The 20mph zone: life in the 'slow' lane

 

"...Hit me at 30 (mph) and there's...an 80 percent chance I'll live." 

These words featured in the "It's 30 for a reason" Think! road safety television advert.

However, 20 could soon become the "new 30," as local authorities up and down the country attempt to lower the road accident fatality rate - by cutting the speed limit on residential roads from 30mph to 20mph.

'Slow-down zones' may reduce road casualties 

A 2009 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that only one in 40 pedestrians dies after being hit by a vehicle travelling at 20mph. It suggested that a 10mph reduction in the speed limit could lower road casualties by up to 40 percent. 

The Independent has revealed that more than one-third of councils have approved, or will approve, the introduction of 20mph 'slow-down zones' including Liverpool, Bristol, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and parts of London. Unusually, the zones are 'self-enforcing,' but could become legally binding as part of the European Citizens' Initiative.

Reporting a 65 percent fall in accidents, Islington is the flagship London borough with plans to become an exclusively 20mph zone by March this year. According to Norman Baker, the transport minister, the Islington experience should not be viewed in isolation - research by the British Medical Journal has shown a decrease in the number of casualties in areas that introduced 20mph zones.

However, not everyone is taken with the lower speed limit. Keith Peat, spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers, said: "20mph zones will... create more accidents. What you'll get is drivers driving to the speedometer. It's safer that drivers drive to what they're seeing."

UK leads Europe in pedestrian fatalities

More than 50 percent of road accidents occur in 30mph zones. 

The UK has the unenviable position of being top of the European leaderboard for pedestrian fatalities, with the most recent figures from the Department for Transport showing rises in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists up by five and nine percent respectively.

On balance, lower driving speeds mean faster reaction times. Moreover, the damage caused by a vehicle colliding with a pedestrian at 20mph is significantly less than at 30mph.

Despite a ComRes survey revealing that public support for 20mph zones in built-up areas stands at more than 60 percent, it remains to be seen whether they will "win the hearts and minds" of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. For this to happen, they must all get used to living life in the 'slow' lane.

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