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Wales’ 20mph Speed Limit Grinds the Wrong People to a Halt

Updated: May 23

On Monday 18 March, Wales will become the slowest nation in the United Kingdom. This is thanks to the forthcoming enforcement of the new 20mph speed limit – the legacy of outgoing First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford.


It’s rather strange for a politician to slow their country down – usually the goal is to speed it up. But the important question is this: will it work?


The unequivocal answer is this. No. And for so many reasons.


Modern cars physically cannot do 20mph. If you try and sit at 20 on any road, you end up looking like a headbanging punk rocker. Doing 20mph in second gear makes the engine scream like a herd of cats but change up to third and you judder along like you’re driving on washboard gravel.


Regardless of whether the car can physically restrain itself to the speed of a snail, the driver cannot. This has already been proven in Wales, where some areas have trialled cutting their speed limits down from 30mph to 20mph since September. The results? Well, before the new limit, the overall average speed was 28.9mph. After the new limit, it was 24.8mph – which is categorically more than 20.


In short, so far, it hasn’t worked. This is because, just like I said, people and cars simply cannot restrict themselves to 20mph. They won’t.


It is also undesirable. We’re supposed to be moving around faster in the modern age. We’re supposed to be more efficient. And yet here we are, slowing ourselves down. When Welsh sheep farmers start turning up late for work and you haven’t got any woollen clothes or roasted lamb on your Sunday dinner table, perhaps you’ll start to realise how catastrophic this is.


There are already vandals going round graffitiing 20mph speed limit signs in Wales. When the news first broke of the policy, over 460,000 people signed a petition against it – a British record. This is clearly extremely unpopular, and for good reason.


And wait until you hear how much it’s going to cost. A whole £33 million. To slow everybody down. That would be like Apple spending millions to slow everybody’s phones down. Oh, wait…


The fact of the matter is this. Spending millions of pounds to make people’s lives harder, slower and less enjoyable is just not a good use of taxpayers’ money. And yet, Mark Drakeford has said he’s surprised at the opposition to the law.


I understand the motivations here. Mark Drakeford is trying to reduce road accidents and, most importantly, reduce deaths from those accidents. This is undoubtedly a good reason to seek ways to tackle the problem, but it misses the point for three main reasons.


Firstly, you are much more likely to die in a car accident if you are travelling 70mph than 30mph. Of course, there are a group of lunatics who do not stick to the 70mph speed limit on Britain’s motorways – instead favouring a healthy 110mph. Most of them drive Range Rovers and therefore think that health and safety doesn’t apply to them.


If you want to stop accidents, move your speed cameras fining people for doing 34mph in a 30mph zone to the motorways. Then you’ll actually catch the reckless drivers doing 100mph round the M25, rather than the poor soul who means no harm but is fined because his eyes aren’t glued to his speedo.


Secondly, 67% of the UK’s fatal road accidents happen on rural roads. Because I live in a rural area, I know exactly why this is. It’s because most rural roads have a national speed limit – which is 60mph. But this is the case even on single-track roads, with potholes bigger than the craters on the moon and where visibility is so poor you may as well be blind. Yet these are the roads used by pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders.


Again, if you want to stop people dying in a car accident, focus on the bit where the accidents are happening and sort it out.


Finally, you may notice the RAC report cited above which claims the majority of fatal road accidents happen on rural roads also says the majority of fatal crashes happen on urban roads. The distinction is between accidents, which happen on 60mph single-track rural roads because people drive too fast and flip their car in a pothole, and crashes, which happen with other cars.


Now, you might think that Mark Drakeford slowing Wales down to 20mph will cut out these fatal crashes – and no doubt that is what he thinks as well. But it won’t. These accidents nearly all happen at T-junctions, crossroads or roundabouts. It doesn’t matter whether the speed limit is 100mph or 20mph – at a junction, cars are stationary.


Enforcing a 20mph limit in sleepy Welsh towns, therefore, does achieve a number of things. Unfortunately, none of them are good.


First, it punishes people for driving at anything other than a snail’s pace – even at 30mph, which is not dangerous in a modern car with shorter braking distances than ever before.


Second, it fails to address the idiots on a suicide mission, careering down the motorway fast lane at 100mph. These people are much more likely to cause a fatal accident than someone innocently chugging along at 30.


Finally, limiting cars to 20mph ignores how most accidents happen when at least one car is stationary, before pulling out at a junction in front of someone else and sadly dying.


All of this brings us to a conclusion that really isn’t staggering at all – because we all know that the 20mph speed limit is completely ludicrous and, more importantly, pointless. All it does is punish those innocently going about their daily business, while letting the truly dangerous drivers get away scot-free.


So, Monday 18 March will be an extremely sad day for Wales and all you ordinary people out there who just want to get in the car and go shopping, see their friends, or get to work before teatime.

Image: Jaggery

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I support 20 mph in cul-de-sacs and school zones. The bigger focus should be on rural roads. A lot of the narrow windy roads wheee I live in Cornwall are NSL (and a lot of people drive at 60+) and changing a lot of rural roads to 40 mph would be a better use of resources and would save lives

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