Residential areas 'must have mandatory 20mph limit'

VIEWPOINT By Dominic Harrison
Director of Public Health, Blackburn with Darwen

Image caption, Some councils have introduced 20mph limits in some areas

Most residential areas have speed limits, set by local councils, of 30mph. But in this week's Scrubbing Up Dominic Harrison, the director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen argues a nationwide 20mph speed limit would prevent road accidents and so save thousands of lives.

Road death as been described by the campaign group as "the greatest avoidable public health epidemic", in my view justifiably so.

We need governments, both national and local, to act to reduce this preventable risk to children by introducing mandatory 20mph limits on all residential streets in the UK.

If the speed limits in all of the residential areas were changed from 30mph to 20mph we could save thousands of children's lives.

The evidence for this is now very strong.

It is very hard to understand why we are not scandalised by our collective inaction.

Saving lives

A recent report by the North West Public Health Observatory concluded that 140 killed or seriously injured child casualties could have been prevented each year between 2004-8 if 20mph traffic speed zones had been introduced in residential areas (other than main roads) across the North West.

A 2008 World Health Organization report on preventing child injuries also recommended 20mph limits in residential areas.

"Limits" are cheaper than 20mph "zones", which feature traffic-calming measures, and could be in place across the country within 12 months.

Coupled with a strong social marketing campaign they could make a massive difference to the lives of children and adults alike.

No driver really wants to drive at 20mph when it looks safe to drive at 30.

But most children will live and recover if hit by a vehicle travelling at 20mph whereas most risk a lifetime of disability or death if hit at 30mph.

The risk each driver creates and the risk to each child of having the current 30mph limit is small - but at a population level over time it becomes very significant.

System failure

We have had this evidence since 2003 when the English Health Development Agency produced a report saying there was "good evidence for 20mph zones and injury reduction".

Little action was taken then because there was no one solely responsible for taking the evidence to a Local Authority Transport Committee to decide whether to act, no government minister had to say yes or no to a universal 20mph limit in all residential areas of England, no professional could be found in 'dereliction of duty' for not acting on the evidence and hounded by the media for their culpable failure.

This death and injury to children is a 'whole system failure'.

With few exceptions, that failure is still unresolved now, in 2011 and our children are paying the price with their lives.

Several towns have implemented a default 20 mph limit for all residential roads, including Portsmouth, Oxford and Warrington.

The first county to take this approach is Lancashire County Council, which announced on the 25th January 2011 that it would make all residential areas 20mph by 2013 at a predicted cost of £9m.

At a time of efficiencies and cuts this was a brave and honourable decision.

Collective responsibility

Although we will never know just who was saved we will know how many lives (and lifetime disabilities) were prevented.

The Department for Transport estimates the cost of each road traffic death (police and hospital costs, lost taxes etc) at over £1.5m.

A 20mph Lancashire speed limit will pay for itself - even in monetary teams (far less important than human life) many times over.

We need to ask what "cultural disease" has allowed us to tolerate this preventable risk to our children for so long without action.

Perhaps also, we all need to extend our moral imaginations.

We need to take collective responsibility for our part in predictable and preventable events that affect the lives of others.

We are in collective denial of one of the biggest safeguarding risks to children.

It is both predictable and preventable and it is time to do something about it.

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.