The default speed limit will be lowered to 20 miles per hour on residential roads in Wales in an effort to reduce traffic accidents and get residents to swap their cars for bikes or public transport.
The proposal from the Welsh Labour Government, under which speeding drivers could receive a £100 fine or three penalty points, has been dismissed as “frankly ridiculous” by the Conservative opposition.
Local 20mph restrictions have been introduced in several towns and cities, but the move to impose it across all residential roads from 2023 would be a first in the world, according to campaigners.
Welsh local authorities will be able to exempt certain roads which will be able to retain the 30mph limit where it is deemed inappropriate, which could include rural areas, but this will not apply outside schools.
“The Welsh Conservatives are not against introducing 20mph speed limits outside schools, playgrounds, places of worship and high streets, but a blanket roll-out is quite frankly ludicrous,” shadow transport minister Natasha Ashgar said.
“With a price tag of more than £32 million, is this really money well spent at a time when the Labour Government should be focused on tackling the big issues at hand such as the cost-of-living? I don’t think it is, and I am sure residents across the country will be thinking the exact same.”
‘People are being overtaken by cyclists’
The Labour Government took the move in response to research which showed a driver is 40 per cent less likely to kill a pedestrian if they collide at 20mph than if the car is moving at 30mph.
It also believes the new speed limit will encourage more people to walk and cycle by making them feel safer on the roads, bringing physical and mental health benefits.
The Government has said it is working closely with the police to develop an “enforcement strategy” for the new speed limits. Currently, the minimum penalty is a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
Official data shows 1,137 people were killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents in 2018, with 50 per cent of all collisions occurring on roads with a 30mph speed limit.
A survey by the Welsh Government last year found 80 per cent of people backed the plans, with support highest among households with children.
The proposal is being backed by green travel campaigners who say it could improve community interaction and boost the local economy by getting people out of their cars.
First Minister Drakford said: “We know that 20mph zones reduce speed of traffic, reduce accidents – particularly accidents to children.
“We want to see that become the default position right across Wales.” Scotland will follow with its own legislation reducing the default speed restriction to 20mph in built up areas by 2025.
The Welsh Government says the move could save £58million within 30 years as a result of reduced emergency service demand and hospital treatment.
A petition against the restrictions was started by Adie Drury, 39, from Flintshire, who has said the speed limit will lead to “bikes overtaking cars”. Speed limits only apply to motor vehicles, although cyclists can be prosecuted for “cycling furiousl
y” or “wanton and furious cycling.”
She said: “The community has no problem with a 20mph limit where it’s necessary and where it’s safe, like outside schools, health centres in housing estates and in heavily pedestrianised areas.
“I was raised on a housing estate and played football in the road when I was a child and it’s good to invite the community into the road-space – but it should be where it is appropriate.
“You wouldn’t want your child playing football in an arterial road so why is the arterial road being made 20mph?
“Cyclists are having a whale of a time on Liverpool Road because they can do more than 20mph on their bikes and we can’t do more than 20mph in a car – so I’ve had quite a lot of reports of people being overtaken by cycles.”
However, a spokesperson for the RAC told the Telegraph that driver compliance with 20mph limits is “poor” as many road users view the slower speed as “inappropriate”.
RAC road safety spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Research by the RAC suggests compliance with 20mph speed limits is quite poor with an increasing number of drivers believing the limit is inappropriate for the road.”
“Rather than setting a default 20mph limit on all restricted roads it would be better to target areas where they are most needed – for example on residential roads or in areas where there is high footfall – as opposed to main ‘arterial’ roads where there are few pedestrians.”