The Case For Twenty – Responding to September’s ‘The Case Against Twenty’

Most cyclists will comply with the 20mph limit, if they know it or not.

This magazine’s September issue carried an article making ‘The Case against Twenty’, attacking the idea of 20mph speed limits. I am not an active campaigner for 20mph, but the arguments do not really stand up to scrutiny.

It argues that lower limits should not be introduced because some might exceed the new limit. It is an unusual argument to say that a law should not be introduced because it might be broken. Every new law should be judged on its benefits to the general public.

It suggests that 20mph is not fair on motorists as it wouldn’t be enforced on cyclists. Only the fittest of cyclists can exceed 20mph on the flat. Indeed a road legal electric bike will cut out at 15mph. Most everyday cyclists will get nowhere near 20mph (ref1)

He suggests that being hit by a bicycle hurts as much as being hit by a car at the same speed. This is quite wrong. It is simple physics that the impact damage is a function of mass (weight) as well as of speed. Would you rather be hit at 20mph by a feather or by an HGV ?

On an open road, 40-50mph may be the most fuel-efficient speed, but many 20mph speed limits are  intended for busy urban residential areas, where frequent braking and acceleration are the primary factors in driving up fuel usage. Maximum speeds of around 15-20mph have been shown to give best fuel efficiency (ref2).

The author acknowledges that children will feel safer when vehicles are slower, but then argues that roads should be dangerous in order to frighten children. This rather makes the case FOR 20mph speed limits.  Roads where 20mph would be considered are public highways, for the use of motor vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, horse-riders and others.

I do not represent Gloucestershire County Council on this issue. I am just a Cirencester resident who on different occasions drives a car, rides a bicycle and walks. The benefits of lower speed limits are well understood. All road users owe a duty of care to all others, and 20mph speed limits are all about making those shared spaces safer.

The following quotes are from the 20sPlenty website (ref 3). There is much more information there, with references to the considerable research that has been carried out ;

  • “Lower speed limits reduce casualties by lowering speeds.”
    • “Surveys consistently show >70% of residents support 20mph “
    • “Pollution reduces, particularly from diesel. Less accelerating and braking reduces brake and tyre particulates. “
    • “Of many reasons for introducing 20mph, financial incentive is not one. While any fines from Fixed Penalty Notices go to the Treasury, it is more common for drivers to receive a warning letter or attend a speed awareness course. “

Clive Perkins




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