Road Safety News

ABD voices ‘concern’ over Bill to give speed limit powers to councils

Tuesday 26th January 2016

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) is ‘deeply concerned’ about a Bill which would give powers to parish and town councils to hold localised referenda to set speed limits.

The Speed Limits on Roads (Devolved Powers) Bill, sponsored by Scott Mann MP (North Cornwall), will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 5 February.

This Bill was introduced to Parliament on 18 November 2015 by the Conservative MP under the Ten Minute Rule and looks to amend Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and the Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996.

It aims to make provision about the powers and duties of parish and town councils in relation to applying for speed limit orders, and provide for the conduct of local referendums to determine whether such applications should be made.

The ABD has published seven reasons* outlining its opposition to the Bill.

Ian Taylor, ABD director, said: “This is localism carried too far. Traffic speeds would be dictated by the whim of residents and other users of the roads - with those visiting, servicing or passing through not getting a say.  

“For speed limits to work and get acceptance (and compliance) from the majority of drivers, they need to (be) set correctly to achieve a level of consistency on the same types of roads everywhere.  That is a job for experts, not the votes of amateurs, who would doubtless be egged on by those lobby groups who campaign for speeds to come down nearly to walking pace.  

“This would become hell for drivers, at the hands of those who think they "own their streets" and have no concept of the point of a public highway network.”

It it passes through the second reading, the Bill would then need to gain approval at committee stage, report stage and pass a third reading, before going through the same process in the House of Lords.

*Seven reasons why the ABD opposes the Bill:

  1. Parish councils already have ability to lobby highways authorities on speed limits as do individuals.

  2. Highways authorities have legal responsibility to maintain a safe and efficient network and set speed limits that promote safety without unnecessarily increasing journey times.  

  3. Speed limits affect drivers all drivers visiting or passing through, not just residents. There needs to be reasonable consistency between limits on similar types of road in different areas to avoid confusion.  

  4. Changing speed limits does not guarantee a change in actual speeds; a change (up or down) rarely leads to a change in measured speeds of more than 25% of the change, often less.

  5. Reduced speed does not guarantee reduction in accidents; slower is not necessarily safer.  Limits set too low create driver conflict and increase speed variance, which is more highly correlated with accident risk than average speed.  

  6. Residents frequently exaggerate (sometimes grossly) the speeds of vehicles on "their" roads.  Speed limit changes should never be considered on the basis of residents' claims alone; there must be objective speed surveys.  

  7. Comparing accident numbers on 20 mph and 30 mph roads (as Steve Mann MP, the Bill's promoter has done) without taking into account the vastly greater number of 30 mph roads is nonsense - the only valid comparison is the rates per vehicle mile, which are not currently available by speed limit.



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I can understand that perspective. However, there are legal requirements for public authorities to make reasonable decisions. On 20mph limits I have seen where guidance has been misrepresented and hence members misinformed before making adverse decisions on speed limits. If I can quote from one shire county councillor’s email sent to a community just this week saying:-
“ If the average speed is above 24mph then national guidance states that to introduce a 20mph zone substantial traffic calming measures would be required.”
The councillor said these were “facts stated by highways”. But this is simply not a true statement of the guidance. What the guidance says is about the average speed on the roads and also says that other measures may be used/required to obtain compliance. It does not mention “substantial traffic calming measures”!
Now if a council decides that it should keep a 30mph limit, even though its location and needs of vulnerable road users indicate that 20 is appropriate, purely because it has been misinformed and did not want to put in “substantial traffic calming” then was this reasonable? And what culpability is there for any subsequent casualty with vehicles driven between 20 and 30mph?
I accept that it may be difficult, and budgets are tight, so maybe that’s why we need to get the widest return on the capital available. And 20’s Plenty delivers that across a very wide spectrum of council aspirations.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

Rod, Adrian, good responses well-made and I would reiterate that I do agree with the premise of 20’s plenty. However, the Road Traffic Act imposes a duty on council’s to investigate accidents and take appropriate action where necessary. Changes to the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 and the introduction of the Police Roads Death Manual in the same year has made it even more important for councils to priorities on a worst first basis.

I have no doubt that spending our £100,000 with support funding as Rod describes would have significant benefits. BUT, should a fatal occur on our bend then the council and its staff would have some very difficult questions to answer. Particularly if the bend had a history of crashes. From past experience the police investigation that follows isn’t tea and biscuits and a friendly chat. It can potentially lead to serious criminal charges being made against the council and individual members of staff.

Perhaps Pat is correct and a seed change is required. I am sure road safety professionals would welcome changes to the law and better guidance on how their limited funds are spent. Any advice on how that could be achieved would certainly be welcome.
Steve Harrison

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Hi Rod
Until those in Government who actually set the road safety budgets and grant assessment criteria move away from road casualty reduction as the primary measure of "money well spent", not much is likely to change in the world of road safety financing. So, as is often the case, it is the purse string holders more than RSOs that need come to the conference. To be fair, there are other funding sources but road safety funding is still extremely heavily geared to measurable road casualty reduction.
Pat, Wales

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

Steve is right. There is limited funding and it is important that we maximise the return on any capital expenditure. Lets take a £100,000 and spend it.

You could take a rural bend with a history of cars running off it and change the geometry so that vehicles could go through it more safely at the same speed. Let's put aside the possibility that this would enable drivers to risk compensate and just drive through the bend faster. This £100,000 could make a marginal change to the county's KSI record.

Let’s look at using that same £100,000 for wide-area 20mph limits. It could be topped up by £50,000 from public health budgets and another £50,000 from a development fund. Maybe another £50,000 from a sustainability grant from the government. For that a wide-area 20mph limit that can be given to 50,000 people in a small town with money for adequate engagement. These additional funds are based on the far wider benefits including lower casualties, lower noise, fewer emissions, better active travel and fairer use of roads (especially for families without motor vehicles) that set a foundation for better public health with huge potential for consequent NHS savings.

I would encourage Road Safety Officers to come to our conference in London on Feb 26th and hear the evidence on 20mph benefits. There is a 40% early bird discount before 10th Feb. See
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Steve, given a straight choice between the two (fire vs. cat), the answer is obvious. However, it's a false dichotomy. First, we are ignoring the multitude of people who die young or are infirm (physically or mentally) because of inactivity. Focussing on lower speed limits in towns can help that positively, by enabling people to use the streets. Secondly, even within the pure road safety debate, we need to consider three things: (1) it's about prioritising road safety ABOVE other road spending, not between different aspects of safety - a speed limit of 20 mph throughout the UK in residential areas and town/village centres would cost...maybe £150m, or less if the government made the default speed 20mph rather than 30 mph..about the price of 5 miles of dual carriageway! (2) my personal experience of becoming converted to 20 mph in towns is that I drive slower in general. I suspect that is the case with many other people. (3) the trend in KSI for car occupants is dramatically down in recent years; the same trend for pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists is not so pronounced. I think, therefore, we need to do more for those groups.
Adrian, 20s Plenty for Kent

Agree (5) | Disagree (4)

It's too easy to say "there are other issues with a higher priority than 20mph". There are always higher priority issues that excuse the withholding of funding for important local concerns.

As a resident I'm concerned about the collapse in numbers walking to school, and the resulting explosion in childhood inactivity and obesity. I'm also keen to see a reduction of KSIs on rural roads.

I don't want to have the two issues placed in a balance where the immediate carnage of road crashes eclipses the long term carnage of the collapse in active travel.

Both issues deserve attention, and if local people give them similar priority, councils need to review the way their narrowly-defined, target-driven funding allocations distort the decision-making process in a way that doesn't truly reflect local concerns.
Paul Holdsworth, Kendal

Agree (4) | Disagree (4)

Adrian, just to clarify my position. I fully support a paradigm shift and that 20 is plenty in our urban environment. I am passionate about reducing the number of crashes on our roads. My concern is that with limited funding shouldn't we spend this as effectively as we can? Do we want casualty reduction or simply want to provide measures because the perceived risk is higher than the actual risk? A private company stands or falls by decisions made by its executives. A local council is different in as much as decisions are made by people elected from the general public. These decisions can be influenced by local opinion (localism). If we treat locations where the actual risk is higher than the perceived risk we will reduce the crash rate, (better value for money). If this means a 20 zone then that's fine. We have locations where crash risk (particularly rural fatals) could significantly be reduced by improving skid resistance providing better bend geometry or simplifying layouts. Should these be treated first? I for one wouldn't want to be trapped in a burning building waiting for the fire service to rescue me only to find that they had stopped to get a cat out of a tree because this was now local policy.
Steve Harrison - North Lincolnshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

One of the keys I think is to understand the difference between the widely used term “the Council” and the highways and transportation sections of the Council. There may be health and wellbeing benefits in wider use of 20mph speed limits in some residential areas with appropriate engineering measures in place, however who is going to pay for them? It is unlikely to be funded by the highways and transportation departments as these are frequently required to justify any financial expenditure by measuring outcomes in terms of lowering the numbers of personal injury road casualties. No casualty reduction expectation simply equals no grants for the work. So, come on other parts of “the Council” in the midst of job cuts, funding cuts, service reduction, prioritising education and social/well-being services, etc, why not cough up a few million £££ for 20mph speed limits in areas where there are no/very few recorded personal injury collisions? It might be what (some of) the public may want but which Councillors are going to justify financial spend in the common scenario described above. I hope none of my Council tax will be spent on area-wide 20mph speed limits without a thorough public debate that includes scrutiny, affordability and prioritisation across the whole of the public service spend spectrum.
Pat, Wales

Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

I'm not convinced this is a great idea, nor that it is actually needed, however, that aside, if the idea of the smaller parochial Councils having greater powers via referenda with regard to speed limits is acceptable in principle and ultimately approved, why should it be limited to just one specific traffic matter? Why not a 'catch-all' Bill to include other local traffic management issues? Weight restrictions, parking restrictions, one-way orders etc. all are all just as relevant and of concern to locals and their representatives. The instigator(s) of this Bill may have missed a trick here, especially considering all the effort it must have taken to get it this far.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

Steve, North Lincolnshire is right to raise the questions of using budgets wisely. Here in Kent it seems to me that there is always money for schemes that are intended to speed up traffic (but which result in increased congestion). Budget constraint reasons are only ever used if there is a road safety proposal, such as a pedestrian crossing, reduced speed limits, etc. It's worth reading John Whitelegg's book on shifting our mobility paradigm to an accessibility paradigm.
Adrian, 20s Plenty for Kent

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

The ABD underestimates the negative social, environmental and, ultimately, economic impact of cars travelling at inappropriate speeds through residential streets and town/village centres.

Roads are for all users - pedestrians, cyclists, users of mobility scooters - and not just motor traffic. The DfT guidance on this is particularly clear, with traffic authorities charged with the responsibility for considering, in particular, the needs of vulnerable road users. I hope that the ABD will support the belief that everyone is entitled to complete their journey in one piece, however they choose to travel.

ABD objections to local referenda would make sense if the non-metropolitan councils were complying with DfT guidance to introduce 20 mph on more streets. These councils' failure to comply means that pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injuries continue to rise, the vulnerable are discouraged from using the streets and, as a nation, we suffer more obesity as fewer people choose to travel on foot or by bicycle.

Allowing residents a greater say in setting local speed limits is completely understandable in such circumstances. The right answer is for all councils to declare 20 mph as the default speed limit in residential streets and urban/village centres.
Adrian, 20s Plenty for Kent

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

Of course the ABD don't like the idea of 20mph speed limits in streets where people live: ABD motorists do not like having to slow down "unnecessarily", and they have an amazing trust in the capability of the British motorist to always drive at a speed that is safe. They forget that the whole point of speed limits is to reduce crashes when unexpected incidents occur: when the road ahead looks safe and clear but suddenly isn't.

It is a little odd that the ABD ignore the other benefits of 20mph limits in residential streets: lower noise, lower pollution (especially NOx), traffic that flows more freely at junctions, less motor traffic and less congestion. The reduction in danger is of course very welcome, but the other benefits are also in people's minds when they request 20mph limits where they live.

I'm reassured to note, though, that the ABD now agree that crashes should be measured as a rate per vehicle mile, rather than simply counting crashes on roads of each different speed limit (as some commentators have been known to do in the past!).
Anthony Cartmell, West Sussex

Agree (11) | Disagree (0)

Rod, here in North Lincolnshire the majority of our injury crashes occur on our distributor and major link roads and not on our housing estates. As a road safety professional I do not disagree that lower speed limits are appropriate in certain locations. However, I am concerned that localism is distracting us away from locations where our limited resources should be spent. We should not lose sight of prioritising on a worst first basis. This is one reason why councils resist setting a precedent. It can simply redirect resources away from higher risk sites where our resources would have greater benefits for all. Drivers have families too, having lost members of my family in separate crashes I can assure you that the impact is no less dramatic. Giving more power to those who have no experience in road safety engineering could cost lives. Drivers may be less vulnerable than pedestrians but are equally as important.
Steve Harrison - North Lincolnshire

Agree (13) | Disagree (4)

I Stavert (from Gloucester...) I've lived in Kendal for many years and you're quite wrong to suggest you can't do over 20mph in town - inappropriate speed is a very real concern on many roads in town, including Aynam Road, Parkside Road, Valley Drive, Windermere Road, Beast Banks and many more.

Congestion? You seem to think 20's Plenty is always and only about safety. In Kendal, our local group was set up specifically to deal with congestion - it's the only credible suggestion on the table to generate modal shift to walking. We need 5+% modal shift in Kendal to deal with increasing congestion caused by a rising car-dependent population (1000+ new homes being built).
Paul Holdsworth, Kendal

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

Paul Holdsworth: As you well know if you live in Kendal it is not possible to drive over 20mph due to due to CCC's lack of response to congestion - before flood damage exasperated the issue!
I Stavert Gloucester

Agree (4) | Disagree (6)

Sounds as though you praise and congratulate those who agree with your policies and hold everyone else in contempt!
Stephen James, Stoke-on-Trent

Agree (16) | Disagree (13)

I do treat some councils with contempt. It’s one thing to have valid reasons to take account of and not entirely follow guidance. It is another matter altogether where those who the public expect to be fully informed on guidance misrepresent and misquote it in order to manage community expectations. If it is done purposely and institutionally then this could amount to maladministration or professional misconduct. When councils decide policy without adequate and due consideration of their public sector equality duties then this is also illegal.

There certainly are councils who have developed policies such that they will not be implementing wide-area 20mph limits unless under specific criteria which arbitrarily dismiss the needs of vulnerable road users or those with protected characteristics.
Guidance also does not conflate setting the right speed limit with the need to obtain compliance. Nowhere in the guidance does it say that speed limits should be kept high if one particular class of road user (drivers) take the current speed limit (30mph) as an endorsement that this is the right speed to drive based on their possible flawed perception of the risks and danger.

Nowhere do we say that all urban roads should have a 20mph limit. Merely exceptions should be made and be justified. Once the correct speed limit has been determined then compliance may be gained in many ways including innovative engagement, education, light-touch engineering, light-touch enforcement, community speedwatch and staggered parking. But it is wrong when councils baulk at any of these and simply keep a speed limit that does not take account the needs of vulnerable road users.

On the other hand we do praise and congratulate the many councillors, road safety and traffic officers, public health officials, educators and members of the public in the Traffic Authorities who do grasp the nettle and have started to create an urban and village environment that is fairer, safer and less dangerous for all by establishing the consensus and law that 20 is plenty where people live, work, shop and learn.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (16) | Disagree (13)

Rod King is spot on. Up here in Kendal, Cumbria County Council has said precisely what Rod reports, that if it lets Kendal go 20. "everyone will want it". Meanwhile it's our Town Councils making all the running in trying to fulfill local demands for 20 mph, in the teeth of County Council intransigence.
Paul Holdsworth, Kendal

Agree (13) | Disagree (8)

Rod, once again you treat Councils with contempt. It appears Nick's appeal for more objectivity has been neatly filed under "forget". It must be fantastic to be totally unaccountable for what you say.

I don't for one minute think you can evidence that Councils are determined to do nothing or as little as possible. In my experience they seek to prioritise use of their resources to best effect. Councils should always be open to what communities want, and local democracy should prevail. But if there is a creditable case that something is not a priority, pointless, wasteful or downright dangerous it is their responsibility to oppose it. Of course it is possible to make every road a 20mph limit but do not conflate possible with advisable. The whole point about guidance is that it guides you. When will you understand that changing the speed limit does not of itself bring about adherence to the new speed limit, and that people who actually have responsiblity for the outcome of such actions, while they may not agree with you, are motivated by the same desire for public safety as you.
Tim Philpot

Agree (21) | Disagree (14)

I suppose many things have been done in the past in response to the loudest voice. Other things I suppose have been done in adherence to a set criteria (as I remember doing when setting local speed limits in the 1980s). I hope those trusting in the power of referenda in future years find someone to hear their applications.
Steven Cross Leicestershire

Agree (10) | Disagree (1)

I think this bill attempts to address the deep dissatisfaction that there is in many villages, rural communities and small towns with the way that primarily county councils neglect their calls for lower speed limits. Many communities are having their voice ignored by councils attempting to "manage expectations" on setting local speed limits. Often this takes the form of mis-representing guidance. Typical is that "you can't have a 20mph limit on an A or B road”, or that "a road with a current average speed above 24mph cannot have a 20mph limit". Both of these are untrue yet have become the mantra of councils determined to do nothing or as little as possible. Often because "if we do it for your community then it will be demanded across the county". A statement which demonstrates an understanding of the demand but a misunderstanding of the responsibility to set local speed limits responsibly. See

Some counties are however setting the precedent that 20mph limits can be afforded and delivered. Such as Lancashire, Sefton, Bath & North East Somerset, Cheshire West and Chester, others and many unitary authorities with outlying villages. What communities really need is a step change in the attitude of some councils who seem to view speeds only from behind a steering wheel rather than from behind a pram, buggy or handlebars.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (27) | Disagree (16)

Comments on the proposal to give powers to parish and town councils to hold localised referenda to set speed limits was also touched on in this forum in November - see;
Pat, Wales

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)