The standard 30mph speed limit on residential roads was set in 1935 – 83 years ago. But a lot has changed since then – not least the number of cars on the road – and campaigners are calling for this to be lowered to 20mph as standard. IAN CRAIG looks at the issue

THE standard 30mph speed limit has been in place longer than most people on the roads have been alive.

So it would be reasonable to assume overturning it in favour of a slower - but arguably safer - 20mph limit might be a hard sell.

But maybe not as much as you would think.

The campaign to introduce 20mph as a standard speed limit has been gathering momentum - and has had some success in some areas of the UK.

The limit was introduced on some roads in Bristol in 2014, and research has shown an estimated 18 lives have been saved, and more than 680 injuries have been prevented as a result.

20mph zones were also introduced in Manchester in 2014 - although research into its effectiveness has been less positive than in Bristol - and Transport for London has said the limit will be put in place on some roads within the Congestion Charging Zone by 2020. Other cities to introduce the limit in some areas include Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bath, Liverpool and Cambridge.

Newport East AM John Griffiths has campaigned for 20mph limits for some time, and previously led a debate on the issue in the Assembly.

He said: “The case for extending reduced speeds to many more of our neighbourhoods is strong and building.

“A default 20mph limit on local roads would turn current practice on its head.

“Instead of 30mph, applying unless a lower speed is considered more appropriate, 20mph would be the norm, subject to the circumstances of particular roads justifying exceptions.

“Roads would be safer meaning a greater protection of life and limb.

“It allows local communities to reclaim their streets by encouraging more walking and cycling to improve health and fitness, fosters community interaction and cohesion, facilitates children to play outside and tackles air pollution.”

A study carried out by the University of the West of England last year showed 62 per cent of people in Wales, and the same number across the UK as a whole, backed the idea.

Speaking at an event at the Senedd hosted by Mr Griffiths earlier this month, professor Alan Tapp from the university said there was “clear, consistent and unchanging majority support for 20mph limits, but people don’t realise it.”

“If you ask people if they think most people support 20mph limits, they think they’re in a minority,” he said.

“I call it the Jeremy Clarkson effect. He’s very entertaining and so people think he speaks for the majority - because of that people who do agree with him feel more confident.

“But it’s all rubbish - if you speak to most people they say they support 20mph.”

Another recent study by Public Health Wales suggested crashes could be cut by 17 per cent by reducing 30mph limits to 20mph, while the environment would also benefit due to less acceleration, gear changes and braking.

The report said a Wales-wide 20mph speed limit “has the potential to have significant positive effects on health”.

“We have estimated some health effects, but it is likely that there will be more, cumulative positives that are greater than individual effects but these are more difficult to measure,” it said. “The road casualty savings alone make the case for change.”

And, also speaking at the Senedd event earlier this month, one of the report’s authors Dr Sarah Jones called 20mph “the ultimate public health intervention”.

“There are numerous videos on the internet of children being hit by a car at 20mph and then just getting up and walking away, she said.

Campaign group 20’s Plenty for Us has also long been campaigning for the introduction of the policy.

Founder Rod King said: “30mph is no longer fit for purpose as a speed limit for urban roads.

“It was set in the 1930s when there were only about 1.5 million vehicles on the roads.

“There are now about 35 million.”

He added: “Rather than a community by community adoption of 20mph as is happening in England, the Welsh Government can do better by making 20mph their national default limit.

"20mph is proven as best practice, popular and the cost-effective way to do it is as a national limit.

"Drivers are more likely to understand a universal adoption and voluntarily reduce their speeds."

Councils already have powers to introduce 20mph limits on roads in their area, but introducing a blanket limit across the whole of Wales would be the responsibility of the Welsh Government - which was given the power earlier this year.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Local authorities already have the powers to set local speed limits and we continue to support their decisions to reduce local 30mph speed limits in their area where there are local reasons for this.

“While the wider research about the impact of setting national 30mph speed limits remains inconclusive, we are continuing to consider research in this area and are working closely with the Department for Transport who have commissioned a three year research project to consider the benefits of lowering speed limits in 30mph zones. That work is due for completion later in the year.”

A Torfaen council spokesman said: “We would consider implementing a 20mph limit as part of an evidence-based road safety engineering scheme, active travel improvement, or any other appropriate highway scheme.”

A Monmouthshire council spokesman said: “The majority of roads outside Monmouthshire’s schools are traffic-calmed or within an existing 20mph zone. A previous bid to the Welsh Government to introduce 20mph zones outside all schools was unsuccessful. However, we propose making a further bid for 2019/20.

“Meanwhile, members are considering a draft Mon CC speed management policy which will include a commitment to providing 20mph zones at all schools and also extend into residential areas where the criteria permits. The Economy and Development Select Committee has considered this matter and is shortly expected to make a recommendation to the cabinet member for approval of a draft speed management policy.”

Deputy leader of Caerphilly County Council Cllr Sean Morgan said: “We already have a number of 20mph zones outside our schools, and the highways infrastructure for all new residential development sites in our area is designed for a 20mph speed limit wherever possible.

“We are also actively considering other initiatives that would further enhance safety on our roads”.

And a Blaenau Gwent spokeswoman said: “Blaenau Gwent has introduced a limited number of 20 mph zones/limits, all associated with Safe Routes in Communities projects. We have no current plans to introduce any further schemes, however we will be keeping a keen eye on this campaign and any associated commentary by Welsh Government.”

Another organisation to back the idea is Sustrans Cymru, which campaigns for more walking and cycling. Steve Brooks, of Sustrans Cymru, said: “It’s not just a safety issue - it’s a public health issues and we need to see it as that.

“This is the opportunity to do something different.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has also thrown its support behind the idea, saying 20mph zones are “very effective at preventing injuries”.

A statement on the organisation’s website said: “20mph zones significantly decrease the risk of being injured in a collision and their greater use, especially in residential areas, would help to reduce the number of traffic injuries in the UK.”

But Argus readers remain to be convinced.

Writing on our Facebook page Chris Wright called the idea an “absolute joke”. “Try educating school kids on how to safely cross the road,” he said.

And Linda Smith called it an “absolutely stupid idea”.

“It would make public and all forms of transport (apart for a bicycle) utterly pointless,” she said. “The increase in pollution would be shocking as well.

“And if you had an electric car/lorry/bus they’d be recharging their batteries at the end of every street.”

Others were sceptical about how many drivers would adhere to the lower limits.

Sarah Jayne Hadigate said: “They can put them all around Wales. But there ain’t any drivers that will adhere to it. They can’t stick to the limits already placed.”

And others said the onus should be on police to enforce current limits more strictly.

Rhys Davies said: “What is needed is for the police to actually start stopping the people who do drive dangerously and for them to be punished more severely.

“Putting in a 20mph speed limit won’t change anything apart from slow(ing) the country down.”

Mike Dallimore said: “People don’t stick to the current limits, so what is this going to achieve?”

And Anthony Dowsell said: “Most built up areas you can only get up to 20 in peak hours so why bother wasting money? And who’s going to police it? They don’t police the current 20 zones or 30 for that matter.”

Some said they were concerned a 20mph limit would actually make driving more dangerous.

Bernadette Martin said driving at 20mph was “a nightmare”.

“I find all the speed changes on the M4 dangerous because I am constantly checking my speed which affects concentration,” she said.

And Darren Grey said: “20mph means a lot of overtaking on residential streets which is way more dangerous.”

Meanwhile, Gareth Baldybloke said there are “a million and one variables that make collisions happen”.

“Speed is just the easy one to make money out of,” he said.

“Put £5,000 fines and loss of license onto using a mobile behind the wheel, fine people who walk on the road when there’s a safe pavement nearby, put up more barriers and build more cycle paths then see road safety miraculously improve.”

But David Tre had a more modern solution.

“Just remove the idiot from behind the wheel and put rational computers in charge,” he said.

And Jenny Benjamin said: “Whatever the speed limit, there will always be idiots who will break it, so what’s the point?”

Rhodri Smith called the idea simply “stupid and impractical”.

Whether or not we’ll soon be seeing 20mph limits as standard on our roads remains to be seen, but it’s clear the issue will prompt debate for some time to come.