Is the guidance on exceptions being changed?

Yes, there is a review of the way that the exceptions guidance has been used by local authorities. We have provided some input into this with the following "supplementary statement".

20mph default speed limit – review of exceptions guidance


Supplementary statement by Rod King MBE, 20’s Plenty for Us

We welcome the consultation, but feel that a statement provides an opportunity to add a useful perspective beyond the framework of questions and answers provided.

1. The guidance is only guidance

Whilst it is entirely correct that the Welsh Government should provide guidance on the setting of a local speed limit other than the national limit, it must be remembered that it is only guidance. Whilst national governments have the responsibility to set a national limit for “restricted roads” with powers devolved in The Wales Act (2017), this does not allow any variations based on the type of restricted road. The only way that a different limit can be set is through the Highway Authority responsible for a road. This is done through a Traffic Regulation Order that both removes the restricted roads and sets an alternative limit. The power to do this is derived from UK-wide legislation in the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984.

The responsibilities of UK local authorities who have Highway Authority status is not just limited to reducing casualties, but embodies a far wider set of considerations. For Welsh local authorities include both Welsh legislation (Active Travel Act, Future Generations Act,  Equalities Act) and also UK-wide legislation. This means that guidance must be considered and applied within a wider context. A good example of this may be seen in the local authority historical implementations of authority-wide 20mph in England from 2006 onwards. The Guidance in 01/2006 stated specifically in para 81:-

“20 mph speed limits should be used for individual roads, or for a small number of roads”

Yet between 2006 and 2009 the local authorities of Portsmouth, Islington, Oxfordshire, Lancashire and Warrington all implemented wide-area 20mph limits over hundreds of roads. In doing so they were treating the guidance as “guidance” rather than “rules”. In fact the guidance was then changed in a DfT Circular in December 2009 stating :-

“We want to draw attention to the initial evidence from the trial of wide area signed-only 20mph limits in Portsmouth, and want to make clear that 20 mph limits over a number of roads may be appropriate elsewhere.”

Here was recognition of both Portsmouth not complying with the previous guidelines and also a change in guidance to align with developing best practice.

So guidance is only that. They are not “cast in stone rules” and it can be expected that local Highway Authorities should consider them alongside their wider local authority responsibilities. This also allow guidance to be developed and improved over time.

Indeed, if local authorities such as Portsmouth, Islington and other had not gone beyond guidance then the real benefits of wide-area 20mph limits as a norm may never have been realised. Now 20 million people in England live in paces where 20mph is the urban/village norm.

2. Civil Liability

There are two precedents in civil law which could influence highway authorities setting speed limits that are higher than the national default.

The High Court case of Rehman v Brady found that where a driver was exceeding the speed limit then the driver becomes 100% liable for the consequences and damages of any collision, even if a pedestrian behaved negligently. A child of 7 was walking with her mother, aunt and sister when she negligently crossed the road and was hit by a car travelling at an estimated 28 to 32mph in a 20mph limit. The court concluded that "allegations of contributory negligence will not be successful where it can be shown that the accident would not have happened at all but for the driver's negligence".

Where a 20mph speed limit exists, liability for the consequences of a collision rests solely with the driver if they had negligently exceeded a speed limit which if adhered to would have enabled the collision to be avoided.

In the case of Yetkin v London Borough of Newham in the Court of Appeal, the court recognised that the correct management of the roads imposes a liability on the Traffic Authority, even in cases where a road users had been negligent. Whilst the particular case was about the management of raised beds in a central reservation obscuring the view of a driver approaching a negligent pedestrian, the judgement was more general:-

"The Highway Authority owed a duty to all road users, whether careful or negligent, to use reasonable care in the manner in which it exercised its powers when it created and maintained the crossing facility."

"The Local Authority had a common law duty of care towards the Claimant, notwithstanding her own negligence; that duty was breached; the breach was a cause of the accident."

From this we can deduce that if a Traffic Authority sets a speed limit which misrepresented the hazards involved then it is in breach of its common law duty of care towards both the driver and to anyone injured regardless of whether either road user was negligent. Raising the speed limit by 50% above the national speed limit may well misrepresent the hazards involved.

These Court of Appeal precedents are an important consideration for any Highway Authority setting or raising a speed limit. Each Traffic Regulation Order for an increase in speed limit requires a Statement of Reason which should lay out the evidence that a change is appropriate. This is referred to in the guidance as requiring “evidenced application of local factors”. Whilst the officers and councillors authorising any increase in speed limit may decide to ignore this guidance, they should be mindful of potentially breaching their duty of care to all road users when exercising their powers. Merely setting a higher speed limit “because there is a lot of traffic or being a main road” would not have fulfilled  that “duty of care” and may open the Highway Authority to subsequent civil liability in the event of a collision or casualty.

We consider that issue should be brought to the attention of Highway Authorities in any guidance provided by the Welsh Government.

3. Stockholm Declaration

At the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in 2020 the Stockholm Declaration was accepted by the 130 ministerial attendees, including Baroness Vere on behalf of the UK. In Resolution 11 on Speed management it states :-

"Focus on speed management, including the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent speeding and mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner, except where strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe, noting that efforts to reduce speed in general will have a beneficial impact on air quality and climate change as well as being vital to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries;"

This was incorporated into the UN Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 with its objective of halving road deaths over that decade. It provides a basis that countries around the world are using for their speed management strategies. Key to this is the presumption of a 20mph or 30km/h maximum legal speed where authorities allow motors to mix with vulnerable road users. This aligns with the idea of “restricted roads” within UK urban/village settings. And this presumption mandates that there is strong evidence for setting any higher speed limit.

It is entirely appropriate that this should be incorporated into Policy section of the guidance in para 1.2.3. This endorses the requirement for Highway Authorities to provide strong evidence of safety for vulnerable road users if setting a higher speed limit.

4. Local Speed Limit Guidance and Vulnerable Road Users

Throughout the UK in all guidance on speed limit setting there is reference to the needs of vulnerable road users :

England - Circular 01/2013 Mar 24 Update Para 33

"Different road users perceive risks and appropriate speeds differently, and drivers and riders of motor vehicles often do not have the same perception of the hazards of speed as do people on foot, on bicycles or on horseback. Fear of traffic can affect people’s quality of life and the needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account to encourage these modes of travel and improve their safety. Speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life."

Wales – Circular 24/2009 Setting Local Speed Limits 2017 Para 3.10

"The needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account in order to further encourage their mobility and improve their safety. Setting appropriate speed limits is a particularly important element in urban safety management, with significant benefits for pedestrians and cyclists. Similarly as vehicle speeds are generally higher on rural roads, collision severity and the risk to vulnerable road users are also greater. In both situations speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life."

Both of these include “The needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account”. It is difficult to see how any arbitrary consideration by a Highway Authority, such as “the road is an A or B road”, or “the road is a bus route”, or “pre-speeds were above x” could dictate that a higher speed limit than the national default was automatically applied could credibly meet this requirement. Each decision “must” take full account of the needs of vulnerable road users.

This equally applies to the Public Sector Equality Duties whereby the Equality Act legally requires a robust consideration of the needs of those with protected characteristics. This is particularly relevant to children, elderly, mothers and those with disabilities. All are impacted by higher speeds. There are other legal implications in both the Future Generations and Active Travel legislation.

Looking at the “Statement of reason” in some of the Traffic Regulation Orders already enacted by some Highway Authorities on exceptions to the national 20mph default, it is clear that no such consideration is evidenced. Any revision of guidance should make reference to these obligations.

In conclusion.

It is entirely correct to review the guidance and the way that it has been interpreted and used by Highway and Local Authorities. But this should be done with the aim of making it clearer rather than having any pre-conceived idea of diluting the guidance to allow greater freedom to set higher limits.  Freedom to set higher limits already exists within current guidance but this does come with the responsibility to do so with due diligence, adherence to the principles of speed management, wider legal obligations, to be of benefit to vulnerable road users and meet a wide range of societal outcomes.

Rod King MBE – 20’s Plenty for Us

12th April 2024




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  • Rod King
    published this page in FAQs 2024-04-20 09:20:51 +0100