Speed limits face a major overhaul
· Plans for slower zones in rural areas
· Government call to be 'realistic and consistent'
Will Woodward, chief political correspondent
Tuesday August 8, 2006
The government will today announce a major overhaul of road speed limits for the first time in more than a decade.
The most dramatic change could involve a reduction in some rural areas in an attempt to cut casualty rates, which are not falling as fast as they are in towns and cities. However, the advice will also say some speed limits should be increased to take account of new driving conditions and the expectations of motorists. The move could mean increases in the 30mph and 40mph limits on some urban roads.
"Realistic and consistent speed limits help to keep traffic moving freely and safely," Stephen Ladyman, the transport minister, said. "Our new guidance encourages lowering speed limits where the evidence warrants it, but, equally, traffic authorities should consider increasing limits if it can be done safely."
Guidance for councils, who set the rules for A and B roads, stresses that lower limits are not the only tool available to cut accidents. In the first comprehensive guidance for 13 years, councils are being asked to consider changes in the wake of more 20mph limits and traffic-slowing measures, such as "home zones", but also improvements in road surfaces.
The Department of Transport has issued the paper to help councils meet the government's demand to review all limits on A and B roads by 2011. It stresses it has no plans to raise the default speed limits of 30mph on street-lit roads in urban areas, 60mph on single-carriageway roads, and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
It says it wants "improved respect for speed limits, and, in turn, improved self-compliance". Roads with a poor previous history of accidents should have their speed limits cut in many cases. But the guidance adds: "Speed limits are, however, only one element of speed management. Local speed limits should not be set in isolation ... indeed, if a speed limit is set in isolation, or is unrealistically low, it is likely to be ineffective and lead to disrespect for the speed limit.
"As well as requiring significant, and avoidable, enforcement costs, this may also result in substantial numbers of drivers continuing to travel at unacceptable speeds, thus increasing the risk of collisions and injuries."
In 2000, ministers set a 10-year target for reducing road accidents, including a 50% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured, and 40% in the number of serious accidents.
The Department of Transport says 46% of serious road casualties, and more than half of all road deaths, took place on rural roads in 2004. "There is a need to improve speed management in rural areas and, in particular, to help drivers further to understand underlying risks and tackle the problems caused by inappropriate speed.
"Traffic authorities should particularly intervene on roads where there is a case for encouraging use by, or safeguarding the needs of, vulnerable road users."
Alternative measures councils should consider, other than speed limits, include "engineering and landscaping standards that respect the needs of all road users and raise the driver's awareness of their environment, together with education, driver information, training and publicity".
The AA Motoring Trust said last night that "the growth in the number of 30mph limits, and the rule that bans repeater signs on them, have been a mess and unfair on drivers and residents".
Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the trust, said: "In a rural context, no-one who lives in a country town would expect to have to drive 20 miles at 30mph to get to the next town. On the flip-side, people who live on a narrow road from a village to a hamlet would not expect to have cars doing 60mph.
"Realism in applying speed limits that reflect the true nature of the road, is important to ensure credibility and driver compliance. Guidance is just that - it is how local highway authorities apply it in practice that really counts."