On 17th September 2023, the Welsh Government’s measure adopting a default 20mph speed limit came into force. Following this measure, most roads which previously had a 30mph speed limit changed to 20mph with the Welsh Government specifically focusing on the idea that if there are streetlamps less than 200m apart the new speed limit will be 20mph. Hawys Davies, trainee solicitor, in our Serious Injuries Team discusses the topic in detail below.
As with most progressive measures, such as the smoking ban and the requirement to wear seatbelts, the reaction from the public has been mixed. Whilst the Welsh Government cites many positive reasons to make this change such as encouraging people to walk and cycle which are better for both public health and the environment, a key reason that the government has focused on is public safety.
According to the RAC, the typical stopping distances for an average family car travelling at 20mph is 12 metres. When the car is travelling at 30mph the stopping distance almost doubles, the distance becomes 23 metres. When imagining a busy street surrounded by pedestrians, it’s easy to understand that the additional 11 metres can be catastrophic.
This measure is supported by the United Nations who have advocated for 20mph to be the default limit in cities, towns and villages worldwide. Brake have been campaigning for a default 20mph speed limit to be adopted in urban areas across the UK. Of the 1,014 people killed of severely hurt on Welsh roads in 2022, more than 405 were hit on a 30mph stretch of road. Brake’s campaign states that a person’s risk of dying if they are hit by a car traveling at 30mph is five times greater than 20mph. Brake was set up to stop the tragedy of road deaths and injuries and to support those affected by road traffic collisions since 1995. The default 20mph zone is a key way to a safer community and to allow people to feel safe while travelling along their streets.
Road Peace, the national charity for Road Crash Victims wrote an open letter in support of 20mph limit in Wales. The letter said:
“We support the Welsh Government initiative to make 20mph the default speed limit for residential and built-up areas from today, 17th September. We praise the 20mph limit as being the huge contribution towards fairer streets and more liveable communities for all in Wales. It’s not just a road safety benefit. It also supports broader health, climate and societal goals such as helping the vulnerable to get about, improving social connection, reducing air and noise pollution, and more.
It benefits the 513,800 children in Wales who will find walking, cycling and scooting to and from school, friends, family or play places so much safer. And 298,519 households with no car or van, including 48% of lone parent households will gain from safer streets whilst walking or cycling.
Plus the 600,000 people with concessionary travel passes who walk for at least part of their journey, often standing at the roadside, will find their mobility improved.
And research shows that over 12,133 people won’t be injured by vehicles over the next 10 years. One of them could be any reader of this article.”
Police in Wales have advised that their focus for the first 12 months following this change will be to educate people on why travelling above 20mph is dangerous and exacerbates the risk to their fellow road users.
The Hugh James Serious Injury Team unfortunately see at first-hand the effect that speed and careless driving can have on victims and their families. Whilst this measure has not been universally welcomed, it will be interesting to see the effect that it will have on Welsh roads safety statistics in the coming years.