Road Safety News

Some roads ‘more dangerous’ as a result of 20mph limits

Thursday 25th August 2016

The ‘blanket’ 20mph speed limit in Tower Hamlets has made some roads more dangerous, according to a councillor in the borough. (The Wharf)

Cllr Andrew Wood has questioned whether the limit has benefited road safety and called for a referendum to be held when the 18-month trial concludes in October.

He points to a survey of 427 residents in which more than half of respondents believed the borough’s roads had become more dangerous.

The 20mph speed limit was introduced in April 2015 onto all the roads controlled by the council, initially on an 18-month trial basis.

Cllr Wood says that not all drivers are obeying the limits, which leads to more overtaking, in turn increasing the risks for all road users. He has also questioned whether police cars and buses are sticking to the limit.

Cllr Wood told The Wharf: “Most residential roads should clearly be 20mph but all roads including A roads? I have followed buses and police cars driving at 30mph even though speed cameras are now issuing tickets at 28mph.

“Residents have sent me videos of dangerous overtaking, including by council vehicles.”

Cllr Wood also points to the results of a Tower Hamlets Council survey, in which 53% of the 900 respondents disagreed with the speed restriction.

He added: “There is a clear indication that many residents do not think it has made the roads safer and that, like other parts of the UK, we should settle the issue through a referendum.

“The council originally said before it introduced the ban that successful 20mph zones and 20mph speed limits should be self-enforcing.

“How can a ban be self-enforcing when so many people do not agree it has made the roads safer? It also means ambulances drive more slowly on emergency response as they cannot legally drive more than twice the speed limit on any road.”

Cllr Wood adds that he does support the use of 20mph limits on a vast majority of the roads in the borough.

He said: “I support the 20mph speed ban on the vast majority of roads in Tower Hamlets but I worry that on its own that it won’t improve road safety but that once it is made permanent that more effective safety tools will be ignored.”

Photo via Tower Hamlets Council



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I note that on 6th September the cabinet of Tower Hamlets approved making the traffic order permanent.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (0) | Disagree (1)

Anecdotal comments indicate that many drivers pay much less attention to the task of driving when driving in a 20mph zone. So whilst 20mph might be a theoretically safer speed these drivers are not safer because they are paying less attention. A pedestrian often does not know whether the driver approaching them is alert or not unless they actively try to make eye contact before stepping out into the road. That skill in looking seems to be largely absent these days.
Guzzi, Newport

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

One of the main driving points (no pun intended) of 'forcing' lower speeds via speed limits in urban areas, is that drivers will have more time to see and therefore react/avoid, those pedestrians who are not paying attention and do step out. Makes sense.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (2)

I like your self imposed limit Pat - other readers please take note and (hopefully) follow suit!
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (3) | Disagree (2)

Hi Rod
It is an opinion expressed in balance to an opinion expressed by an earlier contributor. I have formed my opinion through talking to all ages of road users as part of the day job, not by just reading reports. The general perception seems to be that people think 20mph speed limit areas are safer but if the area had zero casualties before, that perception is hard to prove or disprove. I have also had comments to the effect that as people think it is safer they tend to presume it is actually safer and that can lead to complacency and lack of attention when crossing roads.

We know that pedestrian inattention is a major factor in collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. Here is a quote and URL for you to follow up on.

Road Safety Analysis report Stepping Out 2013
"More than three-quarters of collisions involving a pedestrian casualty (78%) have one or more contributory factor assigned to the pedestrian themselves. Of these factors, 3/5ths are due to the pedestrian failing to look properly."

I did contact Jane Robinson at Atkins back in April to ask if ‘inattention’ would be covered in their study as well as ‘awareness of 20mph speed limits’ and they replied saying they would explore it. We await the final Atkins report.

This is my third post on this article, so I have reached my self-imposed limit.
Pat, Wales

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)

Having looked at several studies on factors influencing pedestrian safety I am not aware of any evidence of pedestrians determining the levels of care taken according to the speed limit rather than the speed and volume of approaching cars. If you do then it would be useful if you could share it and the source document URL.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

Referring to Pat's earlier comment re-officers' motivation and members' motivation for considering '20' zones, it is possible that the members are looking beyond KSI figures and thinking of the bigger picture and looking to create other benefits to the community and environment which can be brought about through lower speeds and a more considerate attitude from motorists. The traffic officers' remit may not necessarily oblige them to consider these.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

One could also make the opposite comment:
What we are seeing here is that, with the 20mph speed limit in place, some pedestrians assume that it is safer and therefore take less care. Without appropriate speed reducing engineering features and/or a good level of police enforcement, many drivers do not comply with the law and continue to drive at higher speeds. The combination of non-compliant drivers and pedestrians (& cyclists) lower levels of attention can make the road more dangerous for them.
Pat, Wales

Agree (13) | Disagree (3)

I think that what we are seeing here is that, with the 20mph speed limit in place, the road has become safer and the few drivers who are flouting the limit become more obvious. A community speedwatch scheme would be a better way of dealing with this
Simon Geller

Agree (9) | Disagree (13)


Indeed. For any speed limit, compliance will depend on the level of enforcement. But there is a huge difference between no enforcement and some enforcement. Police authorities around the country are enforcing 20mph limits in ways which are visible, often community based and endorsing what the community has decided through their Traffic Authority.

We have suggested to Atkins that in their research on 20mph limits that they should look to see the factors which effect compliance. These go beyond enforcement and include whether there is cross party support.

One of the issues in local authorities is that whilst their responsibilities go far beyond KSI's to include public health, independent and economic mobility, etc. These may not be mirrored in the agencies such as the police who may feel that some of these are outside their remit. That is why multi-agency collaboration is so important in maximising compliance.
Rod King,Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (10) | Disagree (4)

Cllr Wood says that in order to obtain “evidence” he created a survey to solicit resident views. However, by heavily marketing this through the Say No to 20mph campaign in LBTH he automatically skewed any responses so that they would not reflect resident opinion. The degree of how unrepresentative his survey is can be seen in the fact that whilst (according to the 2011 census) just 37% of all households in LBTH have a car or a van in the household, in his survey 89% of respondents use the roads as a car driver.

He claims that the 20mph limit has shown that whilst many drivers are complying, some are driving faster and dangerously. It would be unreasonable for the council to base any speed limit on the illegal actions of such a class of driver. He, the council, police and other local agencies should be working to reduce the illegal speeders who create the danger, particularly to pedestrians and cyclists. Interestingly even his own survey indicated that only 37% of respondents opposed greater enforcement.

All over the UK 20mph limits are being set for most urban roads and now the majority of the largest urban authorities take such an approach. Wherever they have been piloted then they have been followed by wider implementation on the evidence of increased safety. Whilst there will always be “teething issues” elected representatives should be working together to maximise their success and hence I would encourage Cllr Wood to take a more collaborate and constructive approach to supporting 20mph limits and making Tower Hamlet roads a better and fairer place for all.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (10) | Disagree (15)

The details of how 20mph speed limits operate in practice at local level are important to assess and learn from. It is instructive to see just how little police enforcement is available.
David Davies, London

Agree (18) | Disagree (0)

Some highways schemes are introduced by highways officers simply as a result of evidence based decisions to reduce road casualties. At the other end, some highways schemes are implemented by highways officers as directed by elected members (councillors). I would like to have been a fly on the wall when the details of this blanket 20mph scheme were being discussed.
Pat, Wales

Agree (21) | Disagree (3)

Slower speeds require self policing. Anti-social drivers who consider very little about their community will continue to drive at excess speed. If ALL considerable drivers drive within the permitted limits the anti-social drivers will stand out more, giving the police more chance of enforcing the safer 20 MPH limit.
Gordon Finlay, Co. Down N.I.

Agree (13) | Disagree (15)

In response to Rod King 20 plenty for us

The Met Police originally said they would not enforce the 20mph speed limit test ban in Tower Hamlets. In this year’s budget Tower Hamlets Council cut their contribution to the local police by £270k. I opposed that and demonstrated that we could increase police contributions but that was voted down. The result is that the Isle of Dogs with around 40,000 people only has one local police sergeant now. The police have now done two police speed stop operations in the last 16 months in the area, I attended both. They only stopped cars over 30mph, issued verbal warnings but only issued tickets to those over 40mph (the last stop nobody was trained to issue tickets so no tickets issued). They did not think they could enforce between 20mph & 30mph. The police only have access to 2 portable speed camera guns in TH, there are 43,000 car and van drivers living in the Borough.

I would agree in retrospect that Q8 was a leading question but I disagree that the other questions are leading (& the Council’s own survey suggests I am on the right track), I am genuinely curious about what my residents think, the majority of whom do not have cars. It would be political suicide for me given how close the votes are here to do otherwise. Decide for yourself here it is
Andrew Wood Isle of Dogs London

Agree (23) | Disagree (10)

I am the Councillor for Canary Wharf ward quoted in the articles above. Tower Hamlets Council in May 2016 started a survey on the efficacy of a 20mph blanket speed ban test which had been introduced by Mayor Lutfur Rahman, which started in April 2015 just as he was being removed from office. The police at the time said they would not enforce it but about 1/2 million was spent on signage etc. All Council roads including A roads are now 20mph and the test is due to end this October.

The Council survey ended June 20th but is still open. In July I asked the Council for the results of their survey. They did not answer my question but did quote some statistics on a huge reduction in collisions and injuries circa 50% decline as well as a 1.5 mph reduction in average speed from 18mph to 17mph. But as a regular road user (driver, cyclist & pedestrian) I had noticed some people driving more slowly but some continuing to drive at dangerous speeds. I also noticed more dangerous over taking on A-roads, we also in my area had two young people killed in a car accident where speed was a factor.

Since the Council would not share the survey results I decided to set up my own survey curious about the results. This is after many conversations online and in person about road safety locally. I advertised it widely on numerous FB groups (I also paid FB £20 to advertise it more widely), by email, Twitter and then through two local newspapers, the survey is still open but the articles quote the initial response. It started in early August. Subsequently the Council sent me this “900 replies and overall showed 40% support for the limit compared to 53% disagreeing with it.” There were six questions in total on the survey but they only provided me with the answer to one question. I also asked for the evidence behind the quoted fall in collisions I was told “The remaining information on collisions that you have requested is currently under review and will be available when the Cabinet report is published this month” so they quoted detailed statistics in a Council meeting even though they are still under review.

For the record I support a 20mph speed zone in the majority of roads and have previously said probably 95% of roads should be 20mph but not every road. The reason is I have two great fears. One we start copying other countries in not obeying our laws because we do not believe in them. Most people are exceeding 20mph on the A-roads in my area, I have followed buses and police vehicles driving at 30mph. The fact that it was Lutfur Rahmans last decision before he was stripped of office and the fact that road safety has never been debated in Council meetings reduces the democratic legitimacy of such a change. 20mph to work have to be self-enforcing as the Council themselves said. The second fear is that the blanket ban will be made permanent and that is the end of the process to improve road safety rather than a start. I have much greater dangers in my area that have not been resolved like no safe pedestrian crossing on main roads, no school warning signs near schools, no speed cameras on large sections of roads, very few CCTV cameras in the area, no dedicated cycle paths, no cycle safe boxes at junctions not even much in the way of cycle parking, closing pavements for construction work forcing people onto roads. Tower Hamlets Council loves gesture politics like a blanket speed ban but won’t do the hard work of working out what is required to actually improve road safety.
Andrew Wood Isle of Dogs London

Agree (23) | Disagree (8)

I am not surprised that Councillor Wood points to a survey of residents. After all it was a survey which he wrote and set up independently from the council. This was then heavily promoted in an anti-20mph facebook page that had been set up with 680 members added by several key people just two months ago. The survey was also featured in his own newsletter where he asked several leading questions. I am all for councillors conducting surveys, but if they are to be useful then maybe its better to declare that they may be subject to bias due to the selection of people invited to respond and take this into account when discussing the survey.

Interestingly the survey showed that 66% of respondents said they felt that some or all drivers are driving more slowly. And 46% favoured greater police enforcement with only 37% opposing it. Maybe in view of this Cllr Wood would help more by calling for greater enforcement to stop people acting illegally on Tower Hamlet streets.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (15) | Disagree (16)

I find this astonishing that anecdotal evidence and opinions can be used in an article whereas looking at actual reported incidents on I can do an areas search around Tower Hamlets Cemetery showing 49 KSIs in 2014 and only 36 KSIs in 2015. Given that the 20mph speed limit has, on average, reduced the speed of most drivers, outlier drivers prepared to break the speed limit are now more noticeable. Please can we at least use evidence based approaches when evaluating these schemes. Cllr Wood should know better.
Adam Reynolds, Bath

Agree (25) | Disagree (6)

Strictly speaking, it's not a particular speed limit that makes a road 'more dangerous', it's some of the motorists behaviour, when using the said roads, which makes them 'dangerous.' Only when more motorists exercise more self-restraint and self-discipline on these roads, will we see a benefit.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (27) | Disagree (9)