Speed limits: 40mph plan for country roads

Haresfield, Gloucestershire The DfT says 68% of road deaths in Britain in 2010 took place on rural roads

Speed limits on many rural roads in England could be cut from 60mph to 40mph under government proposals.

The reduction should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.

Some 49% of road deaths in 2010 in the UK took place on single carriageway rural roads with a 60mph speed limit.

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said it was "vital that speed limits are suitable for local conditions".

The vast majority of rural single-carriageway roads are subject to the national speed limit of 60mph.

Start Quote

It seems strange that you've got minor roads, often that are just tarmaced tracks, that have a speed limit of 60mph - just 10mph less than the motorways”

End Quote Ralph Smyth Campaign to Protect Rural England

Under the plans, which are open to public consultation, a reduction to 40mph should also be considered where there is "substantial development" or where there are "a considerable number" of horse-riders, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

A reduction to 50mph would be considered for "lower quality A and B roads" with "a relatively high number" of bends or junctions and where mean speeds are already below 50mph.

DfT figures for 2010 show that 68% of road deaths in Britain took place on rural roads.

Ralph Smyth, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, called for "a presumption that minor rural roads, the narrower winding ones, have a lower speed limit".

"It seems strange that you've got minor roads, often that are just tarmaced tracks, that have a speed limit of 60mph - just 10mph less than the motorways," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said councils could already reduce limits on such roads but that they were legally obliged to erect expensive "repeater" signs along the way.

"We're saying a much better solution would be to use 40mph zones, similar to the 20mph zones in urban areas, where there isn't the requirement to have the signs every few hundred metres.

"And, of course, that doesn't just mean less cost it means less clutter in the countryside," he added.

He said drivers should also be educated that "these are different to the other sorts of roads they use, almost like a separate network where you could expect to find someone walking their dog, a cyclist or some livestock around the next blind bend".

'Top priority'

Milly Wastie, vice-chairwoman of the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs, meanwhile, said raising awareness about driving conditions in rural areas was key to reducing accidents.

20mph sign There are about 2,000 of the 20mph schemes in England, the DfT says

"I think instead of lowering the speeds on rural roads it's more about education and awareness and I think it's how to drive and how to manage different driving conditions," she told Today.

"You're only starting to learn how to handle these conditions when you pass your test and, from a young person's point of view, obviously we're the most at risk."

Road safety charity Brake said it "fully supported" the proposal to make it easier for local authorities to lower speed limits.

"Sixty miles per hour is far too fast for safety on many rural roads," deputy chief executive Julie Townsend said.

She said lowering speed limits was an effective way to reduce crashes and casualties though some drivers would continue to speed "which is why it's also important that we enforce these limits".

"Ultimately we would like to see our default speed limits lowered," she said.

Under the new guidelines, English councils will also be given more freedom to introduce 20mph speed limits as well as to use variable speed limits outside schools.

The DfT says there are about 2,000 of the 20mph schemes in England; it cites research suggesting they can reduce collisions and injuries by 60%.

A new online speed limit appraisal tool will help councils to assess the benefits and costs of such schemes.

"Road safety is a top priority and the guidance will help councils make evidence-based decisions to introduce local speed limits that reflect the needs of all road users," Road Safety Minister Mr Penning said.

No changes are planned to the national speed limits of 30mph on street-lit roads, 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

In Northern Ireland, the Department for Regional Development's Roads Service has the powers to introduce local speed limits where national limits are deemed inappropriate.

And policy in Wales is covered by guidance for local authorities published by the Welsh Assembly in October 2009 which, among other things, aimed to extend 20mph zones.

The Scottish government was given devolved powers under the Scotland Act, introduced in May, to set its own speed limits.

There has been pressure from campaigners to introduce 50mph limits for many rural roads and 20mph limits for all towns and cities, but plans for changes have yet to be announced.


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  • Comment number 724.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    Reduce the speed limit, BUT increase the drink driving limit so people in the country can go to the pub and local pubs can be revived

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    About time too. There are very many country roads with 60 mph limits where it would be absurd ever to drive at 60 mph - but as long as the limit remains there some people take it as a license to try. Maybe our country roads can become places that are pleasant and stress-free to cycle, walk or horse-ride along again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    In the countrside, by the time you have dodged people on horseback wh can't control their animals, weekend cyclists two abreast, random animals that just wander out not to mention 'walkers', idiots in 4x4's on the phone, & caravans. 40 seems like an aspirational speed. People need to drive to the conditions. Leave 60 alone, no one with any sense would drive at that speed anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    Who Makes up these figures? £1.4million for a fatal (maybe because police looking to blame) 68% of fatal accidents on rural, have they considered how poor the roads are! this is the most major contributory item to accidents.Also look at Immigrant drivers without licenses or insurance, more random stop & checks. no warning crush car, jail driver min 5 yrs. Bad driving is not only speeding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    I've said before... Have you EVER witnessed any driver that has been acting like an idiot behind the wheel ie tailgating, overtaking in a dangerous way etc. and then see them exit their vehicle at their destination only to WALK politely not RUN, PUSH, SHOVE, WALK ON SOMEONES HEELS, CURSE AT ANY ONE etc.? NO! Me nither.

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    Hope this is not yet another attack on people that live in rural areas! Most of the motorcycle deaths on country roads are those from towns and cities that use our roads as a race track, and I haven't seen a speed camera for months so you can have any limit you like but who is going to enforce them not the Police as there a dead loss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    So i assume this also applies to the cyclists on the pavements ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Oh I bet the county councils are rubbing their hands with glee! Now they can plan which A roads are the busiest and put up yet more cameras so they can fleece the motorist even more. Sadly this will have nothing to do with safety, just another way of making money. Consultation period? Cobblers! They already plan to bring it in regardless of objections! The state knows best how to make money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    I use cross-country roads quite frequently to avoid congested trunk roads and motorways. Roads like the Fosse Way, for example, are often just well-maintained country roads, not even A or B roads. I hope they don't slap a blanket 40MPH on those, or I will be adding to main route congestion.

    In France such roads have speed limits appropriate to the particular configuration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    About time too, not only safer,but much more fuel efficient. but who is going to police this situation, there are very few police in rural areas, so it will have to be clandestine cameras and spot fines as on the continent. Not paint them yellow and stick them in the middle of the road, how stupid was this idea, as the law breakers soon realise that there most are not opreational

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    £1.4 million cost to the public for every fatality,thats outrageous .
    maybe your being paid to much.
    firemen put their lives on the line for £20,000 a year not per incident.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    The problem with the majority of drivers these days is that they think it's only the brakes that slows them down instead of them taking their foot a bit off the accelerator. Road signs tell you what to expect on country roads so perhaps if you don't know what they mean, you probably shouldn't be on the road until you do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    I often use country lanes as short cut, the problem is you also get people who think that being a "short cut" means if they dawdle at 20 MPH they will get there quickly, these people should use public transport. Also on dual carriage ways where people sit in outer lane because in 7 miles they turn right. Why is A10 40MPH. It is all to make money from motorists. People cause accidents no speed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    Any speed limit is pointless without proper enforcement . The sheer number of reckless drivers is the problem . Especially since so few of them seem to think that they are doing anything wrong . Start locking up tailgaters ,mobile phone users and reckless speeders for a week and then we might see some progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    Peter said;
    "for every fatal it is on average over £1.4 million."
    Why is that? What does it cost to sweep up a wreck and have a funeral on the insurance?
    Ambulance staff only get £24k a year and traffic cops only slightly more.
    Who is making the money out of fatals?
    Do we we over-investigate...close off a road for a full day to confirm what we know. He hit a tree at 65 and it killed him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    Living in a rural area (Peak District) I already have a commute of over an hour to get to work as there are so few jobs locally that pay a decent wage. Cutting the speed limit to 40 mph will make it almost imposable to get to work in under 1 1/2 hrs each way. Oh and I'm sorry to say but most of the problems round here are caused by tourists who have no concept of how to drive on the open road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    I live on a 20mph road in London but very few drivers seem to obey the limit. Policies like this have my approval but they need to be backed up with tougher enforcement to break the speed culture on our roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    i drive a lot in south Lincolnshire, i use many country roads and lanes and there are not many of them that you could safely reach 40mph because of the state of the roads.
    lowering the speed limit is not the only fix needed.
    modern cars are safer,break better easier to control, than they used to be and increasing the limit on mways is good as long as the driver is as safe as the car.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    The road classification should be the sole defining factor for road speed. Speed is not a killer.

    'A' roads should have always have a 60 mph speed limit.

    Far more dangerous are those roads with speed cameras every few miles - the locals speed like maniacs between the cameras then brake to pass the camera. I dont condone that. That is far More dangerous than allowing them to drive at 60.


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