Manchester City Council recently decided to extend the 20 mph zones to include larger areas of Manchester. This is, according to the council, part of the plan to make three large sections of Manchester safer for children and more attractive for residents. The new speeding limits are being placed on all non-major roads leading to residential and school areas which would be over 1,100 streets, covering 111 miles. This project has been in progress for over two years and was paid for using £500,000 of public health funding, according to the article in Manchester Evening News.

Safety of children and increased attractiveness for residents are all noble causes that everybody is happy to support without a question. The only question is if the introduction of 20mph zones serve the real purpose?

More 20 mph zones: Concerns and possible solutions

Driving sensibly and being aware of the surroundings at all times is the only real solution for the road safety of everyone. Introduction of speed limits might slow down the traffic but it wouldn’t necessarily make the roads safer. There are some concerns that introduction of 20 mph speed limit zones would create additional problems on their own:


Lower concentration on the roads


Introduction of lower speed limit zones are always justified by the overall notion that low speed means safety. It is true that when a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle traveling 40 mph is more likely to suffer a major injury rather than when hit by a vehicle traveling 20 mph. This oversimplified explanation is almost always used to justify introduction of speed limiting zones or “speed kills”. The key word here however is the “oversimplified” since the reality is not so simple.

In reality drivers start paying attention more on speedometers and less to the actual road and are more concerned to keep below the speed limit rather than driving safe. This might not seem to be a big problem at first glance since it is assumed that accidents in these slow speeds are not fatal. However, the reality is somewhat different:

  • In 30 mph speed limit zone the typical impact speed with pedestrians is no more than 6 mph and probably as low as 3 mph. This means that drivers would have a typical distance of 4 ft to 18 ft to stop. This reflects the fact that drivers are alert and ready to slow down to avoid any possible danger.
  • In 20 mph speed zone drivers may tend to lose concentration. If the driver is destructed for just 2 seconds, to check the speedometer for example, then the vehicle would hit a pedestrian with full 20 mph speed. This would actually increase the chance of being injured from perceived 10% to 70% with a 30% chance of serious injury and 10% chance of a death.

Careless driving is always a danger and there are always consequences to that. The real question here is would the introduction of 20 mph zones make our neighbourhoods safer?

According to the latest reported numbers, injuries and accidents are dropping and this is perceived as a direct confirmation of the positive effects that 20 mph zones are having. This could be partially true but the situation is not so simple as always as it is argued by at

  • There is an increased fear of traffic and especially of “speeding drivers” which causes people not to travel by foot or cycle and avoid some footpaths. This is connected with the decrease of fatalities amongst the pedestrians but it is not connected with drivers slowing down.
  • The majority of responsible drivers began to pay more attention to speed limits and constantly check their speedometers. While it is a good idea to adhere the traffic regulations on place it also steals some amount of attention from drivers. This can only mean that they would pay less attention to the road and fail to react on time to a dangerous situation developing ahead.
  • Some less skilled motorists would think that their only requirement is to keep to the speed limit. The idea of them be only concerned with the steady speed and nothing else is quite frightening indeed. In addition it has been shown that presence of speed cameras cause erratic driver behaviour.
  • Speeding limit introduction can potentially remove the responsibility for a safe speed from the motorists. This is a flawed approach since the responsibility is a core value of safe driving. When responsibility is taken from a driver the performance in terms of safe speeds and accident avoidance is likely to suffer.


Danger of traffic congestion


A slow moving traffic is the key to a traffic congestion. Unless the traffic is regulated by police every morning and evening Manchester residents would face a long line of traffic congestion which would cause delays for many.

Morning congestions and delays are not new for Manchester motorists travelling near the schools. These are especially the most vulnerable areas which Manchester City Council wants to address with the introduction of 20 mph zones. This is a worthy cause since the safety of children is of paramount importance. But what happens in when there are no classes? Those speed limits would still have to be adhered. This could cause permanent congestion hotspots in addition to some already present permanently congested areas near the busy shopping areas.

20 mph zones or temporary speed limits?
20 mph zones against the illuminated temporary speed limits like in Scotland. Do we need just regulations or really fixing?

In order to avoid this kind of artificially created congestion hotspots it would be better to have illuminated speed signs – quite common throughout Scotland. Those signs would show lower speed limits during the school hours but then turn back to normal speed limits at other times.


Air pollution is more likely to rise


Traffic congestion is more likely to cause an increased level of air pollution since the majority of vehicles would be in their lower gears or idling. Traffic congestion is not big news for Manchester but by introducing more 20 mph zones the congestions are more likely to start closer to the residential areas causing increased air pollution there.

This kind of air pollution could potentially cause more respiratory diseases and make living in the city not at all attractive as opposed to the aspiration of the Manchester City Council.

The better solution would have been to repair already existing roads and to create more bypasses to the residential and school areas for the main traffic. This would eliminate the threat to these vulnerable areas.

Better city planning should also be considered. By creating more cul-de-sac areas in the residential areas would completely eliminate traffic and reduce the air pollution – making more pleasant areas for children to play and adults to enjoy.


Problem of policing the 20 mph limits


Currently there are no mechanisms in place to enforce new speed regulations apart from the “20 mph zone” signs. Most of the motorists would naturally adhere these restriction but there would always be a few who would not be so “considerate” to say the least.

Recent surveys conducted throughout Britain show that public increasingly supports the introduction of 20 mph zones in busy shopping areas and around schools but there is a growing concern as to how the new limits would be enforced:

Professor Alan Tapp and Professor Clive Nancarrow of UWE Bristol’s Social Marketing Centre have analysed the results of a recent YouGov survey of Great Britain and concluded that although support is strong for 20 mph limits in residential areas and busy streets, enforcement by the police will be needed to confront the driving of a minority.

Manchester police has no such capacity to place a police at every junction and exit so the most likely solution would be more speed cameras which are not paid for right now. This could only mean taking more money away from other more pressing issues.

Would 20 mph zones make our roads safer?

Introduction of more 20 mph zones in Manchester might have had a noble cause behind but it might fail to address the real issues present on the roads. Most likely they would cause more problems in the long run than being beneficial as they were planned to be.

Here are some suggestions that could be done instead to make our roads safer:

  • More money needs to be directed towards the road repairs. This would drastically reduce any accidents caused by bad road surface.
  • Money needs to be spend on construction of bypasses.
  • Introduction of time-limited illuminating speed signs as it is done in Scotland.
  • Promote safe driving standards so that the real emphasise would be the considerate driving and give more responsibility to drivers.
  • Promote considerate and dynamic driving for the sake of saving on fuel expenses as it is highlighted in our fuel saving tips. This would work towards the air pollution reduction as well.

Related Articles

Here are some related articles that you might be interested and there are more resources available in case you have more questions.

[catlist name=”news,legislation” numberposts=3 morelink=”View All Articles” morelink_class=p]