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should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.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 1064.

    Seems that 60 mph too fast for minor roads.


    rather than obsessing over speed, how about firstly a moratorium on overtaking at major junctions (mandatory months ban ?). Overtaking at junctions can cause carnage.

    Is the 80 limit a GOV tax ploy to drastically increase fuel consumption ? It's futile. Do the maths. The slow part of a journey usually has a FAR greater effect on average speed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    As a licenced driver from elsewhere who 'REGULARILY' drives the motorways in UK over 150mph, and over 100mph on surface streets (non-motorway), it is the conditions, competency and ability of the driver determining speed capable, not an 'ARTIFICIAL' number created to increase revenue to central coffers. Stop this stelth tax now!
    HOW DARE you edit a person's HYS! freedom of speech, pathetic!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    No. The problem isn't the speed limits on the country roads. The problem is the irresponsibility of some drivers - some who run at speeds that are not appropriate for the state of the road, others who block the roads up one way or another.

    How do the various authorities intend to enforce any limit they impose? They have enough trouble policing the current limits! More cameras? Feh...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    If a particular road has a 'problem' with speeding then the speed limit is probably wrong. Artificially low limits simply increase the difference in speeds between vehicles and promotes speeding and overtaking. The result eventually will be more accidents. Ever heard the phrase 'dumbing down'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1060.

    Lets be honest about this, on roads you can drive at 60, we all do. Sometimes we even exceed 60 on straight and easy roads. Its natural. On roads where the most you can drive is 40, we drive at 40. Why the hell do we need speed limits to tell us how to drive? We take driving lessons to do that, don't punish the majority because a few idiots are incapable of driving within their limits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1059.

    I pay little attention to speed limits, but drive/ride within the capabilities of the vehicle I am in or on and my own skillset. Often my speed matches the speed limit, sometimes above, often below. If you are driving round blind bends on country roads at 60 because that's the speed limit then soon you will kill someone. Don't blame the speed limit, you are responsible. One speed does not fit all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1058.

    sometimes when I rate a comment on here as negative it shows up as positive - why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    "Good driving is not the exclusive right of an Advanced Motorist. Everyone can do it...."

    As an IAM Observer, I agree with you. Indeed what you say in the rest of your comment embraces much of what we do. It's just a shame that so few do it, or take an IAM or RoSPA course for that matter.

    As I commented a while back, ATTITUDE is the biggest barrier to driver improvement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.

    So transition town man sounds like you are an advocate for battery power !

  • Comment number 1055.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    Just ban the old drivers as their the ones who have to rive at 30 in a 60mph zone causing other road users to get frustrated at overtake in dangerous areas.

    " I've ever had an accident, but I have seen thousands in my rear view mirror"

    Oh yer a simple eye test, if you can see you can't drive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    The nearest police station is 40 miles away and the council is trying to reclassify our local roads as "green lanes" so they don't have to fill in the pot holes. I can't see anyone policing or taking any notice of a 40mph limit except for some tourists who think it means that it's safe to drive at 40mph when it isn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    1047 comments! Every motorist will be on this soon.

    The common sense answer is that speed limits are a guide to the maximum, and any normal person wouldn't drive at 60 on a narrow twisty lane even if the law says they can.

    On the other hand, motorways - where appropriate (e.g. 3/4 lanes, straight, few slip roads) could easily be 100mph.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    "Rather than dropping speed limits introduce compulsory retesting every 5 years."


    Easy to say, but this will require about 5,000 extra driving examiners (by a rough calcluation, even assuming a reasonably high pass rate on re-exams) - plus of course a corresponding expansion in the rest of the DSA's infrastructure. Where's that going to come from? I don't think it's realistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    @1036 - Think Tank.
    "56 is more economical than slower speeds"

    This is an arbitrary figure used to compare different car's economy.

    In a "What Car" fuel test, every car tested gave best mpg figures at or below 40mph.

    Air resistence increases at the square of speed, and the power required to overcome it is cubed.

    Beyond 30mph, most of your fuel is wasted trying to push aside the air in front.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    If Roads and Highways are insufficient to handle higher speeds, simply BUILD more, for the NIMBY's who say the UK is overbuilt as is, look at the facts, less than 2% of the entire UK has any form of man made construction on it of any type. More Roads More Rail, there is land-o-plenty. HYS is hyNOTS due to BBC editing freedom of Speech!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    You just drive to the road condtions. if its dry drive normally if its wet slow down if its icey drive slow and steady. if its a single track road with a 60 speed limit then drive to what you can see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    A brilliant move and 40 yrs overdue.
    Just been tailgated at 40mph in pouring rain down a winding narrow country lane for 5 miles by what passes for an intellecutal around here in rural kent - a RangeRover driver.
    It won't stop people like him, but might just put the law on the right side of sensible for a change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.

    They've just lowered the speed limit through our village to 30 (from unrestricted). REduction in actual speeds - none as far as I can see. I know of fatal accidents on local roads, almost invariably associated with bends that sensible drivers would be taking 30 or less. The young inexperienced drivers who tend to be involved wouldn't be sticking to speed limits, whatever they were.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1045.

    957 contd (after a quick smoke)

    A little boy along with his older sister just walked around the tight bend on the narrow lane outside the house, walking a dog.

    He was wearing a tweed flat cap.

    Dad got back in the car 5 mins before, i come back inside as he settles down to watch the DVD he's just put in the player....

    ''Senna - No Fear, No Limits, No Equal''


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