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Country roads could slow to 40 mph

Friday, 13 July 2012 13:05

Countryside campaigners win victory as lower speed limits are proposed in rural areas.

A consultation on new Government guidance for local authorities on how to set speed limits was announced today [1]. It includes proposals for use of 40 mph zones on minor rural roads, particularly in scenic areas [2] .

Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner for CPRE, says: “Since the last speed limit guidance was published, deaths on rural roads have tragically increased from half of all road deaths to over two thirds [3]. While the UK has made urban areas safer with the roll-out of 20 mph zones, we need to do something similar in the countryside.

“The Dutch have found that widespread adoption of 60km/h (37 mph) zones on their minor rural roads has been even more effective in saving lives than their urban 30km/h (19 mph) zones [4].

“If we want to have an enviable safety record in our countryside, whether for drivers, dog-walkers, cyclists, riders or wildlife, it’s time for 40 mph zones to become the norm on minor rural roads. We are delighted the Government has listened to us and is encouraging highway authorities to pilot these zones.”

While welcoming the change, CPRE says more could still be done to the guidance to improve safety at the same time as reducing signage clutter:

  • Support local authorities that wish to reduce speed limits to make people feel safe enough to walk or cycle, releasing suppressed demand for physically active travel. Current guidance leads to a ‘chicken or egg’ situation where, perversely, it is hard to lower speed limits where there are not already high numbers of people walking and cycling until there have been sufficient road deaths and injuries.
  • Encourage the use of natural and psychological traffic calming. Examples include visual narrowing through road surface changes or installing trees, hedges and flower planters - rather than ugly humps and signs.
  • Promote Community Speed Watch schemes. Such schemes involve local people in monitoring speeding rather than seeing enforcement by increasingly-stretched police as the only option.
  • Commit to making 20 mph the norm on streets in built-up areas. Communities should however, be able to choose which roads would keep speed limits at 30 mph – combined with the rolling out of Home Zones where appropriate [5].


Notes to Editors

[1] The Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on a replacement to Circular 1/2006 Setting Local Speed Limits, which deals with speed limits on local authority roads. The press notice and consultation can be found here: http://www.dft.gov.uk/news/press-releases/dft-press-20120713a . This is separate to the consultation due this year as to whether to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph.

[2] 40 mph zones currently require individual authorisation from the Secretary of State for Transport. Paragraph 118 of the consultation says: “We would welcome applications for zonal rural speed limits, usually 40 mph zones, for example in national parks or AONBs or on other networks of minor rural roads [in order] to consider the effectiveness of such zones in reducing speeds and signing requirements.”

[3] The existing circular refers to 2004 figures that over half of road deaths are on rural roads. The draft circular states that by 2010 this proportion had increased and 68% of road deaths were on rural roads.

[4] Making minor rural road networks safer: The effects of 60 km/h-zones, Accident Analysis and Prevention 43 (2011) 1508–1515,

[5] See NPPF paragraph 35.

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