Road Safety News

ADI speaks out about wide-area 20mph zones

Monday 11th April 2016

Blanket 20mph zones are “putting lives at risk”, according to Tony Phillips of the Motor Schools Association (MSA) of Great Britain.

In an article in the MSA’s membership magazine ‘Newslink’, Mr Phillips, secretary of the MSA Greater London region, says he understands the need for 20mph zones and “to a large extent” agrees with them.

However, he then goes on to talk of the problems faced by driving instructors when taking lessons on “free-flowing main roads” where the limit is 20mph.

Mr Phillips says: “For me, the problem is that there are many roads within these zones that are free flowing main roads and don’t seem to have had many serious collisions, although I’m certainly not privy to that type of information.

“Because of this traffic speeds haven’t really slowed down that much and accordingly the people that tend to be most at risk are us ADIs, especially when we’re conducting learner lessons.

“We can’t just tell clients not to obey the speed limit and go with the flow so because of this we’re becoming victims of very aggressive and dangerous driving behaviour from other motorists.”

He points to an example of when his wife (an ADI) was overtaken “dangerously” by a bus on a two-way road which then “immediately cut her up to stop at a bus stop”.

As a result of his experiences and views, Mr Phillips says he is starting a campaign in his local borough of Lambeth, where a 20mph limit has now been imposed.

He said: “Typically, all they’ve (Lambeth Council) done is stuck up speed limit signs and guess what? Local motorists are generally ignoring them - or more to the point, most likely haven’t seen them.”

In response, Rod King, founder of 20's Plenty for Us, described Mr Phillips' views as "car centric".

Rod King said: "With Tony Phillips spending his days trying to protect novice drivers, who are learning how to drive to an acceptable level to pass their test, from errant drivers, who clearly drive in a manner to fail their test, then maybe he should be forgiven for such a car-centric view.

"However his contention that, even with two sets of eyes and ears, dual control and the benefits of wrapping themselves in a ton of steel, ADIs are most at risk on the roads is not credible. 

"Society places the responsibility for setting speed limits on our elected representatives who take into account the needs of all road users and see pedestrians and cyclists as far more vulnerable than ADIs.
"Maybe he should campaign for better driving standards and more policing rather than asking for limits to be set based on the whims of non-compliant and errant drivers.”



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It seems that we need to remind ourselves of the objective here. Is it to have 20 mph speed limits everywhere or is it to have safe and community-friendly urban roads?

The reason I say that is because it seems to me that some contributors here are assuming that speed limits alone can make any difference at all. My reading of the evidence suggests that speed limit signs alone make no difference whatsoever. In fact, even the speed limit element in "20 mph zones" is redundant because it is only the mandatory "traffic calming" element that makes any difference to traffic speeds.

Perhaps we should be looking at measures that work rather than at speed limits?
Charles, England

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

"The unprecedented rising annual toll of KSI numbers across the country" Really ? I don't think so. Evidence please
Roger Harding

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

Hugh is quite right to differentiate between the debate about wide-area 20mph as a default for residential roads and that for 20mph on urban main roads.

For the former there is actually strong support from DfT and most motoring organisations. In fact DfT has been progressively making 20mph implementations easier and cheaper in 2006 (revising thresholds from 85%ile to mean), 2009 (advising 20mph over a wide number of roads), 2011 (relaxing definition of "Traffic Calming Feature" to include repeater signs and roundels), 2013 (new guidance advising 20mph for residential streets and those where motor vehicle movement is not the primary function), 2016 (relaxing repeater signage requirement and impending relaxation of TRO costs).

On urban main roads there is a separate consideration in the guidance which requires many benefits of lower limits to be weighed against any increase in journey time. Often the latter is zero at times when most "vehicle movement" takes place. Indeed by lower limits being a component in making a road network more suitable for modal switch away from motor vehicles then lower limits may actually decrease motor vehicle journey times.

It certainly is a cultural issue and as Malcolm says has overwhelming public support. However, one must ask whether our councillors, police and road safety officers are assisting in that cultural change or resisting by simply wringing their hands and wishing it would go away. There is some evidence that in some local authorities they are using the Atkins reserch as an excuse for not responding to the DfT 2013 "priority for action" of considering the introduction of more 20mph limits and zones. This seems to be an abrogation of their responsibilities on so many road safety, community and public health issues. However, those authorities are becoming increasingly isolated in their stance as more and more of their own communities are saying 20 is plenty where people live, work, learn and shop.
Rod King, Cheshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (13)

Unfortunately this thread is moving away from the original issue i.e. should the urban main-roads also be 20s or remain at 30 and is in danger of becoming just another debate on the overall principle of 20 zones in residential areas.
Hugh Jones

Agree (8) | Disagree (3)

The support of an overwhelming proportion of the population for a 20mph limit where they live is not disputed and represents an undeniable aspiration for the citizen. The problem we face is the difficulty of changing the driving culture to achieve 20mph as the normal speed in 20 mph zones. There is a problem in making a rapid cultural change in that the mechanisms for making the change (Education, Engineering and Enforcement) are not being deployed adequately because of inadequate investment in road safety. This is exacerbated at the moment because of the austerity regime that prioritises growth over well being.

The unprecedented rising annual toll of KSI numbers across the country reinforces the critical need for a change in culture of the acceptable speed that require more 20mph zones supported by more investment in the 3 Es to support it.
malcolm whitmore

Agree (5) | Disagree (8)

Ooops! Given the currently bad reviews I should have also directed readers to my webpage and, in particular, to . For those without sufficient French and German to understand the officer's replies please contact me at and I will provide translations.
Al Gullon, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

Instead of a speed limit that is ignored by most drivers, urban areas should give serious consideration to "shared space" which effectively gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists. see
Al Gullon, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Agree (6) | Disagree (9)

I disagree on local council traffic being the best people as from personal experience working with them planning roads for housing. You would expect these schemes to be ideal for 20mph limits but with required sight lines and bin lorry tracking means that race tracks are designed. They then add traffic calming measures like sleeping police and chicanes which cause noise and emission pollution.

It also worries me all the calls for enforcement, generally people obey sensible laws and speed limits used to be set by an average speed of traffic flow but today, it seems there is only one direction of travel for limits and that is down, with cameras a requirement everywhere possible to make people obey. If these limits had been implemented in a sensible way, like outside schools and smaller roads not on main bus routes and against the natural road hierarchy, they may be more popular and therefore adhered to.
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

Agree (19) | Disagree (9)

I have no doubt that a majority of the public supports 20mph limits - until they get behind the wheel of their cars. I wonder though who taught the drivers who are unwilling/unable to adhere to the 20mph limits?
David, Suffolk

Agree (11) | Disagree (7)

Have I missed something? Why would anyone assume that the DfT are pro blanket 20mph speed limits in town? DfT have issued a lot of guidance so far, so I think the pros and cons of the blanket 20s issue needs to be resolved before they could issue any further guidance.
Guzzi, Newport

Agree (14) | Disagree (2)

As Hugh has commented, local councils Highways/ Traffic departments are THE Highways Authority on local roads. But they really don't need any "help" from DfT. Personally, I think DfT will be happy to take a watching brief to see how things progress and unfold on this very interesting but contentious subject.
Pat, Wales

Agree (6) | Disagree (5)

Let's not get carried away Paul! If anyone has the expertise and resources to manage speed limits it's local Councils' traffic departments (not driving instructors or the police!) - the problem in question is these roads on the fringes of 20 zones which require more thought and to which Councils are seemingly applying different criteria. Possibly better guidance to the Councils from the Dft on this is needed e.g. "include within 20 zones main roads, distributor roads etc. unless such and such applies i.e certain criteria which would make them unsuitable."
Hugh Jones

Agree (10) | Disagree (6)

It seems to me that readers' criticisms should be aimed more at the individual Councils for their inconsistency and seeming unbalanced approach to implementing these schemes, rather than at the individual (Rod) who is and has been promoting the principle of lower speed limits in residential roads.

I agree with Mr Philips' overall view that some roads should have been left at '30' but to say that "..the people that tend to be most at risk are us ADIs" is stretching things a bit. Speeders in residential areas are more likely to harm pedestrians, cyclists etc, in other words, anyone not sitting in a vehicle!
Hugh Jones

Agree (12) | Disagree (4)

Tony Phillips talks sense - he is an ADI so at least has some recognised expertise to base his views on. Any limit that is appropriate for the road layout should be supported, whether it be 30, 20 or 10mph. In my opinion speed limit setting should be taken out of the hands of 'elected politicians' and put back firmly in the hands of a politically neutral Police Service, who have the expertise to decide what is an appropriate limit. Too often the police are lumbered with the task of having to waste their time enforcing against safe driving in limits that are set too low. I remember Warwickshire Police raising over 40 objections to lowered speed limits in 2009, but being ignored by council officers - something seriously wrong with that! Government and decisions by loaded 'surveys' of a fraction of eligible, but mostly unqualified people, is undemocratic. If you have a medical problem - you ask a doctor - you don't do a survey of unqualified people.
Paul Biggs, Staffordshire

Agree (24) | Disagree (13)


I am afraid I have no views on what one "Tony Matthews" may have said. However, on the public support for 20mph limits I can confirm with many sources that this is a majority. The British Social Attitudes Survey showed 73% in favour of 20mph for residential streets. Surveys before and after implementation across the country show majority support before and increased support afterwards. Also take into account that it has been implemented in half of the largest 40 urban authorities and 75% of Inner London Boroughs.

I am not sure what you class as a "tipping point" but I believe that we are justified in our claims that the blanket 30mph limit is compromised to the extent that it should be replaced with a default 20mph with higher exceptions only on those streets where justified.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (12) | Disagree (29)

Rod King suggests "Society places the responsibility for setting speed limits on our elected representatives who take into account the needs of all road users and see pedestrians and cyclists as far more vulnerable than ADIs. The elected representatives of Worthing asked the local society who came down with a resounding No to 20MPH in residential streets.

Some ADIs are also worried that learners who in these zones have more time to evaluate their actions at junctions etc will be at greater risk on dual carriageways and motorways where speeds are higher and decision making time greatly reduced, hence the need for learners to be allowed on these roads. ADIs are qualified, experienced professionals who need our support to ensure all drivers are taught to drive, not pass the test, and they should be listened to as they probably spend more time in our residential streets than the campaigners.

That said, Rod is correct about reducing speed limits in the neighbourhood of schools. Rod is just repeating that which was first raised in 1934 in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Road Safety Among School Childern. "Driving at speed in the neighbourhood of schools or in roads frequented by numbers of children even if there are pavements or footpaths, is a source of grave danger and is one of the marks of an inconsiderate driver."

The report goes on to recommend "When the fixing of speed limits is under consideration the proximity of a school should be taken into consideration." The report goes on to say "As a rule the less serious accidents to children and other pedestrians occur in areas of dense traffic where speeds are necessarily lower."

What Rod is doing is not new nor rocket science. Maybe the elected representatives need to consider 20MPH zones near schools and not the blanket one size fits all approach that is being advocated.
Peter City of Westminster

Agree (24) | Disagree (11)

So Rod considers the view of Tony Matthews comments "car centric". An interesting commentary style for someone representing what is still, in effect, a minority view. The 20mph campaign has gained a lot of ground and many of the schemes are valid (but certainly not all). But they still have a long way to go before the 20s plenty campaign reaches anything like a tipping point to become the majority of the public's opinion.
Pat, Wales

Agree (31) | Disagree (7)

I agree with much of the above. Much more needs to be done to educate, enforce and change behaviour. For the few seconds extra in travelling at 20 the social benefits in reduced emissions, risk of fatality if an accident happens with a pedestrian or cyclist, is in the interest of the whole of society.
Alan in Spennymoor, County Durham

Agree (17) | Disagree (10)

Tony's comments to are very valid. If the only thing councils do is change the speed limit most motorists will ignore them. Without this change driving in London was getting worse anyway. All the campaigning in the world won't unfortunately change people's mindset as most people 'get away with it'. As ADIs we can only teach new drivers to be skilfull and watch out for the many pedestrians who don't look before they walk.
David Ellershaw, London

Agree (17) | Disagree (11)

Some fair points made by this chap and he has highlighted the biggest I think problem Councils have with blanket 20s in residential areas, which is determining which roads to exclude. The available c/way width plays a big part in determining the limit in these situations and it is also what influences the actual driven speeds - (anyone driven around Sefton Park, Liverpool lately? -stick to the posted 20 on the perimiter roads and following traffic sails past you).

His last para is also correct in that too many drivers are not concerned enough to ascertain what the limit actually is and either make assumptions and/or just do what the other drivers do. There's an argument for colouring or suitably marking the c/way surface in 20 limits as a continuous reminder, rather than rely on signage but the cost in doing so I would think would be prohibitive, would have to be nationwide anyway and no doubt subject to TSGD and other Dft directions and legislation.
Hugh Jones

Agree (18) | Disagree (7)