May 15, 2018

Scotland Looks at Slowing Speed Limits, Saving Lives

Scotland is undertaking a remarkable initiative to become the first jurisdiction on the planet to make vehicular speeds a default of 20 miles per hour (32 kph) in any village, town or city.
The Member’s Bill going to Scottish parliament has bi-partisan support (across four different parties). Edinburgh, which has already implemented the 20 miles per hour speed in many areas of the city, has seen cyclist and pedestrian injury rates from vehicular crashes decrease by 25 per cent.
Scotland has also been implementing active transportation infrastructure in its cities, and is seeing speed reduction resulting in a decrease in pollution as well, which impacts everyone’s health, including that of children.
Professor Chris Oliver at the University of Edinburgh has stated, “In the future we can look forward to experimental ‘car free days’ and increasing pedestrianisation of city centres in Scotland. We have to get the public out of reliance on their cars and move across to walking, cycling, public transport and trains where possible.” 
Dr. Oliver is right. It’s as important to get people thinking of a future with less reliance on automobiles (including autonomous cars) as it is to support transit, rides share, cycling and walking facilities. As New Zealand transportation Engineer Bridget Burdett observed on Twitter:
And that’s also where road speed reduction comes in. From a research study on driving speeds and road crashes entitled Speed and Crash Risk, the OECD’s International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group expresses support for the growing list of cities that have defaulted to 20 mile per hour speed limits, as every reduction in speed of one mile per hour reduces the accident rate by four to six per cent. (For the record, the World Health Organization is also on-board.)
Cheshire’s Rod King of “20 is Plenty” gives more data on the effectiveness of slower speeds in communities. He notes that after Bristol, UK implemented 20 mile per hour speed limits, the University of the West of England estimated that fatalities were reduced by four, serious accidents reduced by 11 and 159 minor injuries were prevented annually. “With a national roll-out with enforcement and the consistency of knowing 20 is plenty except in certain places Scotland can expect similar benefits.”
On the other side of the equation, drivers breaking the speed limit in Scotland will face the same penalty all speeders do — a £100 fine (CAD $175), and three points on their license.
And a side note: the 30 mile per hour municipal speed limit in Scottish municipalities dates back to 1930. Slowing down to 20 miles per hour is a small but important road safety innovation from the 20th century which can benefit everyone in the 21st century.

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  1. Makes sense in a tiny hill country with not many straight roads and very high population densities.
    Could be a useful policy in dense pedestrian friendly parts of the region, but not across BC or Canada.

    1. Scotland is only mandating this in built up areas. We could easily to the same. Unfortunately, the province has consistently refused to allow municipalities to set default speed limits. Why can’t we have a 30 km/hr default speed limit in all communities in BC? We either agree to the ongoing slaughter on our roads or do something about it. The status quo is not a great option.

  2. I see the Calgary Herald has come out in opposition to lower speed limits in residential areas. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given how cars bearing Alberta license plates drive here in Vancouver.
    The Herald cites some American data showing that only 9% of pedestrian fatalities occur in marked crosswalks as if that strengthens their position when all it really says is that marked crosswalks are terribly ineffective at keeping pedestrians alive. This is particularly true in the City of Vancouver where a majority of traffic fatalities each year occur at intersections and in 2018 all three pedestrian deaths occurred in marked crosswalks.
    The Herald states that people who ignore 50km/h limits will also ignore 30km/h limits. I’m sure that’s true, but there is plenty of evidence showing that all traffic, including scofflaws, moves slower when the limit is lower.
    Lower speed gives drivers a chance to avoid a collision and gives pedestrians a fighting chance of survival should a collision happen anyway. The cost is rarely more than a minute of travel time.
    But driving too fast has become not only acceptable but expected. Drivers honk if you pause more than half a second at a green light. They honk if you fail to turn left during a break in traffic even when the reason you’re not turning is a crosswalk full of people. Stop to let someone cross the road and you may inadvertently get a pedestrian killed as the driver previously behind you races past with his/her head turned toward you middle finger in the air.
    Even if you kill someone with your vehicle the penalty is a slap on the wrist: a short driving prohibition that will probably be successfully ignored and a small fine.
    Sadly I know that I am unlikely to live long enough to see any change. The me-first attitude has only gotten worse during my lifetime and the “need for speed” has become a societal addiction. Drinking and driving has supposedly declined while driving under the influence of other drugs skyrockets.
    Even when death hits close to home people are reluctant to change. I have friends who lost their brother to a drunk driver, friends who spent years driving home from the bar themselves. Luck, not sense, kept them and those around them alive.

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