Blanket 20-MPH Speed Limits in Scotland

The Scottish Parliament is considering a Bill to reduce the default speed limit on “restricted roads” (essentially those with street lights, normally 30mph) to 20mph – across Scotland. Brian Gregory was familiar with my previous involvement in opposing 20mph (reported in OTR104, summer 2012) so, when no ABD folk were available to go to Holyrood on 20 Feb, he asked if I was interested in giving evidence before the Parliamentary Committee (The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee). Having retired in August, I am more flexible than I used to be, and it suited. Between us, we prepared a report covering road safety and air pollution, and the economy, and submitted it to the Clerk.

In terms of preparation, I watched the video of the 6 Feb session, involving 20’s Plenty, Living Streets and the other proponents. Being grilled by MPs, broadcast live and later available on video, was daunting – and it proved to be a worse experience than I expected, the slightest nuance, or worse, is there for all to see. I regret the “air quality” section being included in our submission – it was a soft target for the Greens, and I was ill-prepared. The other four panellists had been there before – I was the rookie – but we were all pretty much on the same side of this argument.

The safety issues were less traumatic, with the recent Atkins report finding no evidence of reduction in collisions or casualties, and Manchester cancelling later phases of their 20mph rollout in 2017 when they found casualty reduction percentages year on year in 20mph were worse than in 30mph. I consistently explained that much of the 20mph awareness and publicity is about feeling safer, resulting in pedestrians, in particular, taking less care (visible when driving through any 20mph area), which is coupled with mean vehicle speeds only 1-2 mph lower. One or two challenged the lack of evidence, but others seemed to recognise its plausibility.

The 20mph debate is charged with emotion, and facts are in short supply or, sometimes, an inconvenient irrelevance. Questions from the MSPs covered variable speed signs, TROs, seat-belts, journey times, pollution, survival rates at different speeds, compliance levels & offending rates, repeater signs. The number of MSPs in favour of the Bill appeared to outnumber those against or, at least, sceptical, but they have clearly been bombarded by the 20’s Plenty campaigners.

The written submission is present here: ABD-Bridgstock-Submission-Scotland-REC

Reports of the session can be found as follows:

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/uk-news/2019/02/20/lowering-speed-limit-could-increase-casualties-msps-warned/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-47278664/page/4

https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/rural-economy-and-connectivity-committee-actual

Eric Bridgstock

One thought on “Blanket 20-MPH Speed Limits in Scotland”

  1. I think the problem you face with such debates is the fundamental lack of under standing of the driving process and how driver’s minds work by the proponents of such schemes. Force drivers to drive unrealistically slowly and their minds switch out of the natural hazard observation and anticipation process. They become bored and distracted. Consequently when impacts happen they actually hit at higher speeds as less avoiding action is taken. The dulled senses fail to react. As it is increased impact speed, not travelling speed that causes higher injury rates the casualties can increase. Impact speed is a combination of travelling speed and reaction times. This is why setting limits at the 85th percentile works. It’s a natural level for most drivers. They remain alert and observant. Now in some parts of 30 zones the 85th percentile may be 20 and they can work here. But in parts of the same 30 zone (say wide roads with grass verges, few junctions etc) the natural or 85th percentile may be 40. In such areas putting in a 20 could be dangerous. This is why blanketing limits are not the answer. As ever safety is maximised by appropriate limits, in tune with what drivers can see is safe for themselves.

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