TOM UTLEY: Reduce the speed limit to 20mph in towns? Publicity hungry politicians are pulling a fast one
My tip for making yourself the most unpopular motorist on the road is to try driving at precisely 20 mph, in good visibility and with no traffic ahead (stock image)
My tip for making yourself the most unpopular motorist on the road is to try driving at precisely 20 mph, in good visibility and with no traffic ahead.
Before you know it, there will be a queue of cars tailgating, flashing their lights, honking their horns and attempting to overtake at hair-raising moments.
Indeed, a colleague tells me that, shortly after passing her test, his teenage daughter was pulled over by the police for obeying a 20 mph speed limit — and given a stern rebuke for putting other road users at risk by driving too slowly!
The poor girl was mortified. She was only trying to be good. I suspect it is not a mistake she will make again.
Certainly, very few drivers pay much attention to the 20 mph limits that have been popping up everywhere in my neck of the South London woods — ‘like spring daffodils’, in the words of an AA spokesman. I’m thinking, needless to say, of those increasingly rare occasions when traffic conditions allow us to drive any faster than a crawl.
The fact is that the average speed in the centre of the capital — the country’s most congested city and the sixth-worst in the world — is now down to an agonisingly sluggish 7.4 mph, whatever speed limit may apply.
This means drivers in London spend an average 227 hours a year stuck in jams, belching toxic fumes from their exhausts. Other UK cities are little better.
But none of this has stopped the virtue-signalling Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan — who seems to get a buzz out of annoying people — from attempting to slow the traffic even further.
This week, under the dramatically named Vision Zero scheme, he launched a consultation on lowering the limit to 20 mph on all roads in the capital’s central congestion zone — with an automatic fine of £100 and three licence penalty points for anyone caught exceeding it.
This week, under the dramatically named Vision Zero scheme, Sadiq Khan launched a consultation on lowering the limit to 20 mph on all roads in the capital’s central congestion zone
Mind you, the celebrated ‘stone cold loser’ (copyright, D. Trump) in the capital’s City Hall is far from alone in his enthusiasm for raising business costs — and motorists’ blood pressure — by doing everything in his power to increase journey times even further.
On the contrary, 20 mph zones are springing up all over the country. They are either planned or already in operation from Bristol to Brighton, Liverpool to Leicester, Wigan to Bury and Bolton — wherever, in short, you find politicians who are either terrified of upsetting road safety campaigners or simply love the thrill of bossing fellow citizens around.
It grieves me to report that even my friend and former colleague Boris Johnson, who prides himself on his libertarian credentials, is no friend of the poor, downtrodden motorist.
During his own time as London Mayor, it was he who first floated the idea of extending 20 mph zones to main arterial roads, after they had previously been restricted to side-streets in residential areas and near schools.
He went on to launch eight pilot schemes on Red Routes carrying a third of the capital’s traffic. Thus, he sacrificed many of the brownie points I’d awarded him when he halved the size of Ken Livingstone’s congestion charging zone.
Boris was also responsible for the network of cycle lanes — many of them hardly used, others lethally ill-planned — that has contributed so much to gridlock in the capital. But then, Boris is himself a keen cyclist, of course, with a tendency to elevate what suits him above the wishes of others.
A brief diversion: despite Boris’s all-too-manifest faults, I’m still inclined to believe the old charmer offers the best, and perhaps only, hope of saving the Tories from being crushed at the next election in a pincer-movement between the Remainiac Lib Dems and the Brexit Party.
But back to those accursed 20 mph zones. Inevitably, Mr Khan’s Vision Zero scheme — so-called because it aims to eliminate all road deaths in the capital by 2041 — has been warmly welcomed by road safety groups. Among them is Brake, whose director of campaigns says 20 mph limits are not only effective in preventing crashes, but also make our streets ‘more welcoming places to be’.
As for Mr Khan himself, he cites Transport for London’s claim that speed is a factor in around 37 per cent of collisions in the capital, declaring: ‘The evidence is clear — lowering speeds on the most dangerous roads saves lives.’
Yet surely it doesn’t follow that because speed may be implicated in a certain percentage of accidents, it is right to impose a limit of 20 mph on every road in the London congestion zone. After all, a great many crashes causing injury or death are the fault of young men (women tend to be much more careful) driving wildly over the current 30 mph limit. How many, I wonder, are caused by drivers travelling at 20 to 30 mph? I’ll bet it’s not nearly as many as 37 per cent of the total.
God knows, cars can be lethal weapons — and I am absolutely not advocating a charter for boy racers
Indeed, a Department for Transport study found there has been no significant reduction in accidents in areas around the country where a 20 mph limit has been imposed.
But when did the likes of Mr Khan allow evidence to stand in the way of an eye-catching initiative designed to show that they care?
Let’s be frank. We all know some roads, even in London, where it’s perfectly safe to drive at 30 or even 40 mph when conditions are clear. In the same way, ever-more efficient modern brakes make it safe to drive at 80 mph on clear stretches of motorway.
In the real world, almost everyone accepts this. Just try keeping to 70 mph on, say, an empty M40 — a road I know well from my trips to my mother-in-law in Oxfordshire — and count how often you’re overtaken.
God knows, cars can be lethal weapons — and I am absolutely not advocating a charter for boy racers. By all means, let police throw the book at reckless speed merchants who put other road users at risk. They could start with the maniacs in Lamborghinis and Ferraris who tear round Knightsbridge and Kensington, near the Mail’s HQ, when they’re not revving their deafening engines at the lights.
But how can it be fair to impose a £100 fine on drivers who break an arbitrary 20 mph limit while putting no one in danger? Leave aside the risks that arise from having constantly to look at the speedometer, rather than the road. Has Mr Khan ever tried driving at 20 mph on an empty dual carriageway? It’s enough to drive anyone mad.
Yes, I know safety campaigners endlessly repeat one lethal crash is one too many (and, yes, I daresay I’d feel the same if the victim were somebody close to me). But if we followed that logic to its conclusion, we’d ban all cars — and all travel by rail, sea and air while we were about it.
And why 20 mph? Why not a return to 1865, when motor vehicles were limited to 4 mph, and 2 mph in built-up areas, while a man with a red flag or lantern had to walk 60 yards ahead of each vehicle?
But I mustn’t go putting ideas into Mr Khan’s head.
There’s one thought I wouldn’t mind planting there, though. Instead of persecuting motorists — already tortured by road humps, pedestrianisation, rip-off insurance and swingeing taxes and fines — how about throwing police resources into tackling knife crime in London? Or is he too busy mounting publicity stunts and slagging off visiting heads of state?
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