Eight out of ten drivers ignore 20mph speed limit, claims report
News entry dated 12th Jul 2017

Department for Transport (DfT) data has shown that 80% of drivers are turning a blind eye to the 20mph speed limit. According to official figures, the majority of these motorists are travelling at 21-25mph, with 15% exceeding 30mph and 1% clocked at over 40mph.

The DfT’s data was sourced from nine 20mph areas featuring free-flow conditions and no traffic-calming measures. This is not typical of many 20mph-limited areas across the country. Still, the figures make for sobering reading, especially when compared to road charity Brake’s recent poll, which stated only 52% of drivers were breaking the 20mph limit.

Testing ‘the limit’ of drivers

The often controversial speed limit was introduced in 1991, with 250 areas included across UK roads by the end of decade. In 1999, local highway authorities were allowed to roll out the 20mph limit without needing to apply for permission from central government, which saw an explosion of the limit in many cities and towns. Most recently, some authorities have set 20mph as the standard limit for residential streets, including in Warrington, Hackney and Oxford.

It’s this seemingly indiscriminate approach to 20mph deployment that some motoring groups believe may be causing the problem. The RAC Foundation’s Edmund King explained to The Times newspaper:

“These statistics indicate that blanket 20mph speed limits aren’t particularly effective. Where they are targeted, like outside schools these lower limits work because people can see the point of them. But if 20mph limits are simply imposed over a whole area, people just don’t believe in them and it’s no surprise they then fail to comply.”

The wrong end of the stick?

Others though argue that the goal of the limit isn’t to get motorists driving under 20mph. The AA’s Luke Bosdet told the Daily Telegraph,

“The target is to get people driving below 30mph in these areas. That’s what the 20mph limit is clearly for, and in that sense as far as we’re concerned it’s working.”

He does concede though that how the 20mph limit is rolled out can create issues, arguing that “the problem is a knee-jerk reaction to have these zones everywhere. If local residents want them, they should get them, but the big question is whether they are being consulted. If they’re not being consulted you’re not going to get adherence.”

Adherence is not only a problem for residents or motorists, but law enforcement as well. For instance, in Brighton and Hove the local authority introduced a far-reaching 20mph limit in many areas of the city in 2013. However, Sussex Police went on the record stating that it would not allocate any extra resources to tracking down offending drivers, instead believing that “it’s important that roads are carefully designed to ensure that drivers habitually self-enforce when it comes to speed limits.”

Exception, not the rule

The Sussex Police are the exception to the rule; motorists should expect 20mph limits to remain in place and be enforced. Even after its own startling findings, the DfT still backs the widespread use of the limit:

“Research shows that 20mph zones in the right areas can save lives and we have made it easier for councils to introduce them. It is for councils to set speed limits in their area and police to decide how best to enforce them.”

Are 20 mph limits essential to the safety of our busy streets? Or are local authorities simply rolling them out to boost their budgets through fines? Let us know your views below.

Anthony White July 16, 2017

Why am I required to drive past a school at midnight in August at 20mph? There has to be no reason for this apart from someone in an office thinking that people only go past schools between 08:30 and 03:30 during term time. Anyhow, so many parent park haphazardly outside schools at opening, closing and lunchtimes that getting past is a problem, never mind 20mph.

Some local authorities have got an idea - a sign with the school patrol flashing lights which says "20mph when light flash"; what is the problem with this?

As for blanket 20mph on all residential areas - these seem to be in areas where you do not need a car because public transport arrives to take you where you want to go every few minutes. Not everyone lives in these areas, and some people need to visit them.

I gave up going to London/Dartford crossing/major city centres a long time ago - why bother when they are out to get you one way or another? What is the difference in a fine/fixed penalty whether it is 20mph infringement, caught six inches in a junction box or going through an ANPR on your way somewhere else on holiday and getting a bill when you get back - forget it guys, stick to your little country towns, they want you to go there and spend money to keep the local economy going, not to sting you every way they can.

walter rimmer July 16, 2017

Speedmeters have a accurate of 20%,that it way I drive with my Sat Nav on witch I believe gives a true speed.

Aspet Gregorians July 15, 2017

I agree introduction of 20 MPH limits in appropriate areas such as school zones is a good idea.
However the blanket introduction of the limit here there and everywhere is just not safe. On a major road where there is no traffic and the road is wide enough its just a fund raising avenue for the council, and a cause of frustration for drivers which makes them less of a safe driver. Also in smaller roads such as residential roads where cars are parked on both sides, especially if the road is on an incline then you have to pay more attention to keeping an eye on the speedometer than the road, so a kid running into the road has less chance of being spotted if your eyes are constantly on the speedometer.
If the object of the exercise is to slow all traffic everywhere, then it works, but if the intention is to create safer roads, then it DOES NOT WORK.

George Mckie July 15, 2017

Well my town piloted this scheme on two roads that were by there very nature already slow because of potholes and parked cars. A HUGE sucess was declared and the perpetrator for the scheme "Twenty is plenty" Rod King of Lymm was given and MBE The rest of the town now has 20 mph limits everywhere and all are ignored it seems. The total cost was at the last count £750,000 of taxpayers money. An absolute disgrace if you multiply the £ millions wasted all over the country. Most of the people I observe must have got the wrong message as their idiom is "Fifty is nifty" I object to this waste of public money and rewarding the instigators with MBE's. Manchester City Council has stopped the scheme as the roads already done have shown to be a waste of time as there is litle or no change in the speed of traffic.

richard Keane July 14, 2017

Where I live the council invited the residents to vote for the introduction of the 20mph limit. Only 2% bothered to vote and of those just over half voted for the new limit. Hardly a resounding endorsement of the policy. Now we have the limit imposed across the London Borough of Croydon willy-nilly. It is frankly pointless as the narrowness of the roads caused by parking renders any attempt to drive faster hair-raising. This seems to be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And at the expense of council tax payers : so every few yards repeater signs have been erected showing the 20 limit while the same streets are never properly swept nowadays.

    Joseph Bloggs July 15, 2017

    It's a great way for councillors being seen to be doing something. High visibility politicing. That's why new laws should be subject to the full round of legislative consultation & review whereever they are applied.


Near where I live there is a primary school with a 20mph limit when the children are going and coming from school. Except it doesn't work. The lights flash if you are above 20mph when the children are in school or when they are on holiday. The lights flash to slow you down but the limit sign with the speed showing says Thank You even when going over 20.

Simon Shearer July 14, 2017

Edinburgh is in the middle of rolling out an almost universal 20mph limit across the city including at least 90% of all road, so most bus route and major arterial routes are included, which is just bonkers! For an impoverished council which is cutting important to spend £millions on this scam is actually criminal. It is interesting that the comment from the AA spokesperson said that the real aim was to get people driving at less than 30, i.e they accept that 20 is too low, but of course ignoring it makes criminal of us all. The crime rate rockets, all journeys take longer bit nobody is really any safer. As I say as bonkers as Boris.

Jonathan July 14, 2017

I'd like to add that the most ridiculous 20mph speed zone I have encountered was a smart motorway at 2am because of roadworks. The road was completely empty and there wasn't a worker in sight.

I don't disabey speed limits because it's just not worth it - losing a week's earnings as a self-employed courier would ruin me but it sure annoys me greatly when I'm forced to keep to non-sensical speed limits. If I added up the time I've needlessly lost due to arbitrary low speed limits I'd probably be astounded.

Don't get me wrong, I think many speed limits are justified and should be in place, but there are also many that are not and it is these zones that undermine the validity of the others.

Jonathan July 14, 2017

I agree that drivers are more likely to observe the speed limit when it's purpose is clear. If I approach a school and can see lots of children about (usually at school start and finish times and at lunch time) I slow down anyway, often much below the speed limit. However, at other times, such as in the middle of the night, it seems pointless and it is more difficult to police my speed. Such zones need to be time controlled, operating at certain times, or as I have sometimes seen, only in effect when lights are flashing.

The other issue I have, as already mentioned, is that many vehicles are just not geared for travelling at 20mph. My vehicle will travel at 30mph comfortably and smoothly in 3rd gear, but keeping to 20mph in 3rd gear is very difficult and dropping to 2nd gear revs the guts out of it. This is increasingly problematic for large zones such as Camden's borough-wide 20mph speed limit made particularly nerve-racking with camera enforcement Such a scheme is pointless because you can't go much quicker that 20mph in London anyway.

Matthew Hatton July 13, 2017

Mr Digweed, speed does not kill ppl. Otherwise we'd all be doing 20 mph on motorways now wouldn't we!

Ron BURG July 13, 2017

I think that you have just proved/re-inforced my point, Paul; it isn't what people want, else they would comply without the need for "Safety" (i.e. Greed) cameras.
Quod erat demonstrandum.

Paul Kipling July 13, 2017

This does not surprise me one bit, most people break all speed limits, not just the 20mph limit!

Peter Butler July 13, 2017

If oomph speed limits were policed (but never aere) then more people would obey them Has anyone ever been prosecuted for breaking the 20mph limit I have heard of no one The local authority creates them for road safety reasons but never has them policed A waste of money in creating them if they are never going to be policed
Let's waste more of the taxpayer's money is the attitude of all local government authorities in all they do

Ron BURG July 13, 2017

Laws that are roundly ignored by those they are directed at are bad laws and should be repealed. This 20mph b;anket limit is one such law and is contra-indicated/
Much the same could be said of speed limits in general, but I don't think I would win that battle!.
The bigger issue is for people to realise that cars CAN kill and should be treated with respect - don't amble across roads glued to your cellphone, etc.
If people were to treast roads in the same way as rivers and/railway lines, crossing only at specific, safe points, the issue wouold disappear.....


roy deal July 13, 2017

How much money was wasted investigating drivers who ignore the 20 mph speed limit? I assume it was tax payers money?

What would be more sensible would be to carry out the same exercise on motor ways. If I drive at the speed limit on motor ways rarely do I overtake an Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Additionally, how often do I see a police car?

Roy Deal

Charles Beasley July 13, 2017

FOR THE THIRD TIME, by convention, THE FULL INSTRUMENT SCALE is used for to determine the uncertainty, so your calculations are incorrect. In my calculations 100mph is assumed to be full scale.

Steven Jefferson July 13, 2017

I find the application of 20 mph zones in my City are bonkers. Instead of having consistent zoning we have areas where the central stretch of a road is 20 mph but the entry and exit speeds are 30 mph. So you enter a road at 30 and encounter the need to reduce speed as well as watch out for pedestrians (adult or child) walking out in front of you as well as any issues with vehicles in front or behind you. On exiting the 20 mph restriction you can increase speed to 30 only to brake almost immediately as you encounter a Junction where it's a mandatory stop. Just to add insult to injury the gearing of my car is such that at either 20 or 30 mph its running at the same revs, so I'm using the same amount of fuel at either speed but overall I will be chucking out more noxious gases at 20 mph than I would at 30 as my travel time will be reduced at the higher speed.

O.L. Grainger July 13, 2017

10% of 20 MPH is 2 MPH. So, the margin would be 2 MPH either side of 20 MPH, ie 18 MPH to 22 MPH

Charles Beasley July 13, 2017

I believe that instrument accuracies are generally quoted as a percentage of the full scale; as a consequence the uncertainty at the lower end is much greater. In my previous post, the value of 20% would give the values as stated; for 10% an indication of 30mph could be between 25 - 35 mph and an indication of 20mph could be 15 - 25mph.

    O.L. Grainger July 13, 2017

    No; 10% of 20 MPH is 2 MPH. So, the margin would be 2 MPH either side of 20 MPH, ie 18 MPH to 22 MPH

O.L. Grainger July 13, 2017

Sorry, I was WRONG (I can not type!).

Speedometers should be accurate to within 10% - NOT 20%.- and should register within that range when the vehicle is travelling at more than 10 MPH.

That is 10% - not 10 MPH. So, at 20 MPH, I believe that the speedo. should show between 18 MPH and 22 MPH.

You can always compare the car's speedo with those given by some sat. navs., including Waze (which free on smartphones.