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should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.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 1024.

    Just set up a school on all country roads. Then the school run mums will block the road for a couple of hours a day slowing down traffic.
    When the schools are on Holiday the traffic always flows better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    I can't believe it has taken the government this long to reduce the speed limit on country roads. 60 on blind bends and narrow roads where two cars cannot pass each other is crazy. I welcome this change

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    I am all for reducing road signs and roadside clutter. Read your highway code or take an online theory test to bring you up to date. Road signs etc kill motorcyclists ! It's bad enough dodging potholes and idiot drivers without worrying about excessive speed warning and camaraderie signs. If there is no camera within 500m of a camara then they should be removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    This smacks of the start of the propoganda that ends with the 'government' bowing to public pressure to introduce those wonderful black boxes to each and everyone of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    The increase in road deaths is due to the increase in foreign drivers on UK roads that aren't used to driving on the right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    The debate here is sound. Decrease where it makes sense (based on evidence), increase where it makes sense (based on evidence).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    Hi speed limits do not cause collisions, bad driving does. End of story. This 'lowest common denominator' solution of reduce everybody's speed, because some are idiots is unpalatable. It's time for the government to treat us as adults, and punish *only* the irresponsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    the Isle of Man has no speed limits in some areas,how do the accident rates compare to the mainland i wonder?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    Roughly 100% of British road users don't obey the existing speed limit signs already, it seems a waste of time, money and effort to put more up. I do a fair amount of driving and most drivers I see drive sensibly and don't really need speed limit signs, it's the bad drivers who need the extra signs, but as they are the drivers who ignore most of the highway code anyway......

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    Why not go the whole hog and make cars have somebody walking in front with a red flag then it would be even safer, except for the person in front.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    what's the betting that along with the changes the revenue raising cameras pop up everywhere

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    There might be some country roads in need of a reduction in speed limit. But all too often, the speed limit on rural main routes is reduced from 60 to 40 as cheap alternative to ensuring the road can sustain 60mph traffic.

    The net effect - Britain is getting clogged arteries.

    Average speeds are getting slower when they should be getting faster - lack of investment is to blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    Yet another "fine" example of a nanny state. This is ridiculous!
    I travel on rural roads everyday to work, never a problem.
    Who is going to enforce this speed limit? The same ones who decided it is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving? I see drivers breaking the law all the time. Sadly, there's never any road traffic police around to prosecute. It's a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    NorthernWarrior Why oh why do we have to even consider copying anything from the USA. All we seem to do is import garbage, poor mind numbing TV, rubbish fast food etc. The only good thing about the USA is the regularity of flights leaving it. Lets just for once use our brains and work out our own problems. Country roads aren't a problem, interfering self righteous idiots are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    As a nonUK driver who 'REGULARILY' drives the motorways at over 150mph, and over 100mph on surface streets (non-motorway's), it is the conditions, and competency and ability of the driver that determines the speed capable, not an 'ARTIFICIAL' number as prescribed by a government that only uses speed limitations to increase 'revenue' into the central coffers! STOP FUNDING central Gov't's coffers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    Absolutely ludicrous. Rather than addressing the problem of the appalling standard of driving in the UK let's work to the lowest common denominator.

    Rather than dropping speed limits introduce compulsory retesting every 5 years. Improve the overall standard of driving in the country, raise some revenue, reduce the accident rate while reducing unemployment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    Absolutely stupid decision. It will cost the country a fortune in extra fuel, totally wasted time, but make more money on speed fines. Ban caravans off these roads so you don't need to overtake them. I think 20 mph limits are great near schools, but why not have them go back to 30 when schools are closed. People are much more likely to obey them if they make sense
    Basically teach better driving

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    Yes restrict the speed limit but what about something being done about all the tailgaters. Not only is it very annoying but tailgating also causes accidents if the tailgatee has to stop suddenly and the tailgatee will be the one to come off worse. Besides, some people speed to get away from tailgaters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    It’s a misnomer that there is not speed limit on the autobahn in Germany. It’s only unlimited in certain stretches where it’s appropriate (ie straight, no merging traffic etc). They have limits in places it’s deemed unsafe to speed, and it’s pretty strictly enforced, by amongst other things, hidden cameras.

    People respect the limits there because you have the element of mutual trust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1005.

    And they want to "reduce roadside clutter" by having fewer speed limit reminder signs.

    Thinks .... reduce clutter or make it more likely that drivers with be caught and fined fro speeding?


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