Sticking resolutely to the posted 20mph speed limit, as a motorist I have rarely felt so vulnerable.
Directed by sat-nav off the A3 arterial road into the capital, I found myself on the A298 Bushey Road heading through the South London borough of Merton.
I was in the inside lane of a busy dual carriageway which expands in parts to three lanes.
The open road: But drivers need to keep an eye on limits as 20mph zones spring up across Britain’s towns and cities
Yet the speed limit, which last time I used it was 40 mph, had now been halved to just 20 mph: a speed that I appeared to be the only person sticking to. Indeed, as streams of other cars overtook, I feared I might be involved in a collision.
I was concerned. Not about the other drivers, but about the idiots who decided to make this major highway a 20mph zone. And, as the nation celebrates Road Safety Week, it seems I was not alone.
This ridiculous 20mph dual carriageway caused so much anger and concern among locals in Merton that the Labour council which imposed it in 2020 — as part of a borough-wide blanket 20 mph policy —have been so stung by the backlash that they’ve been forced into a partial U-turn and plan now to raise the limit to 30 mph.
Merton council’s Labour transport chief, councillor Stephen Alambritis admitted this month: ‘After careful consideration, we think that 30 mph would be a more sensible speed limit along Bushey Road, between Grand Drive and Martin Way, given that it is a dual carriageway which is not lined by homes or shops.’
He also admitted changing the limit from 20 mph to 30 mph ‘will help to prevent tailgating and dangerous overtaking reported on the doorstep by residents during the 2022 local elections’.
Merton’s Tory opposition leader Cllr Nick McLean said: ‘It’s overkill. It actually makes the roads less safe.
‘Some do drive at 20 mph. Most do not. It is an inappropriate speed limit. It encourages people to break the law.’
Controversial new traffic rules
Blanket 20mph zones
Rolling out over the UK, motoring groups and a new study suggest their road-safety impact is minimal.
£130 speeding fines
Wandsworth is pioneering council-run camera-enforced £130 speeding fines in 20mph zones. But critics fear it’s a money-raising ‘cash-cow’ for financially strapped councils.
Designed to slow traffic, drivers and emergency services have complained they damage vehicles. Barnet removed most of theirs.
Councils already exploit their powers to fine drivers for stopping in yellow box junctions, driving in bus lanes and making banned U-turns.
Councils have generated up to £100m since 2020 from fines on these low traffic neighbourhood schemes to cut traffic in urban and suburban areas, says the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Critics say they displace traffic on to other roads.
‘Denying road space’
Deliberately narrowing roads, adding ‘street-furniture’ and cycle lanes to inconvenience drivers and ‘nudge’ them to abandon their vehicles.
Using new powers, nearby Labour-run Wandsworth this month became the first council in the country to trial controversial £130 speeding fines, but no points on the licence — for motorists caught on camera exceeding the borough’s blanket 20 mph limits on its residential roads.
If the eight-month trial is judged ‘successful’, the fines — halved for payment within 14 days — will become permanent and more councils across London and the UK are likely to follow suit.
Wandsworth says cash from the fines will fund road safety schemes. But the AA warns allowing councils to keep the camera fines will create an incentivised ‘cash cow’ for councils to fleece motorists and is tantamount to ‘de-criminalising speeding’, and putting it on a par with parking fines.
Slow down: Many councils want 20 mph to be the new ‘default’ speed limit in built-up areas
Police should enforce speeding and fines go to the Treasury, it says, though there are huge variations in police prosecutions (which do include penalty points) across the country.
If you think these are isolated cases, think again — the ’20’s Plenty’ bandwagon is gaining huge support from councils responsible for about a third of the country’s most populous built-up areas, including Bristol, Edinburgh, Portsmouth and Oxford.
Half of London roads already have them.
It’s been growing since campaigner Rod King founded the ’20’s Plenty for Us’ movement in 2007. At their annual conference in Oxford delegates were told ’20 mph is becoming the new normal’.
Campaigners say 20 mph zones reduce accidents and make life safer for ‘active travel’ by cyclists and pedestrians. Many councils want 20 mph to be the new ‘default’ speed limit in built-up areas.
Mary Williams, chief executive of road safety charity Brake, described 20 mph limits as ‘life-saving’, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
The devolved Welsh Government is to introduce a 20 mph default limit on roads in built-up areas from September at a cost of £32.4 million, and the devolved Scottish Government plans for 20 mph to become ‘the norm’ in built-up areas by 2025.
But while a targeted 20 mph road near a school or hospital can be a road safety measure, motoring groups say increasingly widespread use is a blunt instrument leading to ‘inappropriate’ speed limits that risk undermining public respect for and adherence to more legitimate limits.
Research by Queen’s University Belfast, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health this week, says cutting speed limits to 20mph in busy town and city centres has ‘little impact on road deaths or crashes’.
However, the study accepts the risks of pedestrian fatalities are three and a half to five-and-a-half times higher at 30 mph to 40 mph than at 20 mph to 30 mph.
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: ‘It’s important that 20 mph limits are used in places where they stand to make the biggest positive impact.
‘Drivers are less likely to comply with a lower limit if they don’t believe it’s appropriate for the type of road.’
AA President Edmund King said: ‘We support targeted 20 mph zones. If drivers understand why it is 20mph, they are much more likely to observe it. But blanket 20 mph zones are not the solution. If you have inappropriate 20 mph zones it undermines speed limits.’
Farewell to feminist icon Sue Baker
Pioneer: Sue Baker has been described as a ‘feminist icon’ of the motoring world
Meeting motoring writer and former Top Gear presenter Sue Baker, who died this week aged 75, was always a delight.
Over more than a quarter of a century we spent many a happy hour in the UK and abroad sharing the driving on car launches, gossiping and laughing our socks off.
She died following a stoical battle with motor neurone disease. But what a legacy she leaves to her family, friends and colleagues.
As a journalist who carved a successful career in TV and in print in what was then an almost exclusively male domain, she’s been described as a ‘feminist icon’ of the motoring world.
Sue was a former chairman of the prestigious Guild of Motoring Writers who praised her as a ‘pioneer for women in automotive journalism.’
Her family announced on Monday: ‘It is with great sadness, that we share the news of Sue’s passing. A doting mother to Ian and Hannah, a loving grandmother to Tom and George, and a wonderful mother-in-law to Lucy. She passed at home this morning with family around her.’