Sat 25 Nov 2023

Road Safety Week 2023: 20's Plenty

In 2009, the Scottish Government published Scotland's road safety framework to 2020 - "Go Safe on Scotland's Roads it's Everyone's Responsibility".

This framework set out eight national priorities for road safety in Scotland - one of which was speed. Now 14 years later, reducing speed is still very much at the forefront of road safety in Scotland and continues to be recognised as a real and crucial solution to road danger. 

As Road Safety Week comes to a close, we thought it would be useful to focus our final Road Safety article on how the Scottish Government is ensuring the delivery of its road safety priorities, specifically, its approach to tackling the dangers of speeding.

The Introduction of 20mph zones in Scotland

On 1 September 2021, the efforts of the many road safety and Green activists campaigning for the implementation of a default 20mph speed limit in Scotland were rewarded by the publication of the "Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party Shared Policy Programme". This programme set out a commitment by the Scottish Government that all "appropriate roads" in built up areas in Scotland will have a safer speed limit of 20mph by 2025. Beyond just seeking to reduce driving speeds and the perceptions of road danger, this 20mph national strategy also hopes to encourage walking and cycling creating a healthier nation.  Additionally, by creating a more equitable balance between different road users, this strategy aims to make streets and neighbourhoods more pleasant for all.

Since 2001, trials of the 20mph strategy have been taking place in multiple pilot zones across Scotland, from small towns and villages to big cities like Edinburgh. The results of these trials have shown clear safety benefits, and in many areas of Scotland this has led to a permanently reduced speed limit. One example of this is the Borders where in January 2023, following a two-year trial, the 20mph zones became permanent in most areas of the region. In other areas of the region, where a 20mph-only zone was less practicable, "hybrid" speed limit zones have instead been introduced. These "hybrid" zones have a variation of 20, 30 and 40mph limits with buffer zones in place where appropriate.

What are the benefits of 20mph zones

Data collected from the various trials have shown that the introduction of 20mph zones has led to a significant reduction in vehicle speeds, along with a positive change in driver habits. The rollout of 20mph speed limit zones has reduced average speeds from between 3 to 6mph in many areas of the country.  The results have also reported that the largest speed reductions were observed in areas where higher speeds had been recorded in the past.

The link between the higher the speed of a vehicle and the greater the destructive potential is uncontroversial.  If a vehicle going at a higher speed crashes, there is a greater likelihood of that collision causing severe injury or even death.  On that basis, it is reasonable to conclude that any reduction in average vehicle speed helps prevent road-related deaths. This lower risk of collision is instrumental in helping make communities feel safer, particularly when walking or cycling.  The increase of 20mph zones results in towns, villages and cities that are tailored to all the people who live there, and not prioritising drivers as has been the case in the past.

What's next in Scotland, and beyond?

The commitment of the Scottish Government to implement the 20mph limit on built up roads by 2025 is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for road safety in Scotland. Similar approaches are being taken in other parts of the UK. The most recent example of this was in Wales where there was recently a change of the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph, following the introduction of new legislation. This change essentially means that, unless otherwise signified, where there are streetlights the speed limit is 20mph. 

Given the safety benefits, these initiatives are supported by campaigners and road safety charities, including Brake and 20's Plenty and there is also a global movement led by the United Nations. The hope is that Scotland will achieve its 2025 goal to reduce vehicle speeds in urban areas.  In turn, campaigners argue we would all then benefit from safer active travel, stronger communities, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved road safety. As in Wales, whilst these changes are likely to be controversial for some, there are a number of benefits which have the potential to positively impact communities by making them greener, safer and stronger. 

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