WHEN the Welsh government rolled out a new 20 mph speed limit in 2021, it met with a good deal of resistance from the local communities in which it was piloted. The government touted it as helping to making streets safer, specifically with a reduction in road collisions, and that it would encourage more people to cycle and walk, making Wales a more environmentally friendly place to live.
It is now coming into force nationwide from September 2023, and many are still against it. Why, if it benefits the communities? There is the financial side. The direct cost is around £33 million, although the Welsh Government say improved road safety could result in a positive financial return over 30 years of around £25 million due to reduced emergency services and hospital treatment. Many locals believe the money would be better spent on the NHS, while others prefer that it not be spent on anything as we head into a recession.
As Wales is the first nation to try this, it’s difficult to find studies which might support the policy. One such, carried out by the Federal Highway Administration in the USA about 20 years ago, showed that when speed limit changes were within 5 mph of the 85th percentile of existing traffic speeds, differences in average speeds were less than 2 mph. The report stated that “lowering the speed limit does not mean traffic will slow down.” A Swedish study published in 2015 bears this out, saying that drivers lower their speeds by only 2–3.5 kph when asked to slow down by 10 kph.
Some believe it will make no difference, as drivers will just ignore it. David Cooper told Wales Online that it “will not make any difference through my village. Some drive at 60 through the 30 and there is no one to enforce it.” Lloyd Eveleigh agreed, saying, “The pilot schemes have been a waste of time. I live right by one and hardly anyone obeys it. It just results in cars following much closer together than normal and increases the likelihood of accidents and road rage.”
But is the threat, or assumption, that drivers will ignore it a good reason not to put it into practice? Of course not. Most new laws face backlash from the public. Remember the introduction of seatbelts? Or when drink driving was made illegal way back in 1967. It makes sense to us now but, even 12 years after its introduction in 1979, research showed that nearly two thirds of young male drivers admitted drink driving on a weekly basis.
Perhaps if Welsh MPs had consulted the people before putting this to a vote in the Senedd, the public might have been a little more receptive. Nobody likes having new laws forced upon them. Hardly an example of the democracy we’ve been led to expect from Welsh Labour. More a foretaste of UK Labour should they win the next GE.
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