top of page

Welsh government to introduce 20mph speed limits

Greg Devine


20mph in Welsh

Twenty is plenty, or at least that’s what the Welsh government reckons. It’s recently announced that speed limits in built up areas around the country will now be 20mph instead of the typical 30mph. It’s said the new limit will reduce road collisions, lessen noise pollution, and encourage people to take alternative travel, such as cycling or walking.

Whilst many towns and cities across the UK have imposed 20mph limits in various areas, it’s certainly not the default action. Under new Welsh law, it will become requisite that the speed limit in the country’s urban areas is set at 20mph. Labour and Plaid Cymru have backed the move; however, the Welsh Conservatives have branded the blanket approach as ‘ridiculous’. Not that ridiculous, clearly, given that Scotland is set to follow suit in 2025.

So, why are the Welsh government insisting on this 20mph standard? It all comes down to safety. Half the injuries sustained on Welsh roads occur in 30mph zones, and of the 1,131 people killed or seriously injured, 40% of these occurred in 30mph areas. Statistics clearly show that most road accidents happen in built up areas—but is this new speed limit too reactionary? Wales isn’t the most built-up country of the UK; I would have assumed that most accidents happen in built up residential areas, simply because there are more opportunities for a collision to occur.

What difference will driving through urban Wales at 20mph make? The data isn’t cast in stone, i.e. it’s not known exactly what impact a lower speed limit will have, as pilot tests are only just beginning. However, reports gathered from other places in the UK suggest that, when driving at 20mph, stopping distances are greatly reduced. ‘Thinking distance’ is reduced from 9m to 6m (this distance is supposed to simulate the amount of time it would take you to see a hazard, react, and activate the brakes). Braking distance falls from 14m to 6m. It takes the full stopping distance to 12m rather than 23m, which is significantly less.

However, would a slower speed see cars bunching up closer to each other? It’s hoped the changes will see a reduction in accidents, especially fatal ones. This is because you’re seven times more likely to survive an accident at 20mph than you are at 30mph.

The new speed limit would cost an estimated £33 million to introduce, and it’s set to come into force by September 2023. The Welsh government has assured the public that the reduced speed will mean a reduction in accidents—which would, in turn, save the country money. £58 million could be saved over 30 years, thanks to a lower demand for the emergency services and fewer hospitalisations.

Despite all the positive outcomes that should arise from the reduced speed limit, more people are against the changes than those in support of it (this data came from an official Welsh-government-commissioned consultation).

In Buckley, Flintshire, a pilot study has already begun, concerning new speed restrictions, and it hasn’t been universally liked. In fact, Adie Drury, a local resident, even launched a petition against the new restrictions, which currently has more than 12,500 signatures. In an interview with the BBC, she told them, ‘The community has no problem with a 20mph limit where it's necessary and where an area needs to be safe—like outside schools, health centres in housing estates, and in heavily pedestrianised areas. It’s in other areas where residents are seemingly more annoyed by 20mph limits.

‘I was raised on a housing estate and played football in the road when I was a child, and it's good to invite the community into the road-space—but only where appropriate. You wouldn't want your child playing football on an arterial road, so why are arterial roads being subject to the 20mph limit? Cyclists are having a whale of a time on Liverpool Road because they can do more than 20mph on their bikes, yet we can't do more than 20mph in a car. I've had quite a lot of reports of people being overtaken by cyclists.’

Drury may have a point. The thought of bikes travelling faster than cars doesn’t sound right to me. If the point of these new restrictions is about safety, but cyclists are ignoring the limits, then the whole purpose of the speed reductions becomes pointless. Cyclists would then become the biggest threat to pedestrians. You have to ask the question: will this lead to an increase in cyclists hitting cars and pedestrians, as opposed to cars hitting them? Will the blame simply shift?

Rob Mackay, chairman of Buckley Runners, who was also interviewed by the BBC, believes the new speed limit would ‘benefit the wider community’. The 74-year-old added, ‘It's better for the runners, walkers, people with their dogs and cyclists. If I lived on Liverpool Road, I'd have one view. If I drove up and down Liverpool Road on a regular basis, I would have a different view. The Welsh government has to balance the two.’ Finding a balance is important. There’s a caveat to the new restrictions, which allow for a 30mph limit in areas that sensibly warrant this—but how well would this be implemented?

Mr Mackay continued, ‘If a car passes me at 20mph, it's less unsettling than a car passing me at 30mph.’ He’s also aware that ‘plenty of cars don't even stick to 30mph and, particularly in the dark, that can feel quite threatening. So, a lower limit does make things better.’

Personally, I’m quite used to 20mph zones. I was born and raised on the border of Sheffield and Rotherham, which just so happens to be the site of the UK’s first 20mph limit—it was introduced just five minutes from me, in the Tinsley area of Sheffield, in 1991. Despite this being well before my time, I can imagine just how unsafe the road must’ve been to travel down at 30mph. It’s a narrow, steep hill with parked cars on either side, with the addition of a school and park that further increase the number of pedestrians in the vicinity.

Roads like this are no brainers when it comes to apportioning 20mph limits, but I’d be against it on my own road. Is it a built-up area with a nearby school, shops and plenty of footfall? Absolutely, but it’s also a main road that takes most people in the village to arterial roads on their commute to work. A young boy I knew was killed on this road, but the incident occurred late at night, and it was due to an idiot being behind the wheel driving well over the speed limit. The number 20 in a little red circle wouldn’t have saved the child’s life, as the same selfish driver would’ve been behind the wheel.

How would you feel if all your local roads carried a 20mph limit? Do you think it would make your local area safer or do you feel it would only cause more issues, thanks to cars making the route more congested? I personally think there’s a time and place for 20mph zones—there’s no need to make them the default option.

Want your article or story on our site? Contact us here

bottom of page