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should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.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 1004.

    Why don't we just go back to having a man walk in front with a red flag?

    Life has its risks. Let's just accept that rather than bringing the country to a halt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1003.

    @ 987.dudley-perkins
    "Certainly lower them outside schools, but only at the times the pupils are arriving and leaving" "in Britain, the test is too easy"
    1) Do you think all kids go home and stay inside all evening? they are on other roads where you are driving @ 30mph+ because you are not near a school.
    2) The test is getting harder all the time newer drivers are more qualified than you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1002.

    966Mr Egg

    I probably won't be popular for saying this, but cyclists should pass a test, pay road tax and be insured as well.
    There is no such thing as road tax (see http://ipayroadtax.com/).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1001.

    @ Cui bono

    There is no overtaking lane on the motorway because no fecker will pull over. I have a car & motorcycle capable of 150mph+ but if I drive on a motorway at 70mph I am constantly behind someone who won't move over to a slower lane. They are pigs and should be shot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1000.

    Motorway limits will never be raised, for one simple reason.
    You can see a growing number of drivers actually driving much more slowly than they used to, because they have discovered how much fuel they can save.
    A 50mph-90mph spread is the same as weaving in and out of parked cars at 40mph, and many drivers these days don't have the skills or reaction times to be able to do that consistently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 999.

    Gil you are probably correct, I never see police cars on our rural roads, I pass through manned speed traps and speed cameras daily on my commute to work. The general standard of driving in this country is poor at best and without more training and safety awareness it will continue to worsen. The idiot drivers take no notice of speed limits whether they are speeding or driving too slow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 998.

    With the state of some of the roads in Cambridgeshire 40mph is about the speed at which you can drive anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 997.


    "let's raise the limit elsewhere. 70 on decent A-Roads, 80 on dual-carriageways, 90+ on motorways."

    Single carriageways already have many accidents even at existing speeds.

    On motorways / dual carriageways, increasing the limits might be safe, but everyone would end up being unfairly pressurised to drive faster and incur more fuel and servicing costs, whether they want to or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    Every other crash I read about involves a foreign driver. Clearly foreigners cause a massively disproportionate number of accidents, rather than reduce the speed limit we would save more lives reducing immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.

    Yep, its not about speed, its about inept, ignorant, selfish drivers.

    People with fake licenses, using mobiles, chatting, not paying attention, lack of road skills. low iq's, poorly maintained cars etc etc.

    As usual the Govt goes for the all encompassing, potential revenue maker such as speed cameras, rather than tackling the real problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    It is not just speed that kills - but bad driving too.
    Many times we have all seen somebody joining a motorway doing 40mph, which is highly dangerous. What about the drivers who stop at roundabouts when there is no other traffic and those who drive at the same speed on country lanes as they do on a motorway? The list goes on and we should be looking at bad drivers instead of just speed limits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    The current motorway infrastructure (especially the metal barriers in middle of road separating the carriageways) is only safe for 70mph. crashing any faster than 70mph will send a vehicle over the metal barriers into traffic coming along the opposite carriageway.
    Really! So what happened before they introduced the 70mph speed limit on our motorways with those same barriers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 992.

    They created a 20mph zone in oxford

    A total waste of time, it hasn't reduced any accidents. When the council stopped looking after the speed cameras 2 years ago there wasn't an increase in accidents, funny that.

    No one pays attention, not even the busses because they still drive at 30mph and they didn't change the bus time table.

    Idiotic waste of public money ( as usual)

  • rate this

    Comment number 991.

    Julie so is 60mph in fog on a motorway. Which is and should be classified as dangerous driving.
    Not every rural road should have an enforced lower speed limit. Some of the rural roads are wide enough and straight enough to accommodate 60Mph Some dual carriageways with 70mph limits & crossover access are lethal. Close off the crossover, problem solved. Reducing the limit the problem still remains

  • rate this

    Comment number 990.

    SPEED does Not kill, LACK of CONTROL - kills.
    German Autobahn's have no speed limit and they have fewer crashes & deaths than we do in UK.
    Speeds should be what are appropriate for the time of day and conditions and based on what the compentency of the driver is capable of performing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 989.

    The worst accidents for fatalities occur when heavy vehicles are in collision with smaller vehicles. i.e. a 45 ton lorry can crush a car at 5 mph. This can be seen in highway agency records, these incidents often occur in speed restricted areas. Lorry drivers etc are often working within time restraints slowing them will cause them to get frustrated and put people in smaller vehicles at risk. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 988.

    On the face of it this appears sensible - but can anyone in Government (Central and/or Local) say how this will be enforced?

    The sensible driver will take the road conditions into account when driving and drive accordingly despite the speed limit.

    I have never seen speed traps on winding country roads in c 40 years of driving. Its a question of education without true enforcement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 987.

    This needs more thought than just lowering speed limits. Certainly lower them outside schools, but only at the times the pupils are arriving and leaving. The biggest single problem is the low standard of driving in Britain, the test is too easy and there is no encouragement to undertake any advanced training.
    There is now too much reliance on speed cameras and not enough police traffic patrols.

  • rate this

    Comment number 986.

    The current motorway infrastructure (especially the metal barriers in middle of road separating the carriageways) is only safe for 70mph. crashing any faster than 70mph will send a vehicle over the metal barriers into traffic coming along the opposite carriageway, If bigger and stronger metal barriers are installed on the motorway system, then perhaps its then safer to go faster as you say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    That will be sure to push more people onto the motorways and kill off small service stations and pubs in the countryside. How about we just work on stopping people driving like idiots in the first place with an awareness drive and more stringent testing for new drivers?


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