an awareness of their driving whenever there are pedestrians present. Opponents argue that motorists are being further penalised and that 30 miles per hour is a suitably safe speed in most areas but everyone seems to agree that 20 miles per hour is, indeed, plenty outside our schools.
Of course, politicians from all parties jump on the speed limit bandwagon, with many Labour run councils already adopting blanket 20 mile per hour limits in their city centres and Cameron is under increasing pressure to roll out reduced speed limits in all UK cities (at an estimated cost of approximately £7 million). Wherever you stand on the debate, this article aims to look at the reasons why the 20 mph speed limit is high on the political agenda and will ask whether drivers really do need to slow down when travelling around our cities and towns.

Who is Pushing For a 20 mph Speed Limit?

Before Labour lost the election, there were plans afoot to implement a 20 mile per hour speed limit in all our cities and in many towns. These plans have not been shelved, however — and the current coalition government are aware of the issue but thus far have not prioritised it.
Cities like Portsmouth have already introduced a blanket speed limit reduction however, data indicates that this reduction has had no impact on the number of road traffic accidents which occur each year (despite the scheme costing some £500,000 to implement).
So who is pushing for the 20 mph speed limit and why? Well, various organisations are campaigning for the 20 mph limit but perhaps the main campaigning group is Brake — the road safety charity who argue that 20 mph is a limit which will reduce road traffic accidents and casualties caused by speeding.

Who is Opposed to 20 MPH Speed Limits?

Opponents of the 20 mph speed limit include UK drivers, MP's and other organisations like the ABD. The reasons why such parties are against the 20 mph limit is not because of safety considerations (although it could be argued that Portsmouth shows the redundancy of implementing such changes) but rather because of the way in which such speed limits are enforced. If, for example, a reduction in speed limits coincides with installation of speed cameras and speed bumps, it can be assumed the rate of road traffic accidents will drop substantially. Not so — instead, motorists are routinely fined for driving at still safe limits which are slightly above 20 mph and the number of accidents remains exactly as they were pre speed limit reduction. Likewise, 20 mph is naturally enforced in busy towns and cities by the flow of traffic and road layout — so enforcement of the same via fine imposing speed cameras is arguably unnecessary.
As for the car driver or motorcyclist, their insurance premiums can conceivably skyrocket if they are given points for driving above the 20 mph limit (even if they were driving safely and well below 30 mph) – which seems rather unfair. Perhaps we should all consider cycling instead.

The Future of Speed Limits in the UK

Well, it looks like the motorway speed limit will eventually be increased to a whopping 80 miles per hour because — apparently — cars are more technologically advanced which has reduced the number of motorway accidents. Similarly, the government believe that raising the motorway speed limit will result in significant economic advantages and that as many as 49% of motorway drivers already drive faster than 70 miles per hour yet still remain safe. If we apply these arguments to town and city driving, then it can be suggested that drivers are in charge of technology which assists with safer town and city driving, the economic advantages of getting from business A to business B more quickly remain true for town and city travel and that most drivers travel over 20 mph when it is safe to do so regardless. After all, how many of us are familiar with a five minute errand to the local bank or supermarket actually taking half an hour due to slow moving traffic? However, the government only uses these arguments in relation to motorway driving which begs the question, who stands to benefit financially from enforcing a 20 mph blanket limit across our UK cities? Unfortunately, there isn't much redress for the driver who is stung with a speeding ticket in a 20 mph zone and all vehicle users should take care to adhere to the limits imposed around towns and cities.
Fines can be appealed but it is pretty tricky to challenge a decision. Luckily, the powers that be will accept payment through a bank or building society account, cheque or credit card or cash and unless you have irrefutable evidence that you weren't speeding, we suggest paying the fine as soon as possible.