We need more than crossed fingers for 20mph zones


As more and more urban authorities consider the merits of increasing the number of 20mph zones in their areas to improve road safety, NSL’s Barry Francis calls on the new government to take decisive action to ensure such positive moves are not just hollow political gestures.

Unless compliance with speed restrictions are monitored, encouraged and enforced, moves to establish such measures as 20mph zones will fail to fulfil the expectations for improved road safety, as Manchester City Council has acknowledged. However, such responsibilities currently lie outside of a local authority’s remit.

Barry Francis of NSL

The failure of motorists to adhere to the new speed restrictions remains a criminal offence, with enforcement powers lying entirely with the police.

Yet it is fanciful to expect the police to cover these new areas when it was acknowledged nearly 20 years ago that they don’t have the resources to cover other more established local enforcement duties. Indeed, the number of traffic police in England and Wales has fallen by nearly 25% over the past five years.

What’s needed is a simple extension to existing civil enforcement responsibilities that will enable local authorities to take responsibility for lower end speed enforcement to ensure their introduction of new speed restriction signage is not just a hollow gesture.

This does not require a complete overhaul of current enforcement legislation. On the contrary, it would be a logical extension of existing civil enforcement responsibilities.

Improved compliance with some moving traffic regulations in certain urban areas, on bus lane contraventions for example, is already being achieved through civil enforcement measures within existing legislation.

Reckless high speed motoring offences should always be a subject for criminal prosecution – and, therefore, a police matter – given the seriousness of such actions. But controlling speed in a 20mph zone is a much more localised matter, where a visible and uniformed enforcement presence is just as important for encouraging compliance as any effort to punish offenders.

Such a presence already exists in many residential areas in the form of Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) and mobile CCTV vehicles assigned to patrol around the entrances of local schools. However, they have no responsibility for targeting new speed restriction areas and are powerless when it comes to addressing speeding offences.

Despite rolling out 20 mph zones on more than 1,000 miles of the city’s roads, this inability to enforce the new speed restrictions led to some disappointing results in Manchester, prompting inevitable concerns and questions about the financial practicalities of alternative traffic calming measures. Yet, nothing could be simpler and more cost-effective than to extend the duties of existing CEO patrols.

Such a move would provide a reliable, more frequent and visible deterrent to encourage drivers to respect the speed limit and would ensure warnings and fixed penalty notices are issued to any offenders.

With a modest tweak to existing legislation, it couldn’t be more straightforward. And a local authority could then take direct responsibility for managing the control zones that they themselves have created in the best interests of their local communities.

Moreover, the evidence from other areas of civil enforcement suggests the immediacy and impact of a financial penalty will help to rectify such irresponsible behaviour.

The prospect of a dramatic improvement in compliance and road safety would no longer be reliant on crossed fingers and it can be achieved without any further strain or unrealistic expectations being placed on the police.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus