Health bosses in Wales defend new 20mph speed limit saying it will protect children 'everywhere'

Health experts have defended a new law which will impose a 20mph speed limit on roads across the country from next month.

It comes as the Welsh Government is preparing to reduce the default speed limit from September which it is describing as the "biggest step-change in community safety in a generation".

Dr Frank Atherton told ITV News there is a convincing argument to roll it out across Wales due to a need to "reduce fatalities and serious injuries of young people."

He said: "If you're struck by a car travelling at 30mph, your risk of dying is five times what it would be if that car was travelling at 20mph.

"What we've seen in other countries which have gone down this route is a 20% reduction in fatalities and that's a big gain and we're seeing the same implications in cities like Bristol and Edinburgh."

The government has been working on the policy for the last four years, alongside councils, police and road safety experts, making Wales the first UK nation to reset the speed limit.

The rollout is estimated to cost around £33 million. 

Twenty people are killed or seriously injured on Welsh roads every week, according to the latest police data.

Police officers have been educating drivers ahead of the rollout

The Welsh Government say almost two-thirds of people surveyed said they would support a 20mph speed limit where they lived and 62% said they wanted everyone to slow down on the roads.

Dr Sarah Jones from Public Health Wales said with 20mph zones around places like schools which already exist, "most drivers tend to be more careful".

She added: "Where children are more at risk is when there are one or two of them, so actually we want to protect children on the entire walk to school not just where they're closest to the school gates and this is why we need 20mph in a much wider area so children can travel to school their whole journey as safe as they are."

The Welsh Government said research suggests the new default speed limit will save £100m as a result of fewer deaths and injuries Credit: Welsh Government

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the speed limit will make streets "quieter, reduce the scourge of noise pollution.

"Evidence from around the world is clear – reducing speed limits reduces collisions and saves lives."

The Welsh Conservatives are against the new speed limit and are calling on the government to u-turn on the policy, highlighting the government's own long-term analysis that it could hit the economy by £4.5bn.

The government said international evidence shows that on average, a person is around five times more likely to be killed when hit by a vehicle travelling at 30mph compared to 20mph.

Dr Hanna, who is a paediatric emergency consultant, told ITV News reducing the speed limit will result in fewer crashes involving children.

He said there was an argument for introducing the limit right across Wales, particularly in deprived areas.

"Nearly 70% of road traffic collisions in which children are injured occur in 30mph roads so we also know in towns and cities in other parts of the UK where they've introduced 20mph limits, that has reduced the number of RTCs and injuries as a result", he said.

"The interesting thing, which is very sad, is that children from deprived areas are twice as likely to be injured as a result of road traffic collisions than children in less deprived areas, so there's a real health and equality [link] when it comes to RTCs as well".

Councils will be able to apply to make some roads exempt from the default speed limit.

  • When will the speed limit be introduced?

Wales will become the first UK nation to introduce a 20mph speed limit on 17 September.

There are similar speed limits in force in some European countries, such as Spain, where 30km/h (18.5mph) is already in place.

  • Where will the 20mph roads be?

It will be in place on what is called 'restricted' roads, which includes those where streetlights are placed no more than 200 yards apart and in residential and built-up areas with high pedestrian activity.

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 this affect all roads that are currently 30mph?

These changes will affect most 30mph roads, but not all. This legislation changes the default speed limited on restricted roads, which are generally residential or busy pedestrian streets with streetlights. 

But not all 30mph roads are restricted roads, and these will remain at 30mph, and will be signed.

For restricted roads, councils can also apply to make some roads exempt from the default speed limit.

A report in November last year by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which analysed data from before and after the limit was introduced on 76 roads in central Belfast in 2016 found there were “no statistically significant differences” in terms of the number of crashes, casualty rates or average traffic speed.

It added that reducing speed limits is “not simply a road-safety intervention” but can be “part of the fundamental reset of the way we choose our life priorities – people before cars”.

However, a report by the Welsh Government published the same week argued a 20mph speed limit would save around £100 million in the first year alone as a direct result of fewer deaths and injuries.