Introducing 20mph limits in priority areas as part of a safe system approach to road safety

In the briefing document for local authorities and their partners, Reducing unintentional injuries on the roads among children and young people under 25 years, Public Health England (PHE) has identified three actions that will have an important impact in reducing injuries and deaths. This article focuses on the second action – introduce 20mph limits in priority areas as part of a safe system approach to road safety.

This article covers:

The injury data

PHE’s analysis of police-reported road casualty data (STATS19) over the five year period 2008-2012 shows that across England there were 2,316 deaths and 35, 783 serious injuries among road users under the age of 25 years. 

There were 322,613 casualties of all severities recorded by the police and these are likely to be underestimates of the total number of injuries. There were 68,657 emergency admissions to hospital as a result of road traffic injuries.

Children begin to be much more vulnerable when they make the transition to secondary school. Casualty rates shoot up when they begin to travel to school independently. The injury rates become even higher after young people start using cars and motor cycles legally. In 2012, one in every 1,250 young people aged between 15-24 years suffered a serious or fatal traffic injury.

The injury rates for school aged pedestrians are much higher among those living in the 20% most deprived areas.

The road environment

Most of the police-reported pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist fatal and serious injuries occur on 30mph roads, although a third of young car occupant fatal and serious accidents occur on 60mph roads in rural areas and half of all young car occupant deaths occur on these roads.

Prevention opportunities

The PHE briefing outlines the evidence to support 20mph limits. Given the very high proportion of injuries occur on 30mph roads there is an emphasis on how to make priority areas safer. Local authorities have powers to introduce 20mph speed limits and lower speeds reduce the number of crashes and make fatal injury unlikely in collisions between cars and pedestrians or cyclists.

The public supports 20mph limits – 72% of respondents in the British social attitudes survey are strongly in favour of this speed limit on residential streets.

Greater reductions in both speed and the number of casualties can be achieved in specific areas where physical calming measures support the reduced speed limits, and as with other road safety interventions, the strategy is most effective when combined with other activities, and part of an overarching ‘safe system’ approach.

Supporting activities include providing publicity and information and community engagement plus agreement with the police on an appropriate level of enforcement.

A safe system is informing the approach in many areas such as Brighton and Hove. The approach acknowledges that humans make errors, but does not accept that fatal road injuries are inevitable. The approach promotes design and management solutions such as 20 mph limits and a segregated infrastructure to separate faster roads from vulnerable road users to make zero traffic deaths an attainable vision for a local authority.

More information

Updated December 2014