As a solicitor who specialises in acting for vulnerable road users, cyclists and pedestrians, I welcome the recent call by the charity, Living Streets, urging councils to implement lower speed limits in urban areas.
The Living Streets poll of 1000 parents of primary school children found that a quarter automatically drive their children to school because they are worried about speeding cars. Only 49% of primary school children walked to school in 2011 compared to 53% in 1995. According to the Department of Transport Cycling to School Report dated March 2012, only 1.15% of primary school children cycled to school in 2011 and only 3.22% of secondary school children. These numbers are staggeringly low and illustrate the anxiety which parents have about safety on our roads.
As well as Living Streets, the cycling charities the CTC and Sustrans have also been campaigning to promote cycling to schools as an alternative to the car school run. It is recognised that over the last 30 years, children’s opportunities to be active and travel independently on foot or bike have rapidly declined and accordingly children are much less physically active, with the result that obesity rates among children are shockingly high. Encouraging children to choose an active way of getting to school will get to exercise every day and lead to a nation of healthier, more independent children.
The benefits of a 20mph speed limit in urban areas, particularly around schools and residential areas are obvious. Approximately one in five pedestrians who are struck by a car at 30mph die whereas at 20mph this number is reduced to one in forty.
Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Living Streets, states, “The evidence in favour of 20mph schemes are so well established it is shocking that there aren’t more council wide limits in place – it is time for less talk and more action. Local authorities around the UK are catching on and talking about setting 20mph as the default, we want more to follow suit and the government should be making this process as easy as possible. We are facing a child obesity time bomb and changes need to be made to curb this trend.”
The response of parents to drive their children to school only adds to the problems of congestion on our roads and undermines the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer that children have a minimum of 60 minutes of activity each day.
In my experience of acting for injured cyclists and pedestrians, the vast majority of accidents in urban areas would have been avoided or there would be fewer fatalities and serious injuries if a 20 mph speed limits had been in place. I hope that more local authorities will follow responsible councils such as City of York, South Bank and Clementhorpe and Portsmouth where 20mph speed limits have already been imposed.
Paul Kitson is the Practice Group Leader of Serious Injuries and Head of Slater & Gordon Lawyers Cycle Accident Team.