The Safer Streets Bill reaches its Stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 13th June. This evening I sent the following email to the Members of the Scottish Parliament.
Dear <Insert MSP name here>
The Stage 1 debate of the Safer Streets Bill will take place on Thursday 13th June. I am sure you would agree that it is important that the bill is considered in the correct context.
This bill does not seek to set a “blanket” speed limit on urban and village roads as suggested by the convener of RECC. Neither is it a “one-size-fits all” approach to setting urban and village speed limits. It specifically excludes A and B roads plus any which are nominated through a Traffic Regulation Order by the local traffic authority. Hence it manages to set a national standard of 20mph for how people drive in the presence of people where they live, play, work, shop or learn, yet at the same time allows local flexibility in identifying those roads where it is deemed appropriate to maintain a 30mph limit.
It follows what is already established as best practice throughout Europe, including the UK. In Northern Continental Europe you will inevitably find a 30km/h (18.5mph) limit on urban and village roads. But whilst already 25% of the UK population live in 20mph boroughs and communities this is being set as exceptions to a national 30mph limit. Hence the “norm” is that Brits drive at 30mph on residential, town and village streets and only slow down in some specific streets or communities. Whilst the UK government has baulked at setting a national 20mph limit and allow local authorities to set exceptions, Mark Ruskell’s Safer Streets Bill steers a compromise for Scotland using devolved powers by setting a default 20mph for lit roads that specifically excludes A and B roads and any nominated by the local authority.
Whilst the advocates are from public health, active travel organizations, child protection and environmentalists, it is opposed by some motoring organizations. Some members of RECC and Transport Scotland have criticized the bill because the costs may be variable due to Transport Scotland not knowing the exact way in which some roads may currently have had their speed limit set. Suggestions are that the cost of the bill could exceed the estimated £20m and reach £33m. Note that this needs to be put into the context of an £883m budget in 2019/20 just for Scottish motorways and the trunk roads, this being almost exclusively spent to the benefit of motor vehicle owners.
So whilst there may be some issues existing, it is noticeable that rather than quantify, inform and empower in order to resolve those issues the government is planning to “kick the can down the road” by opposing the bill and attempting some simplification of existing procedures for setting local speed limits.
This would be counter-productive and fail to meet the objectives of the bill in providing a safer, better, healthier communities for Scots to live. The reasons are :-
- Setting a national norm. It would fail to set the new “norm” of a 20mph limit where people live, work, learn, play and shop. The government would be opposing such a norm and maintaining the current position which endorses 30mph on urban and village roads as a norm. This will inevitably send a strong message to current non-compliers of 20mph limit that their non-compliance is endorsed by the government. This will result in lower compliance and increased road casualties.
The issues of concern are far more easily addressed at national level than by local authority.
- Signage. If a national default of 20mph was set then no 20mph repeater signs would be required and with a change in signage regulations additional speed limit change signs would not be required in the boundary between 20mph streets and 30mph main roads. The simple addition of 30mph repeater signs (currently not allowed on lit streets) would show that a higher limit applied. This signage regulation could be changed at national level by the government.
- Education and engagement. A national limit could be associated with a national engagement and education program informing the public of the benefits and need to comply with the new norm. This can build on the current public perception that 20 is plenty on residential streets. This would be far more effective and cost effective at national level.
- Enforcement. With a single police force in Scotland it is in a far better position for a national consistent policy on enforcing 20mph limits. The impending requirement for all new cars from 2022 to have Intelligent Speed Adaptation that limits driving to the speed limit will reduce the enforcement overhead and is ideally timed for such a bill.
- Inconsistency. It maintains a completely inconsistent approach to setting speed limits on roads which are similar in nature. Why should a street on an estate in one part of the country have a limit that condones a speed limit 50% higher than an identical street elsewhere? They cannot both be correct. Note that World Health Organisation, OECD, iRAP, the Global Network of Road Safety Legislators all say that 30km/h (18.5mph) is the safe speed where motor vehicles mix with pedestrians and cyclists. Child and vulnerable road user protection is not an option to be picked or neglected depending on the “flavour” of local politics. It is surely a national standard to be chosen at national level.
- The English Way. It sets Scotland as both endorsing the English notion of “authority by authority” and national handwashing of setting correct urban speed limits, but also moves Scotland away from its Northern European counterparts where 30km/h is the norm.
- Climate emergency. This is an opportunity to make a bold statement as to whether private motorised transport dominance would be maintained where people move around communities, or whether pedestrians (either on walking journeys or to public transport) and cyclists would have the environmental dangers of motorised transport tamed in order to make those journey’s more convenient and safer. The government knows this. Its own task force on Active travel in June 2018 reported that a key theme was that “20mph should be mandatory in all residential and school areas”.
- It is enormously popular. It is very clear from successive public surveys that setting 20mph limits in residential areas and where people are commands a support of approximately 70% of the population.
I would contrast the approach of the government with that in Wales. It also has the devolved power to set national speed limit which was gained in May 2018. The First Minister has announced in the assembly that “The Welsh Government believes that 20mph zones should be the default speed limit for residential areas”. This has cross party support from Labour, Conservative, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and Green assembly members. Whilst it will inevitably face the same issues as may have been raised in Scotland, the Welsh Government has shown a determination to deliver its aspirations by creating a Task and Finish Group to address how to do so successfully and cost-effectively. This will bring together Local Government, Highways, Road Safety, Police, Active Travel, Public Health and others specialists in this area to overcome any issues in a constructive, informed, pragmatic and effective manner. We applaud this and would suggest that by supporting and adopting the Safer Streets Bill then the Scottish Government could take an equally enlightened and progressive approach to delivering its objectives.
We have produced a video that shows the reasons why the Scottish Government and MSPs should support this bill. It may be viewed at
I will also be in Edinburgh for the event in support of the bill at Holyrood on Tuesday 11th (tomorrow) at 1pm. I will be arriving in Edinburgh at 10:30, and would be available if you wanted to discuss any aspects of the Bill before the event. If would wish to do so then please contact me.
I do trust that MSPs will be able to support Mark Ruskell’s Safer Streets Bill, or support the Government adopting it or taking a similar approach to the Welsh Government by assembling a Task and Finish Group to deliver its objectives.
This is a bill which will align with so many aspirations for active travel, for public health, for independent mobility of children, for lower emissions and for simply making streets more liveable.
Of course, there will be issues in making such change, but not to do so will put back progress on these aspirations and inevitably make Scottish streets more dangerous than they need to be.
And most importantly, the 2022 changes to new cars for them to adapt to speed limits automatically will be a game-changer for compliance and supportive enforcement. Scotland and its parliament is ideally timed with this bill to take advantage of these developments.
I trust that you and your colleagues will be able to take the opportunity to use this bill to make Scottish communities even better places for people to live, work, play, learn and shop.
My best wishes
Rod King MBE
Founder and Campaign Director
20’s Plenty for Us