Speed limit to be lowered to 20mph in Wales

A 20mph sign
The Senedd voted on Tuesday to make 20mph the default speed limit for residential streets in Wales.

Senedd members have voted in favour of Welsh Government plans to introduce 20mph as a standard speed limit across Wales.

The default speed limit will be changed to 20mph from the current 30mph in most residential roads and other busy streets.

The new law is expected to come into force from September 17, 2023.

The policy aims to reduce the number of road traffic collisions, improve air quality and noise pollution, and encourage the shift away from car use.

Will my street now be 20mph?

Not all roads that are currently 30mph will change to being 20mph.

Ultimately, local authorities will decide based on a system of exemptions.

However the default speed will be 30mph and in the pilots run over the last year, most residential streets have seen a shift to 20mph.

Joe and Nick both live in areas where 20mph roads have been trialled, but have opposing views.

Whilst acknowledging the benefits lower speed limits can bring to the environment, Joe explained how it impacts his job day-to-day: "It adds time on everything. Especially being a tradesman, if you have to quickly get across to get a few materials, it just slows everything down.

"I see the benefit from it, but I think there should be some sort of middle ground really."

On the other hand, cyclist Nick has already experienced the benefits of the change. He said: "For me, it's made quite a difference. I ride to work on a bike, I use it for going to the shops and I also ride it for sport.

"It just means drivers are tending to hold back a bit and less likely to overtake when maybe they're about to turn off right anyway. And that just makes my journey safer."

Research and pilot trials in eight areas across Wales have been regarded as a success by Welsh ministers.

The government estimates that after an initial £33 million is spent on the change, it will be offset by a saving of £58m in reduced use of emergency services and hospital admissions over 30 years.

Supporters of the move say that pedestrians are 40% less likely to die when hit by a car travelling at 20mph compared with one travelling at 30mph.

Dr Sarah Jones, consultant in environmental public health at Public Health Wales, said: "Travelling at 20 mph has been shown to reduce the risk of crashing and the severity of crashes that do still happen.

"It also produces less noise pollution and reduces fuel consumption. It encourages people to walk and cycle, helping to fight obesity and improve mental well-being.

Any streets where houses are present could well see 20mph introduced as the default speed. Credit: Visit Wales

"All of these are likely to contribute to improvements in health and reduction in the demands for health services, which will help the NHS recovery from Covid.”

However, not everybody is in favour of the change. The law has been opposed by the Welsh Conservatives.

Sam Rowlands, MS for North Wales, has called on residents to voice their concerns about the plans. 

Mr Rowlands said: "I met with local councillor Adie Drury and residents in Buckley, this morning who are extremely frustrated at the pilot scheme which has led to roads through the town having a 20mph speed limit instead of 30mph.

"They are quite rightly very concerned as they believe that pollution is increasing because cars have to drive in a lower gear and wait longer at traffic lights, there have also been more accidents and the cost of the scheme is thought to be in the region of £33 million across Wales which would be better spent on more teachers, doctors and nurses.

"The trial has certainly caused a lot of problems for people living in Buckley and I am angry on their behalf as there does appear to be a lack of public awareness around these changes.

"I do support letting councils put 20mph speed limits outside schools, hospitals and other areas where evidence shows it’s a benefit, but a blanket 20mph speed limit across urban roads in Wales is just not right."

Stephen Edwards, chief executive of Living Streets, who advocate a walking based approach to travel, said: “This would be life-changing legislation because slower speeds will improve the places where we live, work and go to school.

Active travel organisations hope the move will incentivise cycling and walking over a reliance on cars. Credit: Visit Wales

“It’s simple: slower speeds save lives – and I urge Members of the Senedd to support the 20mph in the vote on 12 July and help make our streets and pavements safe and accessible for everyone in our communities.”

Christine Boston, director of sustainably travel organisation Sustrans Cymru, said: "Sustrans Cymru joins Living Streets and Cycling UK in calling for Members of the Senedd to support the proposals, because 20mph defaults will help make communities across Wales safer and more attractive places to walk, wheel and cycle.

"We believe that everyone in Wales should have access to safe streets. Making 20mph default limits in our communities will help to reduce the dominance of motor vehicles whilst creating opportunities for social interaction, creating happier and healthier places.

"We want communities that are built for safety rather than speed."