Road Safety News

Government publishes new speed limit guidance for councils

Friday 18th January 2013

Following an extensive consultation, the DfT last week (18 January) published new guidance to help councils set more appropriate speed limits on local roads.

The new guidance has been warmly welcomed by the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign, but strongly criticised by the Association of British Drivers (ABD).

The updated guidance – unveiled by Stephen Hammond, road safety minister – is intended to help local councils implement more consistent speed limits on local roads, and incorporates recent changes that create more flexibility for authorities to implement 20mph limits and zones.

It is to be used for setting speed limits on single and dual carriageway roads in both urban and rural areas.

Stephen Hammond said: “We want to see safe roads which meet the needs of everyone, so it is vital that councils have clear and consistent guidance to help them set appropriate speed limits on their roads.

“Local councils should set speed limits based on their local knowledge and on the views of the community. That is why we have launched an online toolkit alongside our new guidance to help councils make the best decisions for their local areas.”

The new guidance has been welcomed by the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign. Rod King, campaign director, said: “This publication marks a further step forward in the DfT developing its guidance to reflect what many local authorities are already adopting as ‘best practice’ by implementing wide area 20mph limits for most of their urban and residential roads.

“It is becoming clear that once a local authority fully considers all of its road users and its community needs, then the only sensible solution is that 20 is plenty where people live, work, shop, learn, walk, and cycle.”

In contrast, the ABD says that the new guidance “may result in 50% of drivers exceeding the speed limit on many roads”.

An ABD statement said: “This new recommendation will ensure that many road users perceive any limit set by using this new criteria as unrealistic and hence they are likely to ignore it.

“Regrettably, the DfT has kowtowed to anti-car groups who do not understand the technical factors that determine the optimum speed at which traffic should flow for maximum road safety. The 85th percentile is best for determining the safest and most cost-effective speed limit.”

The new guidance has been published following an extensive consultation which was held last year, the results of which are published on the DfT website.

An online toolkit will enable local councils to calculate the potential costs and benefits of implementing new speed limits. The launch of this toolkit fulfils a commitment in the DfT ‘Strategic framework for road safety’ published in 2010.

Click here to read the full DfT news release.



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Dave, the legal requirement to consult the emergency services and numerous other statutory bodies/regulators before making a speed limit TRO, does not constitute ‘seeking public opinion’. There isn’t a legal requirement for Councils to actively consult the general public. Yes, there is a statutory requirement for it to be publicly advertised in the final stages, if that’s what you meant, but that has always been a requirement anyway and does not constitute ‘seeking public opinion’. The Councils’ traffic departments have the necessary expertise and experience on this subject, whereas the general public do not, as is sometimes evident on this forum.

By the way, the ‘responsible peoples’ speeds (which would include yours and mine, I like to think) tend to be clustered around the mean speed, not the 85th%ile, which is why the guidance asks the authorities to take it into consideration.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Actually Hugh, when Buckinghamshire performed their last round of speed limit reductions, there was a public consultation although very few responded.

When Slough performed their speed limit reductions, I believe they did not consult although they have consulted regarding their proposed 20mph schemes (7 zones costing £¼million). I haven't seen consultation results yet.

The guidance states: p15 “Traffic authorities ... must, as a minimum, follow the full consultation procedure set out in legislation, before any new speed limit is introduced.”

It seems that, far from not seeking public opinion, councils are required by law to consult.

But public opinion can effectively be measured by the speeds responsible people know to be safe. When limits are set below the 85%ile then responsible people can clearly see that speed limits do not reflect a safe speed to travel. This contradicts the stated intention of the guidance, and is potentially dangerous.
Dave, Slough

Agree (3) | Disagree (5)

So, has anyone else tried using the Speed Limit Appraisal Toolkit after trawling through the 93 page user guide? Complicated and unwieldy don't come close. Just trying to set up studies is proving a challenge - or is it just me?
Andy, Yorkshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

One or two readers have got it into their heads from this news item that the general public are somehow going to be involved in setting speed limits themselves or at least play an active part in doing so. That’s not the intention. They will have a chance to object as they always have done and their elected representatives will decide based on the expertise of their paid officers, as has always been the case.

Public opinion is sought by Councils on some matters associated with traffic and road safety, but not, in my experience, the setting of speed limits.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

Just as with railway or nuclear power station safety, the public view must be considered. This is democracy in action but it requires conditions to work effectively.

1) the public needs competent and honest expert analysis.
2) public opinion needs to be established by polling sufficient numbers with unbiased questions.

A major failing of the democratic process is that, for many issues, neither of these is performed.
Dave, Slough

Agree (8) | Disagree (2)

It is interesting to see proponents of democracy campaigning for democratic freedom of choice - when it allows them to drive as they see fit - but do not extend that same privilege and freedom of choice to those others whose lives are detrimentally affected by their driving and who seek to curtail some of their behaviours for the benefit of others. There seems to be a subtext that local democracy is acceptable when what is proposed suits you and not if it doesn’t?
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (15) | Disagree (6)

The debate about mean and 85%ile speeds is perhaps rather a pointless one. This is the second guidance from DfT to confirm that mean speed (rather than 85%ile) should be used as a factor for setting speed limits. It does not require that speed limits should be set at the previous mean speed which will be heavily influenced by the previous speed limit.

For us, one important aspect is how the new guidance recognises that the needs of current and potential road vulnerable users as well as the wider needs of the community should be fully taken into account when determining local speed limits. In these aspects it certainly improves on the 2006 guidance.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

In his statement, I think Mr Hammond is using the phrase “…views of the community…” loosely.

I don’t think he or the Dft are suggesting, as some are inferring, that speed limits are now actually going to be set by ‘local communities’. It will still be, as it always has been, the local Councils as the local Traffic Authorities who will be setting any local speed limits if they wish, after consultation with the Parish/Community Councils, elected representatives, Police etc., and only then with due regard to the Dft guidelines anyway, as has always been the case. The statutory consultation procedure which allows anyone to object will still be there.

In fact there doesn’t seem to be much that is different from the last ‘local speed limit guidelines’ published only a few years ago.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

The view of the community is that they don't want anybody travelling faster than 1mph past their houses. This same community is quite happy to travel past other people's houses much faster than that, so which 'community' do you listen to?
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (16) | Disagree (4)

Comments are spot on. It made economic sense to have relatively few expert people at one location determining main principles of road safety policy, now for political and politically correct reasons we will have much larger numbers of officials in every local authority doing their own thing, leading to inconsistent policies and confusion.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts

Agree (15) | Disagree (16)

In traffic speed analysis, the mean speed is a reliable indicator of the speed at or around which the majority of motorists drive (in free-flowing conditions) and the DfT’s reasonable presumption is that the majority of motorists are therefore perceiving that particular speed to be the ‘right’ speed or appropriate speed i.e. making reasonable progress balanced with a reasonable safety margin, largely influenced by the physical characteristics of the road. This could only be a valid consideration however, where the mean speed is significantly below the road’s current posted speed limit i.e. where the motorists have a free-choice. There are actually a huge number of roads where this is the case – again, because of the roads’ physical characteristics. I suppose this then begs the question - why lower these particular limits if the actual speeds will be unaffected anyway?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (3)

Dave is spot on.

"Local councils should set speed limits based on ... the views of the community."

Absolutely not. The community rarely have any idea of the [likely] effects of road safety policies. The costs and benefits will propogate the confusion between costs and values.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (15) | Disagree (19)

This guidance comes after £millions have already been spent on many waves of speed limit reductions and is contradictory. The opening statement is excellent:

p3 "Speed limits should be evidence-led and self-explaining and seek to reinforce people's assessment of what is a safe speed to travel. They should encourage self-compliance. Speed limits should be seen by drivers as the maximum rather than a target speed."

But the guidance then completely contradicts the above:

p12 "mean speeds should be used as the basis for determining local speed limits"

Setting speed limits at the mean would result in the safe driving of greater than 50% (probably around 85%) of motorists being illegal. This risks bringing the law into further disrepute and could potentially result in more people dead or seriously injured.

Reductions (or increases) in speed limits should be tested in scientific trials rather than the current system of good intentions.
Dave, Slough

Agree (13) | Disagree (12)