Speeding towards a decision?

By - Friday 31st March, 2017

The 20mph speed limit – does it actually save lives?

Photo public domain.

There are lots of arguments for and against introducing 20mph speed limits and those who want it and don’t want it are undeniably passionate in equal measure. There is, however, a recent development that really has put the cat among the pigeons – Manchester City Council says that it doesn’t work.

Manchester should know all about this, as it was one of the first councils in the country to introduce the blanket 20mph policy back in 2012. It had the same huge debates that we are now having in Croydon, and it chose to implement it – much like our Labour council has.

The main argument championed by those in favour of 20mph is that any accident caused by a collision is less severe and therefore less likely to end in loss of life. This is completely correct and not something that anyone is arguing against. But here’s where Manchester’s intervention in this debate becomes interesting. It found that, whilst the accident rate indeed was dropping overall, the rate that accidents were reducing was lower in the supposedly safer 20mph zones. Which begs the question: why? Is it because drivers were so busy looking at their speedometers to ensure that they didn’t break the speed limit that they were less observant of their surroundings? Or was it because pedestrians and cyclists felt safer and so were less cautious when crossing the road? The reasons haven’t been given – but the result is nevertheless extremely disappointing.

Only one person has been convicted of speeding

Manchester’s five years running this policy also revealed that the average drop in speed as a result of changing roads from 30 to 20mph has actually only been 0.7mph – not the 10mph+ that many were hoping for and claiming would occur as a result of this policy. Much like in Croydon, Manchester’s congested roads don’t often allow for 30mph to be achieved in any case, but even more curious has been Greater Manchester Police stating that only one person has been convicted of speeding in a 20mph zone. One person in five years. Enforcing the speed limit shift is one thing in Croydon that has caused the most controversy, not only from residents but straight from the Borough Commander himself. Chief Superintendent Jeff Boothe has publicly stated in no fewer than four public meetings that he has no additional resource to police the Croydon Council’s scheme. At the time of writing, Chief Superintendent Boothe hasn’t met the Labour Cabinet Member, Councillor Stuart King, to discuss it. How can this be the right way to run our borough?

Without enforcement, the 20mph zones policy sadly won’t work. Road watch pilots are all well and good in small areas, such as outside of schools, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference to those who want to drive over 20mph. As evidenced in Manchester, without enforcement it cannot have the beneficial impact that many of its supporters would like to see. Put simply: residents feel that it is unfair and unnecessary. They feel that their journey is always the most important and that it’s up to everyone else to slow down. This is wrong, and we must champion policies that will genuinely change poor behaviour, not just stick up a few signs with no enforcement backup and hope for the best.

If Croydon Council were serious about this policy, it would launch a proper, fair and equal consultation across the borough. It hasn’t. If the council were serious about this policy, it would have spoken to the local police about the feasibility of enforcement. It hasn’t. If the council were serious about making the policy work, it would have consulted with colleagues already implementing it in places like Manchester to improve on boroughs where it’s already implemented. It hasn’t. If the council were serious about enforcing the 20mph limit, then it would increase the number of council staff working in enforcement. It would patrol more around our schools and on roads used by the most vulnerable. It hasn’t.

Where is the evidence-based policymaking that our residents deserve?

We will have to wait and see whether Croydon’s huge investment in new road signs pays off, though the council has already admitted that other traffic-calming measures (such as better crossing points) won’t be installed. Unlike Croydon, Manchester has divided its money between rolling out the 20mph and funding alternative road safety schemes. In this way, there is flexibility and a proper evaluation that can take place. Why won’t Croydon slow the process down and evaluate the success of the policy in the areas of the borough where it’s already implemented? Why spend nearly £1 million of taxpayers’ money on a scheme that might not be working yet? Where is the evidence-based policymaking that our residents deserve?

This is a policy that if done right could save lives. This is a policy that could positively alter the behaviour of poorly behaving drivers permanently. At the moment I worry that – just like in Manchester – despite the best intentions it simply won’t work. Isn’t that the biggest tragedy?

Sara Bashford

Sara Bashford

Sara Bashford is the Deputy Leader of the Croydon Conservative Group and the opposition spokesperson for Transport and the Environment. She also works for Gavin Barwell MP as his Senior Caseworker. Sara has lived in Croydon nearly all of her life and has two grown up children. When not involved in politics she likes all things food an drink.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article.