Road Safety - Transport Committee Contents

7  Speed limits

20 mph

44.   Local authorities have found 20 mph zones to be a useful tool to improve road safety, particularly by reducing pedestrian or cyclist casualties.[126] For example, impact with a vehicle at 20 mph is survivable, but at 30 mph most pedestrians would sustain fatal injuries.[127] The Government states that:

We plan to revise and reissue the guidance on speed limits in urban areas with the aim of increasing flexibility for local authorities. We will provide an economic tool to help them to assess the full costs and benefits of any proposed schemes. We expect this toolkit to help local authorities to make robustly defensible decisions about local speeds.[128]

45.  There is evidence of significant public support for these zones.[129] However, securing the resources to implement them can be an issue. Sustrans noted that "it has been very expensive to put in a zone in the past".[130] In particular, additional police resources may be required to enforce lower speed limits.[131] We heard of the difficulty in prioritising resources under conditions of broader police cuts and that policing 20 mph zones is "just another drain on the resources".[132] ACPO told us that "inevitably, as pressure is applied to police resources, as anywhere else, some decisions may be taken as to what effort and energy resources will be put into dealing with road safety and making sure that that is dealt with on a threat and risk basis."[133] ACPO advises that 20 mph zones should be instituted only in areas where other measures had been taken to make them largely self-policing because if "it does not feel or look like it should be a 20 mph limit, then the vast majority of drivers will not self-police."[134]

Partnership working

46.  The Government expects the road safety agenda to intersect with a number of policy areas. For example, the strategy makes reference to both health and sustainable travel funding sources.[135] We heard about the importance of agencies working in partnership. One area in which this approach has been reflected is the implementation of 20 mph zones. We heard from Liverpool City Council about its work with the Primary Care Trust to fund the introduction of 20 mph zones in residential areas. We welcome the development of innovative working methods to help fund these zones at a local level. The Government should encourage the development of inter-agency partnerships and include examples of best practice in securing joint working in its forthcoming guidance for local authorities.

80 mph

47.  We heard a range of views regarding the possibility that the Government may raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph, including many witnesses who worried that the proposals would result in more deaths on the road.[136] We also heard concerns that drivers would be encouraged to push beyond this limit.[137] Mr Penning informed us that a consultation period would begin soon. There had been extensive discussion, but the DfT was "not quite there yet" in terms of finalising the proposals. [138] He hinted that options for consultation included maintaining some parts of the motorway at existing speed limits[139] and stricter enforcement of the 80 mph limit than was currently the practice for the 70 mph limit.[140] We recommend that as part of its consultation the Government calculates the costs associated with stricter enforcement of an 80 mph limit and creating more variable speed limits on sections of the motorway network deemed inappropriate to see an increase to 80 mph. We will be interested to see the consultation that emerges from the Department's evidence gathering process. The possibility of increasing the motorway speed limit has been discussed since September 2011, it is now time for the DfT to publish its consultation document or to explain the reason for delay.

48.  The Secretary of State has powers to change the motorway speed limit by statutory instrument without parliamentary control.[141] To ensure that there is adequate opportunity for parliamentary oversight, the Government should ensure that any decision to increase the speed limit should follow a debate in the House on a votable motion.

126   Strategic Framework p 37, Q 50, Q 424 James Harding Back

127   Ev 141 para 13, Ev w28 para 27 Back

128   Strategic Framework p 37 Back

129   Q 50 Back

130   Q 50 Back

131   Q 50 Back

132   Q 162 Back

133   Q 247 Back

134   Q 247 Back

135   Strategic Framework p9 Back

136   Ev w28 para 29 Back

137   Q 106, Q 107 Back

138   Q 347 Back

139   Q 345 Back

140   Q 351 Back

141   Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 Part VI s.124 Back

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Prepared 18 July 2012