There has much talk recently about plans to introduce 40mph speed limits on the nation’s rural roads, but the headline story may be masking the substance of the Department for Transport’s proposals.
The current DfT guidance about 40mph limits on rural single-carriageway roads says that local authorities need to consider whether the road is predominantly used to move through traffic, or whether it is important for local access and recreation.
The new proposal removes the need to consider access and recreation, instead it simply applies the existing guidance for roads where trafﬁc ﬂow is the main purpose so that it applies to all rural single-carriageway, ie; a 40mph limit “Should be considered where there is a high number of bends, junctions or accesses, substantial development, where there is a strong environmental or landscape reason, or where there are considerable numbers of vulnerable road users.”
As the guidance being proposed already exists, that in itself doesn’t give local authorities carte blanche to reduce the limit on popular motorcycling routes. If anything, it removes a potential argument for reducing the limit. The guidance about accident rates didn’t apply to roads where traffic flow was the main function.
Interestingly, the DfT consultation focusses on the introduction of 20mph zones in built-up areas, but the BBC story focussed on clever campaigning by lobbyists who want the DfT to go further and create rural 40mph zones.
Lowering speed limits is a very blunt approach to road safety, it can have a number of negative consequences where the lower limits are overused or where there is no apparent need for them;
- Limits that appear too low to drivers and riders create frustration and lack of respect for the notion of speed limits (the spate of 50mph limits imposed on rural roads in recent years had that effect)
- Drivers and riders who have been using the road sensibly and obeying long-established speed limits can find themselves criminalised
- On the other hand, enforcement of ever changing and apparently pointless speed limits creates a major problem for the police
- Instead of more complicated and varied speed limits we need to be training drivers and riders to use the road according to the conditions, not to some arbitrary limit that will be too low in some situations and too high in others
- The idea of “self-explaining roads” needs more development, there have been some really poor attempts to do this but the basic idea is that roads should be designed so that everyone using them instinctively knows how to behave and what speed is appropriate.