Residential streets face 20mph limits

SCOTTISH drivers face compulsory 20mph speed limits on residential streets, it emerged last night.

The Department for Transport is this week expected to start consulting on new speed limit guidelines across England and Wales and Scotland is expected to follow suit.

The move is designed to slash road fatalities even further, building on the lowest figures for road deaths since records began more than 80 years ago.

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Four English councils have already decided to impose a blanket 20mph speed limit on all their residential roads and near schools.

Scottish councils too have been embracing powers to cut limits on such roads, although none has yet imposed a new blanket limit.

The Department for Transport will expect all councils in England and Wales to follow its guidelines, although ultimately it is up to local authorities to decide what limits to set on what roads.

The Scottish Government, which is responsible for advising councils north of the border, is expected to produce a major new road safety strategy later in the spring.

Scotland on Sunday understands that the Scottish Government will almost certainly follow guidelines set by the DfT, simply adapting them for local circumstances.

Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish transport minister, is said to be a strong supporter of better road safety and has gathered together the nation's top experts to find ways to cut casualties.

SNP insiders last night suggested a new road safety strategy put together by those experts would be likely to consider moves such as new blanket 20mph zones.

A total of 281 people died on Scottish roads in 2007, including nine children. The Scottish Government has a target of cutting the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads by 40% between 1994-1998 and 2011.

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It has already topped that target substantially, with the figure down 45%. It also aimed to halve the number of children who died in accidents in the same period. The figure is down 67% already.

In England and Wales, road deaths are also at an all-time low. The total UK death toll in 2007 was 2,940 people, a drop of 7% from 2006. The number of children killed in the UK fell to a record low of 121.

Ministers, however, are determined to drive them down even further and make sure councils play their part in slowing traffic on residential roads.

Department for Transport insiders yesterday said: "We are trying to get the balance right between motorists and everyone else and this is a way of reminding local authorities that they have got these powers and they should use them.

"It is proven that the 20mph limit does lower the number of accidents and we do not think that anyone should be up in arms about this as it is a sensible idea."

The DfT will set out its guidelines in a consultation document to be published on Tuesday. Jim Fitzpatrick, the Transport Minister, will say it is important that highway authorities look at bringing in 20mph limits on residential roads, including all those near schools. Road safety researchers have long known that people hit at 20mph have a much better chance of survival than those struck at 30mph. Only one in 40 dies at 20mph, compared with one in five at 30mph.

Sources yesterday said that ministers would seek to avoid using cameras to enforce the wider use of 20mph limits, saying they would only annoy drivers rather than encourage them to slow down.

Claire Armstrong, who runs the anti-camera group Safespeed, said the move to Twenty's Plenty was "extremely disturbing". She said: "If you make drivers go at a speed where they are not comfortable, they will be distracted and inattentive and that is what causes accidents. This Government seems obsessed with speed as a prime factor for causing accidents."

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Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, has signalled he opposes the blanket use of speed cameras. The new guidelines are likely to suggest they are focused "in a blanket way". Instead, camera operators will be expected to put new devices in accident blackspots.

The UK Government is desperate not to be seen as anti-motorist, with several of its members looking enthusiastically at ways of helping the automotive industry out of one of the worst crises it has faced.

Some campaigners have called for more cameras – and more focus on the dangers of driving at high speeds outside of towns.

Safety experts in recent years have warned that the worst fatalities in Scotland have been out of towns.

All road traffic regulations, including the Highway Code and vehicle and driving licensing, are reserved to Westminster but most practical measures of road planning, however, are devolved.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Road accidents are at their lowest level in Scotland for more than 50 years. However, we must not be complacent.

"Local authorities already have the power to introduce 20mph speed limits on any road for which they are the roads authority.

"In addition the Scottish Government has taken action by bringing together an expert group of some of the leading thinkers in road safety from across the country to devise a new 10-year road safety framework for Scotland."

Twenty's plenty to kill a pedestrian

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According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, excess speed contributes to 28% of collisions in which someone is killed, 18% of crashes resulting in a serious injury and 12% of all injury collisions.

This means that around 1,000 people are killed each year on Britain's roads because drivers and riders travel too fast, and more than 6,000 are seriously injured.

Approximately two-thirds of all crashes in which people are killed or injured happen on roads with a speed limit of 30mph or less. At 35mph, a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30mph.

A spokesman said: "When a car is travelling at a high speed, a driver will have less time to identify hazards and react to what is happening around them. It takes vehicles further to stop from higher speeds, and if there is a crash the injuries will be more severe."

The official statistics are stark:

• Hit by a car at 20mph, one out of 40 pedestrians will be killed, 97% will survive.

• At 30mph, two out of 10 pedestrians will be killed, 80% will survive.

• At 35mph, five out of 10 pedestrians will be killed, 50% will survive.

• At 40mph, nine out of 10 pedestrians will be killed, 10% will survive.

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• At 20mph in dry conditions, the breaking distance is 20ft, or 6m. At 30mph it is 45ft, or 14m. At 40mph it is 80ft, or 24m. At 50mph it is 125ft, or 38m. At 60mph it is 180ft, or 55m. At 70mph is 245ft, or 75m.