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should be considered by councils on roads with "many bends or junctions", the Department for Transport (DfT) says in draft guidance.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 1364.

    anyone driving too fast for the road conditions, eg 40 mph along a narrow , winding rural road, in the rain, is surely driving recklessly? don't we already have laws to deal with this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1363.

    Is it not the case that most accidents on rural roads are due to:
    1) Dangerous Overtaking
    2) Excessive speed for the conditions (Rain, Snow, Mud on road, etc)
    3) Driver not concentrating (On Phone, Fiddling with Radio or CD's)
    4) Tailgating and hitting a vehicle that breaks to avoid something unexpected.
    5) Inexperience
    A driving licence should be viewed as a privilege.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1362.

    1345. Kay...' I moved to a rural area in January and am shocked at how the locals drive.'
    I agree, I went on holiday in Wales. The tail-gaiting compared to the South-East of England is quite horrendous. I am writing as someone who likes to make (ahem!) substantial progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1361.

    It's all very well about "driving properly".....try telling deer and badgers to stop walking in to the road. You have a better chance of a less serious incident or even missing them completely at 40. Other drivers and bends are not the only consideration here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1360.

    i drive a van for work 50 mph max 60 on dual carriage, thats the limit, had some clown try to pass me a few days ago cos i was going slower than he, thats because there was a horse and rider 1/4 mile ahead of me, that idiot in the car nearly became a statistic, some people cannot focus on anything other than a few feet in frt and this is part of the problem, pay attention to the conditions

  • rate this

    Comment number 1359.

    At 1299, natbonney wrote:
    Can we also enforce the no beeping on bends! Drives me berserk!

    'Beeping' - a.k.a. sounding your horn - when approaching a blind bend is not only a requirement in the Highway Code it is also very, very good sense! Since this practice drives you berserk, you obviously cannot see the sense in it and as such YOU ARE A DANGER ON THE ROAD and should be banned from driving!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1358.

    I've done 25,000 miles+ per year for decades, work/private related.

    Speed cameras: great.

    20mph areas: love them.

    Humps: OK if you've clocked they're there.

    Average speed monitors: the best.

    I only don't understand why warning signs are out up...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1357.

    A Captain is legally responsible for the safe operation of his ship .

    This legal principle also applies to drivers.

    Regardless of speed limits, if caught driving at 30 mph on a road where the police regard it as unsafe to exceed 20mph you can be fined for driving without due care and attention.

    If you cause an accident in the process you can end up in jail for dangerous driving.

  • Comment number 1356.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1355.

    Strangely enough, on a road that used to have a 60 limit, I used get caught behind people rarely going over 53 or so. Now with a 50 limit, those same people are doing less than 50. Usually about 45! Why? Saving fuel? Can't afford the fuel in the first place?
    If you can't afford the fuel, don't drive!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1354.

    What other correlations could they come up with?

    How about - Higher fuel prices = fewer miles driven = fewer accidents ?

    Ooops - already been implemented

  • rate this

    Comment number 1353.

    another excuse to print money - I refuse to believe this is about road safety, but more about income generation for the cash starved police forces.
    Try putting more police out there to stop idiots before you start trying to develop more income streams
    I live and and drive on rural roads every day, I drive safely - its those who do not know the area/roads who cause the accidents - i.e. bad drivers

  • rate this

    Comment number 1352.

    I agree with this. It isn't about whether you can drive at 60 mph on the country road (that's simple) but whether you can stop from 60 mph. If we knew the road will be clear ahead, and no surprises will pop up, then no problem. But unlike some other HYS writers, I know that I don't know that, so I take it into account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1351.

    1185. TellMeWhy... 'If we all followed the Highway Code, there wouldn't be a problem.'
    But let's first start with using correct, appropriate and timely signalling. That is my main irritation, both as a driver and as a pedestrian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1350.

    Plenty of twisting lanes around here, and at regular intervals we get a group of dead teenagers wraped around a tree in their crushed super-mini. Will it stop the red-necks from Weeton with their day-out pass though?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1349.


    Why not reduce the limit to 4mph though, and perhaps insist on a return to each vehicle being preceded by a man walking with a red flag? This would cut accidents by 99% at a stroke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1348.

    RoSPA:- "Every year in the UK more than 5,000 people die in accidents in the home".
    RoSPA:- "Great Britain now enjoys one of the best road safety records in the world - but around six people are still dying on Britain’s roads every day "
    So, you are 2.5 times more likely to die in an accident at home than on UK roads!! If you genuinely care about saving lives STOP HARRASSING THE MOTORIST!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1347.

    2..../ which brings me to my 2nd point. As a number of other posters have observed, blanket 40mph speed limits on country _can_ be justified on road safety grounds, but only on this basis: hitting a pothole at 40 is a lot less dangerous than hitting a pothole at 60. The lower the speed limit, the lower your road maintenance budget needs to be...Training, training, training - say with RoSPA or AIM

  • rate this

    Comment number 1346.

    some of you need to go to a mortuary and see first hand the result of reckless driving, this would be the best deterrent for those who drive without consideration for others, you have no idea of what a body looks like after an rta , not a pretty sight let me tell you,shock tactics are needed i think to open your eyes, your arrogance and ignorance astounds me, a car is a weapon in the wrong hands

  • rate this

    Comment number 1345.

    I moved to a rural area in January and am shocked at how the locals drive. The middle aged commuter men are a liability. They tailgate at 60mph, over take at 70mph on blind bends in thick fog. They're just insane. The farmers are usually the most courteous drivers - although I do wish they'd fix their fences to stop sheep wandering in to the path of the phycho drivers! 40mph on the A6033 pls!


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