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Wales set to reduce default speed limit to 20mph in residential areas

The proposed new law is to be voted on by the Welsh Parliament today and is expected to pass comfortably

Wales looks set to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit in built-up areas from next year, reduced from 30mph, in a move that would see the country become the first UK nation to set a national 20mph default speed limit on residential streets.

The proposed law is to be put before the Welsh Parliament ahead of a vote later today and is backed by both Labour and Plaid Cymru, who together hold almost three-quarters of the 60 Senedd seats.

If voted through as expected, the 20mph limit would come into force in September 2023, and despite the estimated £33 million cost, the Welsh government says improved road safety could result in a £58 million saving with reduced emergency service demand over the next 30 years.

The limit would apply on restricted roads: in residential areas and streets busy with pedestrians, where street lights are less than 200 yards apart. Road users caught speeding could face a minimum £100 fine and three penalty points.

According to police data, shared by the BBC, the largest proportion (half) of the 5,570 people hurt in collisions on Welsh roads happened on roads with a 30mph limit, while 40 per cent of the 1,131 people killed or seriously injured happened in 30mph zones.

While plenty of UK towns and cities have 20mph limits in residential areas, Wales will be the first nation to set the default at 20mph on all roads in built-up areas. Scotland is set to do the same by 2025.

"We want to see that become the default position right across Wales," First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

"We know that 20mph zones reduce speed of traffic, reduce accidents — particularly accidents to children."

"We are united in our belief that this change will bring about a reduction in road collisions and their severity, while creating more opportunities to walk and cycle in communities," said Plaid Cymru's transport spokeswoman Delyth Jewell.

"A 20mph speed limit in built-up areas will allow us to work towards providing convenient, safe, pedestrian access to the places people need to go."

Despite the support within Welsh Parliament and the government acknowledging it may not be appropriate everywhere, with local authorities able to make exceptions — the Welsh Conservatives have slammed the idea as "ludicrous".

Shadow minister for transport, Natasha Ashgar said her party is "not against" 20mph speed limits outside schools, playgrounds, places of worship and high streets "but a blanket roll-out is quite frankly ludicrous".

"Speed limits like this should be decided by councils in their local areas, not top-down by Labour ministers," she said.

The policy has been hailed by active travel groups, with Living Streets suggesting it is a positive step towards "communities built for safety rather than speed".

Sustrans added that it welcomes the Welsh government's "continued commitment to implementing a 20mph speed limit on restricted roads" and could "save multiple lives each year and prevent 1,000 casualties, according to research by Public Health Wales."

Main image: (CC licensed by EdinburghGreens via Flickr)

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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94 comments

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IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
5 likes

In a bored moment after today's ride I checked something after a Tuesday incident which involved a close pass and an unrepentent van driver. The narrow stretch of one way and two way road involved had 450 metres of 20mph limit, about(!) 0.275 miles. At 20mph, that should take 50 seconds to traverse, assuming instantly hitting 20mph. I checked on my Garmin, and my average was 17.5mph up to the incident,  at which point I was doing 19-20 - about 56 seconds to traverse - so I vehicle immediately behind me would have been (legally) delayed by 6 seconds at most. I reckon the van appeared when I was about 0.1 miles up the road, just at a point with indentifiable traffic calming.

The van driver's excuse for his close pass into oncoming traffic (at about 35mph at a guess) was "I needed to get past you" plus a few bingo phrases.

I Googled how to work out "Catch up problems" as it is nearly 50 years since I did my maffs O Level.

I calculated that if he entered the road 0.1 miles behind me (that's when I checked my mirror and glanced a vehicle entering the road) , and he was doing 20mph, so I reckon he entered the road about 18 seconds after me. My average speed was 18mph. It should have taken 3 minutes - or 1 mile - for him to catch me, more than 3/4 mile after the end of the 20mph limit. It should have taken me 55 seconds, but because my "mate" wanted to chat because I had the temerity to shout "Whoa!" as I awaited the crunch of bodywork with the oncoming car, it added a further 15 seconds onto my journey time. Actually, he should never have caught me because I was doing 20mph at the time he overtook.

Anyway, the point is, that in a 20mph limit the necessity to pass cyclists should  reduce considerably.

I'm really hoping my "mate" wants to argue it in court, and West Mids police want to take action.

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IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
5 likes

I'm not sure this 20 plenty thing will inspire motorists to stop crashing into innocent objects.

This occurred to me as I noted a car being fished out of a fence opposite a T junction, that the road they'd emerged from was a 20 with traffic calming and they'd still failed to cope.

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chrisonabike replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

This.  In all the debates about road safety one thing stands out: every day apparently licenced "careful competent drivers" go out and total their cars and sometimes themselves on bollards, into houses, into bridges, off carriageways... That's not counting the other vehicles and people they crash into.

https://cyclingfallacies.com/en/16/higher-standards-of-driving-would-mak...

That's a sizeable argument (there are others) for more segregated infra and a better approach to road safety in general.

However that is years off and it's not a reason not to do other things as well.  Even improvements that are small relative to the "proper" infra solution could be worth while.  These might be for safety, to make places more pleasant and / or to encourage what cycling we can.

So let's have this as long as this does indeed bring down the speeds and / or improve safety.  Which may also require a commitment to enforcement (more of it - or any of it!)

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wtjs replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

Which may also require a commitment to enforcement (more of it - or any of it!)

Sadly, as you suggest, there will be no enforcement. The police can't be bothered with red light offences, vehicles with No MOT, No VED and no insurance etc. so they're no about to bother with this (although it's still a good policy!)

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Simon E replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

In all the debates about road safety one thing stands out: every day apparently licenced "careful competent drivers" go out and total their cars and sometimes themselves on bollards, into houses, into bridges, off carriageways... That's not counting the other vehicles and people they crash into.

And that doesn't include the drivers that don't crash. A large proportion of those routinely exceed urban speed limits by a large amount when traffic levels allow it - I see it every time I leave the house and find that attitude incredibly selfish and irresponsible. In-vehicle speed limiters cannot come soon enough, especially now that the police are not interested / adequately resourced to enforce speed limits around the country and it's not practical to have ANPR or fixed cameras on every street.

Quote:

Even improvements that are small relative to the "proper" infra solution could be worth while.  These might be for safety, to make places more pleasant and / or to encourage what cycling we can.

Interventions such as School streets, pedestrianised high streets or open spaces and LTNs show that taking away or significantly reducing vehicle numbers has real benefits and can be used to persuade councils to do more.

Applying a blanket 20mph limit is a way of saying that we want to change the way people behave in all such spaces, not merely 'priority' locations such as outside schools. Not much point having a School street if the kids then turn a corner onto one where drivers continue to behave like complete twats - and I'm afraid many of them do. Example:

"Bank Farm Road showed 90 per cent of cars drove above the 30mph limit. "I think it's quite shocking, the speed that we see. The average speed on the road is 36 to 37mph."

My kids used to ride along BFR to secondary school. It runs through the large Radbrook housing estate, past the primary school, day nursery, Co-Op, and doctor's surgery. One end is between two secondary schools (a total of ~2,000 pupils).

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/shrewsbury/meole-brace/20...

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wtjs replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
2 likes

it's not practical to have ANPR or fixed cameras on every street

It wouldn't matter if there were, the police still wouldn't be interested. If you do everything for them, they still won't do anything about No MOT +/- No VED +/- No insurance vehicles. My best guess for why they are prepared to do more work not enforcing these laws is corruption. Once these vehicles, such as Audi PJ07 NFP,  have embarked upon the 'Off Grid' approach to cutting motoring costs, restarting MOTs and VED payments would draw attention to them- it then becomes worthwhile investing in the Lancashire Constabulary Personal Protection Plan

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NOtotheEU replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

Unless you remove air bags and seatbelts, fit weak bolts to seat runners and fit a large rusty metal spike to the steering wheel I don't think anything will stop most drivers caring about anything other than their own convenience.

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IanMSpencer replied to NOtotheEU | 1 year ago
2 likes

I've got a submission in with Warwickshire police (hence not sharing yet) where an Audi Q7 tried to force its way past us on a very single track road. The driver eventually sounded her horn while swerving to the left, seemingly running off the road, harassing my mate. Her excuse when he stopped and blocked her to remonstrate with her for her dangerous driving? - she was late for her school run. When we (eventually) stopped to let her past after a bit of sulking, she amazingly didn't continue on her way but stopped for a chat. I got bored and rode off - in front of her. We stopped again later, and she wanted to chat even though we made it clear we didn't.

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NOtotheEU replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

That can't be true! Audi Q7 drivers are always safe, observant and competent, along with all other Volkswagen Audi Group vehicle owners.

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eburtthebike replied to NOtotheEU | 1 year ago
0 likes
NOtotheEU wrote:

That can't be true! Audi Q7 drivers are always safe, observant and competent, along with all other Volkswagen Audi Group vehicle owners.

BMW drivers are the best.

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Owd Big 'Ead | 1 year ago
0 likes

The problem with 20 is plenty is that it won't encourage new riders onto the roads. Yes, it will make it safer for those of us who already ride, but new riders are put off by more than just the speed of traffic and the perceived dangers that entails.
What really matters is safe, well designed, segregated infrastructure, not a change in speed limits and a few signs.
It's a box ticking exercise for the politicians and you've all fallen for it, hook, line and sinker

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grOg | 1 year ago
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20 mph is very slow for residential areas; for comparison, Australia has the eqivalent of 30 mph for residential areas and 25 mph for shopping precincts and school zones, which is plenty slow enough for safety; enacting limits slower than that is real motor vehicle hating territory.

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The Giblet replied to grOg | 1 year ago
4 likes

Not sure 20 mph is very slow, it is demonstrated in research to be a better speed limit for people to not die when collisions happen and a better speed limit to prevent more collisions happening in the first place.

Australia has some strange speed limits and 40 km/h in school zones is not supported by science but was a political choice. Check out South Australia though who have 25 km/h or 15.5 mph in places where school children are or at road works. Australia is moving to reflect science so would suggest that in the next few years across Australia 30 km/h speed limits will become more normal and with the lead from Wales more pressure will be placed on politicians to make the roads safer.

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chrisonabike replied to grOg | 1 year ago
3 likes

Well "slow" and "fast" are all relative of course...

I think in e.g. NL the residential limit is often 30 kph - that's actually slightly below 20 mph.  America - land of the car - also has some low residential area speed limits.

Some case studies here:

https://nacto.org/publication/city-limits/the-tools/case-studies-in-lowe...

Not saying it's popular and certainly if you change things to slow people down there will of course be a lot of complaints - but it's certainly done in places.

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jh2727 replied to grOg | 1 year ago
3 likes
grOg wrote:

20 mph is very slow for residential areas; for comparison, Australia has the eqivalent of 30 mph for residential areas and 25 mph for shopping precincts and school zones, which is plenty slow enough for safety; enacting limits slower than that is real motor vehicle hating territory.

20mph is about 30% higher than the average speed on A roads where I live. If people start to realise that it doesn't take much longer (and can sometimes be faster) to cycle rather than drive we might see more people choosing to cycle rather than drive.

As for 'motor vehicle hating', you say that like it is a bad thing. What is there not to hate about the great many unnecessary motor vehicle journeys? A 20 mph limit doesn't prevent necessary journeys - it might make them take long, but how much of a problem is that, if they are necessary. I can tell you something else that makes necessary motor vehicle journeys take longer... the many unnecessary motor vehicle journeys.

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Jimwill | 1 year ago
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Fs. As if they didn't slow us down enough already..

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IanMSpencer replied to Jimwill | 1 year ago
6 likes

One of the few joys of driving now is sticking to a 20 limit just to see how irate you can make following cars.

I was doing "plenty" through my local High Street and had a driver pull out in front of me. She was aggrieved that I shouted at her as I had to slow to avoid her. As she then decided she wanted to discuss it, I had a quick "Didn't you see me?" to which the surprising answer was "Yes" so I just rode off. At the other end of the High Street she floored it to get past me - still in the 20. At the bottom of the hill I then had the moral victory of being able to shout at her again for encroaching on my cycle lane as I overtook her queuing for the island.

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Richard D | 1 year ago
8 likes

On FB today I found a topic about cars being fitted with mandatory speed limiting devices from 2024.

I posted "I’m only here to lap up the tears of all those motorists who think that they have some sort of inalienable right to break the law by driving too fast whenever they want to."

You would not believe the number of reactions and comments that got.  Lap up tears?  I'd have bloody drowned in them!  Those drivers do not like being told to behave themselves!

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ktache replied to Richard D | 1 year ago
0 likes

Unfortunately the limiter can be overridden by the simple expedient of pressing the go faster pedal.

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OnYerBike replied to Richard D | 1 year ago
1 like

I would love to see cars fitted with mandatory speed limiting devices and never heard a convincing argument for not doing so.

Unfortunately, the latest I have heard is that while the EU is bringing in some new laws, they have been watered down to a homeopathic extent, including not actually limiting the speed of the vehicle but merely warning the driver that they are exceeding the speed limit, and no requirement for the feature to be turned on, merely installed in the vehicle. 

The UK, no longer being part of the EU, has no plans to implement a similar law. Whilst it is quite likely that cars sold in the UK may end up with the same features as those sold elsewhere in the EU, given the above loopholes that will have no noticeable effect (indeed many cars sold today are already able to warn you if you are exceeding the speed limit). 

And if the EU were to push ahead with laws that make meaningful speed limiting devices mandatory, then car manufacturers might be more inclined to deactivate that feature in the UK assuming it remains non-mandatory here (I daresay the vast majority of customers would opt for a model without speed limitation than a model with, given the choice). 

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Hirsute replied to OnYerBike | 1 year ago
3 likes

"I would love to see cars fitted with mandatory speed limiting devices and never heard a convincing argument for not doing so."

"You have to be able to accelerate to get out of trouble"

I had this debate with someone where I pointed out that if they were in trouble, then it was virtually certain that they could have done something prior to the situation to mitigate it. They refused to give an example of speeding to get out of trouble and just told me that I didn't know how to drive.

 

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hawkinspeter replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago
8 likes
hirsute wrote:

"I would love to see cars fitted with mandatory speed limiting devices and never heard a convincing argument for not doing so."

"You have to be able to accelerate to get out of trouble"

I had this debate with someone where I pointed out that if they were in trouble, then it was virtually certain that they could have done something prior to the situation to mitigate it. They refused to give an example of speeding to get out of trouble and just told me that I didn't know how to drive.

It's when you need to avoid a falling chimney

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IanMSpencer replied to OnYerBike | 1 year ago
0 likes

Mercedes have been fitting speed limiters for years - I've been using one since 1999. It's very easy to flick on and off and the main benefit to me is to stop me unconsciously chasing other cars - in a 30moh area it is very easy to fall into pacing the car in front which almost always is running slightly faster than the speed limit. It also works well in heavy traffic on motorways where it stops you drifting over the speed limit as traffic thins out or accelerates.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a time in 23 years of continuous using their system that I've used the accelerator to break through the limit.

I have occasionally popped the limiter or cruise control up a couple of mph to avoid sitting on someone's rear quarter - running at a similar speed is an issue with cruise control and though you could rightly say the proper action is to drop back, the problem is also inconsistency - people also unconsciously react to other cars, so you find yourself running alongside a car that previously was going considerably slower, and once you pass they relax and soon drop back.

Limiters don't need to be mandatory to help though most people seem to struggle with 2 pedals and a steering wheel, so anything extra is a problem.

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kevgravelkev | 1 year ago
0 likes

In Australia there was a campaign in the early 2000s called Wipe Off Five (km)

This video shows what a dramatic difference driving just 5km/h (a little over 3 mph) can do.
https://youtu.be/wrjozeqc21M

 

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grOg replied to kevgravelkev | 1 year ago
0 likes

That campaign was just to justify state traffic police revenue raising by booking people just a few k's over the limit; I was a motorcycle policeman, so I know the system. To be clear, speed limits are arbitrary.. for eg, roads designed for 70 kph speed limits in Victoria were dropped to 60 kph because of a bureaucratic decision to eliminate 70 kph speed zones; after being challenged by the RACV, the government reversed the decision but only for roads that hadn't been changed yet, so now some 70 kph designed roads have 60 kph limits.

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Cycloid | 1 year ago
8 likes

Reading the posts below there are mixed views even from (supposedly) the cycling community.

"Not a lot of evidence that it reduces KSIs" - The oft quoted fact which I have never seen proven - If a car hits a vulnerable road user at 20mph they will probably live. At 30mph they will probably die. What is indisputable, is that at 20mph there is more time for a driver to react to an unforeseen situation.

"Drivers do not obey 20mph limits anyway" - This is the paedophiles defence - There is a lot of paedophillia around, no point in introducing stricter laws, the paedos won't obey them. Drivers don't obey the 30mph limit either. I would rather be hit by a speeding driver at 25mph than one doing 35mph.

"Drivers will be distracted, having to check their speedos all the time. They will lose concentration driving at 20mph" - If you cannot drive at 20mph you should not be on the road.

"Driving at 20mph is innefiecient for the engine and will cause more pollution" - We'll all be driving Electric in a few years time.

Apparently the Welsh Tories voted to oppose the 20mph limit. - For some people that in itself will be a decider. All those new signs will cost a lot of money. 

To me the bottom line is - It won't do any harm and will probably be a good thing.

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hawkinspeter replied to Cycloid | 1 year ago
7 likes
Cycloid wrote:

Apparently the Welsh Tories voted to oppose the 20mph limit. - For some people that in itself will be a decider. All those new signs will cost a lot of money. 

The estimate made in the Bristol 20mph report was saving £15m a year from reduced injuries etc. so the cost of the signs should be considered an investment in public health (and a very cost effective one).

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Cycloid replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
3 likes

Thanks for the Information - Another statistic to store inside my head.

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zideriup replied to Cycloid | 1 year ago
0 likes
Cycloid wrote:

Apparently the Welsh Tories voted to oppose the 20mph limit.

Meanwhile in Cornwall they've just voted to introduce a load. Shame they've actively borked literally all other proposed active travel measures down here. 

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Owd Big 'Ead replied to zideriup | 1 year ago
0 likes

Hit the nail on the head.
20 is plenty is far cheaper to implement than building real cycling infrastructure, even cheaper than white paint, yet the majority on here think it's a win.
The politicians and councillors are pulling your pants down and you lap it up.
20 is plenty is a con to make people think they are doing something.

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