The Department for Transport (DfT), has published its 2017 figures and their data shows most motorists aren’t keeping to the speed limit when driving through 20 miles per hour (mph) zones.

While the DfT statistics show drivers break the law across all speed limits, the slower speed zones are the areas where they’re more inclined to spurn the law, which causes one to ask—are 20mph speed limits a waste of time?

Eighty-six per cent break the law

In 2017 the DfT examined 446.6 million journeys on 74 roads within England and found that 46% of the journeys monitored were in breach of the speed limit. The number of car drivers violating the speed limit went up as the speed limit lowered with 86% of journeys observed within 20mph zones above the legal limit.

Speeding within 20mph zones wasn’t only limited to drivers of cars though. Eighty-five per cent of motorcyclists, 77% of ‘long’ bus drivers, and 53% of ‘short’ bus drivers were also guilty of breaking the law, as were 84% of drivers of light commercial vehicles (LCVs) or vans and 75% of HGV drivers—all travelling at an average speed of 26mph in the 20mph zones.

It seems the night is a more tempting time for exceeding the speed limit in 20mph zones with 94% of car drivers exceeding the maximum speed at 2 am and 98% of motorcyclists breaking the law at midnight.

The DfT’s annual speeding data shows a somewhat steady picture of speeding over the last seven years, although the 2017 figures show more drivers exceeding 20mph zones than in the two previous years.

The study saw 52% of car drivers and 54% of motorcyclists exceeding the limit in 30mph zones, despite these restrictions being in place across residential areas.

Sixty mph zones are where motorists are most cautious, with just 9% of journeys recorded as over the limit.

Forty-eight per cent of the 34 million journeys monitored on the motorway exceeded the 70mph speed limit, 11% exceeded 80mph, while 1% of journeys exceeded 90mph.

‘Waste of money’

Last month, in response to a news story by The Sun newspaper that 20mph limits have cost over £11 million of taxpayers’ money, the motoring organisation, the AA described implementing these zones as a ‘waste of money.’

Edmund King, AA President said:

“Spending over £10m to put in blanket twenty-speed signs on over 1,500 miles of road without targeting is frankly a waste of money.

“If drivers understand the reason for the speed limit, they are more likely to obey it.

“Rather than spending millions on signs that are ignored, it would be safer to improve dangerous junctions and put in pedestrian crossings.”

Yet, road safety advocates insist 20mph zones improve safety, referring to data that shows a 6.2% fall in traffic accidents with each 1mph reduction in average speed.

In July this year, The Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), and Transport for London (TfL) published London’s first ‘Vision Zero’ action plan, which set out plans to end deaths and serious injuries from London’s transport network.
The core of the strategy includes a plan to lower speed limits to 20mph on London’s roads.

Josh Harris, Director of Campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, said:

“The Mayor is right to focus on speed reduction and the rollout of 20mph limits—simply put lower speeds save lives. If you are hit by a car at 30mph, you are more likely to die, if you are hit at 20mph, you are more likely to survive. This stark fact should be reason enough for all to welcome the introduction of safe 20mph limits across the capital. London is setting an example the rest of the UK should follow and we urge the Government to make 20mph the default speed for built-up areas across the UK, helping make streets across the country safer and more welcoming.”

Frustrated drivers

The UK introduced 20mph zones in 1991 to address the problem of child pedestrian
casualties in and around residential areas. The government later allowed local highway authorities to impose limits without the need to apply to central Government for permission.

Many, though not all, 20mph zones are outside schools. The rationale behind 20mph zones is that motorists are less liable to have a collision when moving at this lower speed and pedestrians will have a greater likelihood of survival if hit by a vehicle travelling at or below 20mph. So, are these zones successful?

There’s much-reported data stating that not only did the rate of road deaths and accidents not decrease in most of the areas where councils installed 20mph limits, but they increased. This may be, in part, due to frustrated motorists taking risks to get past slow-moving vehicles.

Yet, a major study by the British Medical Journal determined that, after introducing 20mph limits, road casualties dropped by 42%, and the number of children who had serious injuries or died fell by 50%.

We’re all aware it’s more dangerous to get hit by a vehicle travelling at 30mph than by one travelling at 20mph but can we guarantee that, should we get knocked down in a 20mph zone, the driver will be sticking to the speed limit?

Do you think 20mph speed limits are excessive or necessary? Are there 20mph zones in your area that frustrate you? Would you like to see a 20mph limit introduced on a particular road? Tell us your opinion in the comments.

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