Do lowered speed limits increase cyclist safety?

Do lowered speed limits increase cyclist safety?

Do reduced speed limits increase safety for cyclists?

According to a recent government report, speed limits that have been reduced to 20mph result in a “small but statistically significant improvement” in cycling safety.

The Department for Transport (DfT) conducted research that revealed that more people cycle and walk in areas where speed limits have been lowered.

However, the research results were insufficient in proving whether or not reduced speed limit initiatives actually lower the number of road traffic collisions, or injuries sustained from crashes.

“Overall, the introduction of 20mph speed limits led to a small reduction in median speed (less than 1mph), but vehicles travelling at higher speeds before the change of speed limit reduced their speed more than those already travelling at lower speeds,” Jesse Norman, cycling and walking minister, stated [link:].

“The study found insufficient evidence to conclude that in residential areas the introduction of 20mph limits had led to a significant change in collisions and casualties.

“Overall, there was a small but statistically significant improvement in reported levels of cycling and walking.

“Important benefits of 20mph schemes include quality of life and community benefits, and encouragement of healthier and more sustainable transport modes such as walking and cycling.”

The study was conducted across 12 locations in the UK – Walsall, Nottingham, Brighton, Middlesbrough, Calderdale, Portsmouth, Chichester, and two areas from Liverpool, Brighton and Winchester – and was published on Thursday.

As part of the study, over 2,000 residents, 1,256 drivers, 1,655 cyclists and 352 motorcyclists were interviewed, with research revealing that 47 per cent of drivers stuck to the lower limits in residential areas while 65 per cent did so in city centres across the UK.

The majority of speeders were clocked at less than 24mph which the study deemed a “significant reduction in speed.”

Steve Horton, the Director of communications at Road Safety GB, explained: “Whilst there may be many unanswered questions, the initial findings confirm a primary benefit of 20mph limits is in the creation of an environment where more people feel prepared to walk or cycle.

“A key, as yet unanswered, general question is around the direct casualty reduction benefits of such lower speed areas.

“As is the case with many road safety interventions, we rely on other indicators to extrapolate lower casualties or lower severity – in this case, it’s a measurable reduction in mean speeds as well as the general acceptance from most drivers as to the concept of 20mph limits.”

The study results come on the back of the Department for Transport’s announcement that 50 new measures are set to be introduced over the course of the next two years that aim to improve the experience and safety of cyclists around the UK.
And while many of the proposed measures were met with approval from cycling groups, some were disappointed that speed limit issues were largely overlooked.

Xavier Brice, chief executive of Sustrans (a sustainable transport charity), said: “We welcome this wide-ranging and encouraging 50-point action plan that will help to make walking and cycling safer for everyone, and feel safer for everyone.

“Sustrans particularly welcomes the commitment to review the Highway Code in order to better protect and prioritise some of our most vulnerable road users.

“It is disappointing that speed reduction is not addressed more boldly.

“Our recent review of the National Cycle Network highlights the need to create safer spaces for people to walk and cycle, by reducing speed limits and creating more paths away from cars.

“Reducing the speed limit to 40mph on minor rural roads and 20mph in built up areas can play a huge role in making active travel a more welcoming prospect for everyone.”

The proposals were introduced on 22 November with the aim of increasing mutual respect between motorists and cyclists – read more about them here: [link to ‘Government changes that could save the lives of cyclists’]

Responding to the proposals, Jesse Norman said: “Greater road safety – and especially the protection of vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders – is essential.

“We want to improve air quality, encourage healthy exercise, reduce obesity and boost our high streets and economic productivity.

“That means more support for cycling and walking, and that’s what these new measures are designed to deliver.”

Paul Tuohy of Cycling UK said [link:]: “Lowering vehicle speeds around people walking, cycling and horse riding doesn’t just reduce the danger to them, but also their perception of the danger.

“While the DfT’s proposals for amendments to the Highway Code will help save lives, ignoring the threat and dangers of speeding is disappointing. “

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