Wales now has its 20 mph speed limit – so how’s it panning out? Part Two

Does it feel like he’s going faster than you? Image by Robert Oertel from Pixabay

Last time, we looked at two aspects of the new 20 mph speed restrictions in Wales – how they were being enforced and whether they still had public support.

On this outing, we’ll investigate whether the restrictions are actually doing what they’re supposed to, and what the effects are for everyone.

Have the restrictions actually reduced speeds?

The short answer is yes, they have. An analysis by Agilys showed that in the first week after the restrictions were introduced, average speeds dropped by 3.1mph. There was then a slight rise, so that over the first month, speeds dropped by 2.3 mph. And as Agilys is a big hitter in data analysis (they supply traffic data for behemoths like the World Bank and Transport UK), we can be confident about the numbers.

Ah, but what to make of those numbers… that’s a different matter.

Obviously, the drop is supposed to be from 30mph to 20 mph, so a 2.3 mph reduction would seem to be falling short. For some, that’s evidence that the restrictions aren’t achieving their aims. Research on UK cities with 20 mph zones indicates that signs alone tend to be ineffective at reducing speed – unsurprisingly, they work a lot better when speed humps are added.

However, it’s still early days and others have a different take on the data. As reported in Nation.Cymru, the CEO of Agilys commented:

The immediate impact on traffic speeds in Wales has been astonishing, and far greater than many would have predicted.

Welsh drivers are, on the whole, accepting lower speed limits and have changed their behaviour accordingly. There will remain some drivers who choose to break the limit by significant amounts but the drop in speeds on the fastest urban roads has been marked.

During the pilot scheme carried out in eight areas of Wales, compliance with the 20mph zone started off at 45% and rose to 64%.

Experience suggests that eventually people do adapt to new driving restrictions. We’ve mentioned before that compulsory seat-belts raised a hue and cry when they came in, before everybody got used to the idea. Likewise, the culture shift on drink-driving took many years. Maybe the 20 mph restrictions are no different.

Are the restrictions adding to journey times?

According to a Welsh government leaflet promoting the 20mph scheme, most journeys will only be around one minute longer. However, that statement was criticised by the Office for Statistics Regulation, who pointed out that it would be very difficult for most readers to unpick how that figure was arrived at. If you look down to the comments section on that article, you’ll see that some think this means the Welsh Government is fudging the numbers. That’s another sign, maybe, of just how divisive the 20 mph policy is.

There’s anecdotal evidence that the restrictions might be slowing traffic more than anticipated. Writing for BBC News, Nick Servini reports that some businesses are experiencing greatly increased delivery times. One reason could be the sheer number of different speed restrictions that are now in place along short stretches of road. He notes:

Heading up towards Gelli, I quickly go from a 20mph zone into a 40, then 30 and back to 20mph in a short space of time.

Local residents say that this leaves drivers in so much doubt about speed limits that they opt to drive at 20 mph, just to be on the safe side. And some are doing this even where the actual restriction is 40 mph.

The big question is whether this is a short-term problem that will disappear over time. If the policy works as intended and fewer people travel short distances in cars, then presumably fewer cars will mean less congestion. Whether Welsh drivers are able to make that change – given the lack of viable alternatives for many – remains to be seen.

Will 20 mph actually lower emissions?

The goals of the Welsh government’s 20 mph policy included lowering greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. But could slower moving traffic just make things even worse? That sounds like something we should look into next time – so stay tuned.

Whether you prefer to get here at 20 mph or 30 mph, either way, we’d love to see you. We are an independent garage specialising in all the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides servicesrepairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.