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Speed kills on rural roads: stronger guidance needed

Tuesday, 10 July 2012 13:06

Two thirds of road deaths happen on rural roads. The Campaign to Protect Rural England calls for cuts to rural road speed limit.

New Government guidance for local authorities on how to set speed limits is widely expected to be published later this week [1].

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has highlighted the guidance as a key opportunity to improve conditions for rural road users and the natural environment. In particular, CPRE is calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to ensure the forthcoming consultation facilitates the greater use of 40 mph zones on minor rural roads.

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 [2]. While the UK has made urban areas safer through introducing 20 mph zones, we have failed unlike other countries to do anything similar in the countryside.

“The Dutch have found that widespread adoption of rural 60km/h (37 mph) zones has been even more cost effective in saving lives than their urban 30km/h (19 mph) zones [3]. If we want to have an enviable safety record in our countryside, it’s time for 40 mph zones to become the norm on minor rural roads.”

CPRE says it will be important for the new guidance to:

  • Make it easier to introduce 40mph zones on networks of minor rural roads. Currently these require the permission of the Secretary of State for Transport and only exist in some National Parks. CPRE believes that Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, areas of tranquillity and Nature Improvement Areas [4] should be prioritised for trialling of lower speed limits.
  • 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 standard speed limit 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 due to consult in the first half of July on a replacement to Circular 1/2006 Setting Local Speed Limits, which deals with speed limits in local authority roads. The current circular can be found here: www.dft.gov.uk/publications/local-speed-limits-guidance . This is separate to the consultation due this year as to whether to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph.

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

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

[4] Areas of tranquillity are accorded protection by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraph 123, see http://bit.ly/LJdHuI. Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) were introduced in last year’s Natural Environment White Paper and twelve have now been designated. Dutch research also shows that lowering speeds on minor roads significantly reduces road kill of wildlife.

[5] See NPPF paragraph 35.

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