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should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.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

    Comment number 964.

    Now the Tories have cut our police forces who will actually enforce these speed limits ?

    Have we ever had a more useless government ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    The new limits will be enforced by who?

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.

    Joya (47) is right. Education is what is needed. Mobile phone use (and texting), too fast in villages and towns, sitting to close to vehicle in front, unaware of following traffic, poor observation, no anticipation, joggers in dark clothes, motor cyclists in camo, rubber necking, no idea how to drive in adverse conditions,. I have seen it all in the past week. Lower limits & cameras won't help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    And why do accidents happen on our twisty, windy old cart tracks of roads?

    Because no Government in living memory has invested in a PROPER, fit-for-purpose road system, that's why.

    Take a look at how most countries in Europe have modernised their roads - on OUR EU contributions (only UK & Germany are NET contributors to the EU budget)

    Their improvements put UK roads to shame ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    Speed never killed anyone without someone making a mistake. If you don't train people not to drive like boneheads, and in any case don't trust anyone not to drive like a bonehead, you'll never reduce accidents, no matter what the speed limit is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    All this will do is add another 20 minutes to their commute only adding misery to their already stressed lives,
    In fact I think it will only make matters worse because when an old biddy won't overtake a tractor everybody else is stuck doing 20mph.

    That is until someone from 7 cars back overtakes them all and causes an accident all because some one won't overtake.

    That's how accidents happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    In the main pic, who read the "Bends.Dead.Ahead?" thing before checking the road?
    ROAD CONFETTI cannot all be assimilated, distracts and causes accidents. Shameful that some support these proposals,issued from crims who tried to CHANGE BRITISH LAW to dodge prosecution, and who protect their criminal banking partners..
    Go on - keep crawling up the road - the one thing you are good for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    Surely the money & energy would be better spent providing all drivers with rosy coloured driving goggles and a tweed suit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    I am so lucky to live in a nation with such brilliant drivers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.

    Will someone kindly tell them that you can not effectively legislate against idiots! Knee-jerk reactions tend to be a waste of time, money and effort - but do apparently create the impression for some that others are working for them, and in their best interests.
    Those who think the answer is to put up a few more signs lowering the limit and expecting it to work need to seek other employment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    @937.Think Tank

    I forgot to add, "Within the speed limit."

    Driving at a slower speed when you can't see well on a road is just plain sensible as far as I am concerned.
    I am perfectly happy at driving at 70mph however, as my poor little car has a tiny engine it cannot actually sustain speeds of 70 mph so I drive at 60mph for the most part. If I drive on a country lane, I'll have a variable speed

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    You, the driver, needs to establish what a suitable speed is. The government / councils cannot tell you what speed is safe on every road and in every weather.

    This is why all speed limits (residential areas excepted) don't make sense. The limit on the motorway is always 70mph, but in 6 inches of snow 40 might be too much, whereas 140 on a sunny July morning might be fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 952.

    @ wheelchairdependant - Surely driving examiners don't allow other inconsiderate road users to impact on your pass/fail criteria.

    Personally I would blame yourself rather than blame others. If its true and you have to blame someone - blame the examiner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 951.

    "The number of people killed annually on the roads in Britain has fallen below 2,000 for the first time since records began in 1926, government statistics show." Quote form The Guadian

    What is all the fuss about? It is very, very sad if one of your relatives or friends die on the road. but out of a population of 70 million + less than 200 deaths last year is hardly something to go mad about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 950.

    I see the Nanny is getting out of her pram again. When will the government live our lives as we should. Lowering the speed limit will reduce accidents by a few, if any, but a good excuse for more speed cameras and the chance to rob the motorist again. Most accidents are caused by people who either have not had enough time at the wheel or ones going too fast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 949.

    941 Countryboy

    'Prat-Navs' Love it! That is exactly what they are! We are constantly being fed useless information from Sat Navs, weather reports, iPods, constantly changing road speeds, mobile cameras, nobody has anytime to watch the road! What makes me laugh about the 'Prat Navs' is that people use them for their daily commute!

    'Siri, do I have a brain?'



  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    A shame these people calling for lower limits weren't so vocal about sorting out the potholes etc - some of our "road" networks are little better than farm tracks.

    Lower speed limits simply means less reason to spend badly-needed money on our roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 947.

    Many country lanes are not suited to modern traffic speeds and a number of villages have either 30 or 40 limits. However, the rules on speed limits does not allow small hamlets that have narrower roads but no defined 'village centre' to have such limits set! Strikes me that the road conditions should determine the limit and not some arbitrary rules set in London.

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    A driver not paying attention can have an accident at 10mph, admittedly he wouldn't do as much damage but accidents will still happen. I agree with Count Otto-113 advanced driving test should be compulsory, and I would add to that the advanced part should include Motorway driving, no driver being allowed on the motorway until they pass the advanced test. It would then be safer to raise limits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.


    On suitable stretches of road, in suitable conditions, in a suitable car, doing 120 is fine. The Germans do it on parts of their motorways.


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