20mph speed limits need to be enforced
The Reducer - Image credit: City of Edinburgh Council
A few weeks ago 20mph speed limits were discussed in the Scottish Parliament, including the question of whether a new default national limit of 20mph should be set for residential areas across the country.
Councils would then decide that certain roads should be excluded from the 20mph default limit rather than setting up 20mph zones on an ad-hoc basis.
Introducing his motion on road safety, Green MSP Mark Ruskell praised an initiative at Bridge of Allan Primary School where children interviewed speeding drivers outside the school along with the police.
“That is an empowering step up from the Tufty Club of the 1970s, when children were advised to hold mother’s hand—rather than a speed gun—when stepping out of the house,” he said.
Derek Mackay: 'I’ll be supportive of 20mph zones but it’s for local authorities to act'
Environmental groups question direction of Scottish Government transport policy
A journey to clean air - a roundtable discussion on air pollution
It reminded me of my early days of primary school, where I was allowed to walk home alone, but not to cross the road we lived on. I had to stand on the pavement opposite our house and call for my mum. It wasn’t quite the 1970s, but I do remember the Tufty Club.
As Ruskell says, things have moved on a great deal since then, particularly in terms of speed limits around schools and in residential streets.
It’s two months since a speed limit of 20mph was introduced in parts of central Edinburgh, with a gradual rollout to other residential areas across the city by January 2018, making Edinburgh the first in Scotland to implement such a city-wide limit.
This is good news, with evidence from both other parts of the UK and abroad suggesting that 20mph limits decrease accidents and reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities where accidents do occur.
At 30mph, there is a 20 per cent chance of an accident being fatal, while at 20mph, this falls to less than three per cent. In Brighton, where I used to live, the figures for the first year and a half of the initial rollout of a 20mph limit showed a 17 per cent drop in collisions and a 15 per cent drop in casualties.
The challenge, though, is for this new lower limit to become the norm. Simply having a lower speed limit does not make our streets safer if it is regularly broken.
Indeed, it may make it harder for pedestrians to judge speed, with vehicles going at anything between 20 and 40mph on the same road.
I live and work within the 20mph central Edinburgh zone and have seen little sign of drivers reducing their speed or of the new limit being enforced. Indeed, as I write this in the Holyrood office, cars are racing past the window at what looks like well above the speed limit.
When the rollout was announced in January last year, City of Edinburgh Council transport convener Lesley Hinds said: "Police Scotland will continue to enforce legal speed limits right across the capital and anyone caught flouting the 20mph limit will face warnings or speeding fines.”
So far I have seen little evidence of this. Driving at 30mph is still the standard, even within the 20mph zone.
The piecemeal rollout, with just a part of central Edinburgh and some suburbs included, and onlya few small signs as a reminder once you are in the zone, some drivers may not even be aware of it. However, ignorance is no plea bargain in law.
Awareness may increase as the new limit is rolled out across more of the city, but it will still need to be enforced.
And that is where the issue lies. It’s is not enough to roll out more zones, whether these are decided by councils or a new national speed limit for residential areas set by the Scottish Government, money needs to be allocated to enforcement, either for more policing or for street furniture that forces drivers to slow down.
And in these days of straitened budgets all round, there lies the real limit.
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe