SPEED limits have always been a thorny and divisive subject. One man’s idea of careful is another’s idea of dawdling.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the recent Department for Transport proposal that limits should be lowered on many rural roads in England has divided opinion.
The DfT draft guidance followed revelations that 49 per cent of road deaths in 2010 occurred on single-carriageway rural roads with the blanket 60mph national limit.
Under the plans, which will go to public consultation, a cut to 40mph should be considered where there is substantial development or where there are many horse-riders, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
A reduction to a 50mph limit should be considered for what the DfT called “lower quality A and B roads” with many bends or junctions.
Stating the screamingly obvious, as government minsters are prone to do, Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said: “It is vital that speed limits are suitable for local conditions.”
The proposal won support from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, whose spokesman said: “There should be a presumption that minor rural roads, the narrower winding ones, have a lower speed limit. It seems strange that some minor roads, often just tarmaced tracks, have a speed limit of 60mph – just 10mph less than the motorways.”
Under the new guidelines, councils in England will also be given more freedom to introduce 20mph limits. The DfT says there are about 2,000 such schemes in England and research shows they reduce collisions and injuries by 60 per cent.
No changes are planned to the national speed limits of 30mph on street-lit roads, 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
Normally reducing speed limits would require councils to erect a series of signs, which is expensive and time-consuming. The proposals, however, will allow them to designate quiet stretches of roads as 40mph zones, with one sign at the start of the zone and another when it ends. It is similar to the approach used in towns and cities which have brought in 20mph zones in residential areas.
Motoring groups voiced concern that drivers could fall foul of the new limits unless they were given clear information. “Speed limits are already quite complicated and the guidance should not lead to wholesale changes which could increase confusion,” said Paul Watters of the AA.
Giving more leeway to local authorities may lead to a new set of issues, though. Motorists are often baffled as to why some apparently hazard-free stretches have 30mph limits while others loaded with potential hazards are unlimited.
At the end of the day it all comes down to educating motorists to drive at the appropriate speed for the road.