High Court overturns judgment on 30mph speed limits
 
The ABD won an important legal test case in December 2003, proving that many 30mph speed limits on unlit roads did not legally exist. This was because some local authorities had made such roads 'restricted' roads, which carry a 30mph speed limit, even though the legislation defines restricted roads as those on which there are street lamps not more than 200 yards apart. The powers the local authorities had used were, the ABD believed, intended only for the restoration of restricted road status to roads that had previously lost that status, even though they had street lamps. The judge presiding in the court case agreed with our view.
 
The potential implications of this judgment were enormous, so it is not surprising that the local authority involved, Worcestershire County Council, appealed against it. The appeal was finally heard at the High Court in London on 20 October 2004. The driver in the test case was represented by both a barrister and a QC. Despite the best efforts of this team, however, the two judges presiding took the view that the wording of the contentious clause in the legislation could be read in isolation, meaning that any road can be made into a restricted road, whether it has street lamps or not. The judge at the original trial had made it clear that, in his opinion, to interpret the clause in that way meant 'driving a coach and horses' through the meaning that Parliament had intended.
 
The ABD's legal team expressed disquiet at the way the judges had decided to read the different parts of the legislation separately rather than together, so they wrote to the court seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Sadly, that request was turned down, so there are no further options open. No doubt there has been a huge sigh of relief at the outcome in county halls and police headquarters throughout the land, and there can be no doubt that the two judges were fully aware of the implications had they confirmed the original judgment.
 
The ABD has heard subsequently that the Department for Transport intends to write to all highway authorities, telling them that they should not used restricted roads legislation to impose 30mph limits on unlit roads, but instead to use the legislation designed for the purpose. Was justice done? You decide…
 
 


 
N.B. The section below has been superseded by the High Court decision described above.
 
 
HAVE YOU BEEN CONVICTED OF SPEEDING
IN AN UNLAWFUL 30MPH SPEED LIMIT?

 
If you have been convicted of exceeding a 30mph speed limit on certain roads in the last, say, 10 years, you may have been convicted unlawfully because of administrative errors by the local highway authority when the speed limit was set. You might be able to make a claim against the Police and/or the highway authority for repayment of any fines and legal costs, removal of points from your driving licence and damages for any consequential costs, such as higher car insurance premiums, loss of driving licence under the totting up procedure, etc.
 
To find out whether you may have been convicted unlawfully, follow the Questions and Answers below. Please note, however, than the information on this page is not qualified legal advice and, if after reading it you believe you may have been wrongfully convicted, you should consult a solicitor. At the end of this page is a summary of the relevant legislation, which you should print and take with you to your solicitor.
 
 
QWhy are only 30mph speed limits affected?
ABecause there is more than one legal procedure by which 30mph speed limits may come into existence and local authorities have sometimes used the wrong one. Other speed limits are brought into effect through a single procedure, so the same errors cannot occur.
 
QAre all 30mph speed limits likely to be affected?
ANo. In fact, the vast majority of 30mph speed limits in towns and villages are quite legal. The speed limits that may be unlawful are generally on main roads in England and Wales (Scotland has different legislation and is unaffected), where there used to be a higher speed limit and the limit has been reduced to 30mph. Since these tend to be the roads where most speed limit enforcement takes place, the number of wrongful convictions could be very high.
 
QSo how have the errors come about?
AThe legislation under which speed limits become law is the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (which will be referred to simply as 'the Act' from now on). The Act is complex but we will attempt to explain the ways in which a road may acquire a 30mph speed limit. We will also explain a related piece of legislation called the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994 (which will be referred to as 'TSRGD' from now on). TSRGD sets out the requirements for providing signs to show drivers what the speed limit is. First, the Act states that a road which has a system of street lights (not more than 200 yards apart) is defined as a 'restricted road', along which it is illegal to drive at more than 30mph. Of course, not all roads with street lights have a 30mph speed limit: the Act gives highway authorities the power to remove restricted road status from a road with street lights and to impose a different speed limit. When a highway authority wants to reverse that process and reintroduce a 30mph speed limit on a road with street lights, it needs to revoke the higher limit and use a specific power in the Act to restore 'restricted road' status.
 
The section of the Act that enables restricted road status to be restored has been misinterpreted by some local authorities (including Suffolk County Council) as giving them the power to make any road a restricted road, and thus subject to a 30mph speed limit, whether there are street lights or not. Where local authorities have misused the Act in this way, the ABD believes that 30mph speed limits on roads without street lights (not more than 200 yards apart) have no legal backing, so any speeding convictions obtained on them are unlawful.
 
Some local authorities have made a different error when lowering the speed limit to 30mph on a road with street lights. Instead of using the section of the Act that enables restricted road status to be restored, they have introduced a 30mph speed limit by using the section of the Act that is normally reserved for imposing a different speed limit, e.g. 40mph or 50mph. This error does not itself make a 30mph speed limit illegal, but the local authorities concerned have usually failed to realise that TSRGD specified different requirements for signing a speed limit in those circumstances.
 
TSRGD states that repeater signs must be provided at regular intervals throughout all speed limits, with the important exception that repeater signs are not allowed on a 'restricted road'. It is because of this exception that you never see 30mph repeater signs in built-up areas, since the roads are 'restricted roads' by virtue of their street lights, so repeater signs are not allowed. Where a speed limit is imposed in the way described in the previous paragraph, the Act states that the road concerned is not a restricted road. Thus the exemption about repeater signs does not apply and those signs must be provided, even though the road has street lights and the speed limit is 30mph. In these circumstances, the ABD believes that the absence of repeater signs makes the speed limit unenforceable so, once again, any speeding convictions are unlawful.
 
A revised version of TRSGD came into effect on 31st January 2003 and this anomaly has been removed. Repeater signs are now banned on all roads with a 30mph speed limit and street lights, whether the road is a restricted road or not. This change cannot be made retrospective, so any speeding convictions obtained prior to 31st January 2003 will still be unlawful.
 
QSo how do I know if one of these errors have been made in the case of my speeding conviction?
AYou need to go through the following checklist:
  • The speed limit concerned must be 30mph.
  • It must be in England or Wales, not Scotland.
  • The speed limit should have been reduced from a higher speed within about the last ten years.
If you think this is the case but you are not sure, you will need to contact the highway authority, usually the local council. It is very unlikely that the speed limit has ever been anything but 30mph on the majority of residential side roads in built-up areas — it is only the more important traffic routes that are likely to be affected.
 
You should ask the highway authority to let you see the 'traffic regulation order' by which the speed limit was imposed. This document sets out the powers within the Act that were used and specifies, in a 'schedule', the exact length of road to which the speed limit applies.
 
If the road in question does not have street lights, the traffic regulation order should refer to section 84 of the Act (it may well refer to sections 84(1) and 84(2)). If instead it refers to section 82 (and possibly section 83 as well), then the speed limit may be illegal.
 
Conversely, if the road does have street lights, then the traffic regulation order should refer to sections 82 and 83 of the Act. If it only refers to section 84, then the road is not a restricted road and repeater signs must be provided for the speed limit to be enforceable (prior to 31 January 2003).
 
If you believe that the traffic regulation order is incorrect, ask for a copy (you may have to pay a small fee) and take it to your solicitor, together with a copy of the summary of legislation set out below.

 


ROAD TRAFFIC REGULATION ACT 1984
THE TRAFFIC SIGNS REGULATIONS AND GENERAL DIRECTIONS 1994
Interpretation of the legal position concerning the implementation of 30mph speed limits.
 
Listed below are the relevant sections of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 ('the Act') and the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994 ('TSRGD') and what is believed to be their correct legal interpretation, for use by highway authorities in the setting and signing of 30mph speed limits.
 
 
Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
Section 81(1): It shall not be lawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a restricted road at a speed exceeding 30 miles per hour.
 
Section 82(1): Subject to the provisions of this section and of section 84(3) of this Act, a road is a restricted road for the purposes of section 81 of this Act if there is provided on it a system of street lighting furnished by means of lamps placed not more than 200 yards apart.
 
Section 82(2): A direction may be given -
 
(a) that a specified road which is a restricted road for the purposes of section 81 of this Act shall cease to be a restricted road for those purposes, or
 
(b) that a specified road which is not a restricted road for those purposes shall become a restricted road for those purposes.
 
Section 83(1): Any direction under section 82(2) of this Act in respect of a trunk road shall be given by means of an order made by the Secretary of State after giving public notice of his intention to make an order.
 
Section 83(2): Any such direction in respect of a road which is not a trunk road shall, subject to Parts I to III of Schedule 9 to this Act, be given by means of an order made by the local authority.
 
Section 84(1): An order made under this subsection as respects any road may prohibit, either generally or during periods specified in the order, the driving of motor vehicles on that road at a speed exceeding that specified in the order.
 
Section 84(2): The power to make an order under subsection (1) above shall be exercisable by an authority after giving public notice of their intention to make an order under that subsection; and the authority having that power -
 
(a) as respects a trunk road, shall be the Secretary of State, and
 
(b) as respects any other road, subject to Parts I to III of Schedule 9 to this Act, shall be the local authority.
 
Section 84(3): While an order under subsection (1) above is in force as respects a road, that road shall not be a restricted road for the purposes of section 81 of this Act.
 
Section 85(1): For the purposes of securing that adequate guidance is given to drivers of motor vehicles as to whether any, and if so what, limit of speed is to be observed on any road, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, in the case of a trunk road, to erect and maintain the prescribed traffic signs in such positions as may be requisite for that purpose.
 
Section 85(2): In the case of any road which is not a trunk road, it shall be the duty of the local authority -
 
(a) to erect and maintain the prescribed traffic signs in such positions as may be requisite in order to give effect to general or other directions given by the Secretary of State for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1) above, and
 
(b) to alter or remove traffic signs as may be requisite in order to give effect to such direction, either in consequence of the making of an order by the Secretary of State or otherwise.

 
Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994 (TSRGD)
Direction 10(2): Signs to which this paragraph applies [repeater signs] shall be placed at regular intervals along a road which is subject to a restriction, requirement, prohibition or speed limit which can be indicated by the signs, except that the sign shown in diagram 670 [indicating maximum speed limit] shall not be placed along a road which is -
 
(a) in England and Wales a restricted road as defined by section 82 of the 1984 Act and in Scotland a road as respects which there is in force an order prohibiting the driving of motor vehicles at a speed exceeding 30 miles per hour and on which there is provided a system of carriageway lighting furnished by means of lamps placed not more than 185 metres apart; or
(b) a motorway on which a national speed limit is in force.
 

How the provisions of the Act are intended to be used and how they may be misused
 
Section 81 states quite clearly that the speed limit on a 'restricted road' is 30mph. Section 82(1) defines a restricted road as being a road with street lights not more than 200 yards apart — this is the provision by which the majority of roads in urban areas acquire a 30mph speed limit by default — no specific speed limit order is required.
 
Section 82(2)(a) allows a highway authority to remove restricted road status from a road that would otherwise have that status by virtue of a system of street lights. This provision is used where a local authority wishes to apply a speed limit to the road other than 30mph. The road's restricted road status is removed using this section of the Act and a different speed limit is applied using the provisions of section 84(1).
 
Where a local authority wishes to reverse this process, i.e. to remove a different speed limit and re-apply restricted road status, it must revoke the speed limit order and use section 82(2)(b) to make the road a restricted road again. Removing the previous speed limit order does not automatically cause the road to become a restricted road due to section 82(1), as the restricted road status must have been specifically removed before the previous speed limit order could have been applied.
 
Thus section 82(2)(b) exists solely in order to permit a road that would ordinarily be a restricted road under section 82(1) to regain that status, when it had ceased to be a restricted road through the application of powers to introduce a speed limit other than 30mph. When sections 81 and 82 of the Act are read together, and with Direction 10 of TSRGD, it is clear that section 82(2)(b) is intended to be used for this limited purpose only. Direction 10 prohibits the use of repeater signs on a restricted road, on the basis that the presence of street lights not more than 200 yards apart is deemed to be sufficient warning to drivers that a 30mph speed limit exists.
 
Some local authorities, such as Suffolk County Council, have read section 82(2)(b) in isolation and have interpreted it as giving them the power to apply restricted road status to any road, even if it does not have street lights. However, if restricted road status could be applied to roads that do not meet the definition in section 82(1), the ban on repeater signs in Direction 10 of TSRGD would mean that drivers would have no way of knowing whether a road without street lights was subject to a 30mph speed limit or the national speed limit of 60mph. This would clearly be an absurd situation and not one that the legislation is intended to produce.
 
It is suspected that section 82(2)(b) has been used incorrectly to simplify the order making procedure, where a length of road to which an authority has sought to apply a 30mph speed limit is partly lit and partly unlit. By using a single section of the Act, the extent of the schedules required is reduced considerably. Roads should have been divided into lit and unlit sections, with section 82(2)(b) used to apply restricted road status to the lit sections (if indeed restricted road status had ever been removed) and section 84(1) used to apply a 30mph speed limit order to the unlit sections.
 
The other way in which some local authorities have misused the provisions of the Act is to use section 84(1) to apply a 30mph speed limit order to a road that has street lights, but on which a higher speed limit had existed. In other words, after revoking the original speed limit order, instead of re-applying restricted road status using section 82(2)(b), they have substituted a 30mph speed limit order. This procedure has mostly been used for combined speed limit orders incorporating different speed limits. Although a 30mph speed limit applied in this way is itself legal, the local authorities concerned have failed to recognise that the exemption to the need for repeater signs does not apply in such cases. Section 84(3) of the Act clearly states that, where a speed limit order under section 84(1) applies to a road, that road is not a restricted road. The exemption to the need for repeater signs applies only to a restricted road, not a road with street lights and a 30mph limit (except in Scotland). Thus a road with a 30mph speed limit imposed on it by an order under section 84(1) must have repeater signs, whether it has street lights or not. The absence of repeater signs is a clear breach of Direction 10, so the speed limit cannot be enforced (prior to 31st January 2003).
 
 
Action to take if prosecuted for 'speeding' in an illegal 30mph limit

Further Reading
Examples
Latest Update
On 20th October 2004, in the High Court in London, the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed against the decision in Redditch Magistrates Court last December, in the test case brought by the ABD, when the judge found that local authorities were not legally entitled to apply restricted road status to roads without street lamps.
 
Unfortunately, the judge accepted the DPP's argument that section 82(2)(b) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 can be used in isolation to allow any road to be made a restricted road.
 
Our legal advisors are not happy that the judge took the view that he did and an application has been made seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords.
 
The High Court tends 'not to be on the side of the angels' but will generally support the euphemistically termed 'public interest'. In other words, they ignore the law whenever they feel like it. It is hard to believe that the judge did not take into account the enormous inconvenience and embarrassment that would have been caused to local authorities and the police if the original judgment had stood.
 

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