What’s really wrong with 20mph limits, and why no-one cares

Yet another article has appeared in my local paper on the question of  20mph limits – this time by a motoring writer. I was too slow to respond to it – caught in a 20mph zone, you might say. I was also rather surprised to hear a former motoring correspondent having anything to say in favour of 20mph limits, but I expect he had a Damascus Road conversion. In reverse.

There is, as any competent driver knows, little to be said in favour of 20mph limits, their only saving grace being that they are rarely enforced, thus acting as advisory signs, which is fair enough. In fact there is an argument that all speed limits should be advisory, as travelling at any given speed – or above any given speed – should really not be an offence in itself. 

Speed does not kill or even injure: collisions do that. So the real issue is responsible and skilful driving, with punishable offences being dangerous driving, reckless driving and careless driving. But the kind of frightened society we live in does not care for that and uses dubious statistics to twist its judgements. When I was growing up, I was told that there were lies, damned lies and statistics, and this is still true. But now it masquerades as science, and we love it. We prefer it to visible policing, which used to be a real safety measure. But that was in the days when the police said openly that you didn’t learn to drive well until you’d broken the speed limit. Oh yes they did.

What worries me is that someone will institute a method of monitoring all car speeds from a distance, and we will abandon all reliance on driving skill, allowing drivers to be fined or banned for arbitrary reasons, irrespective of how well they are driving. 

What exactly is wrong with 20mph? The same thing that’s wrong with driving too slowly anywhere. It’s polluting; it uses more fuel than is necessary; it distracts the driver from paying attention to the road; it lulls you into a false sense of security or makes you impatient, depending on what sort of person you are; and if deprives you of momentum, which is vital for avoiding danger. It means you spend a lot of time braking, which is when you are in the least control of the car. 

Many, many speed limits are too slow. I have just returned from Derbyshire, which has a more or less ubiquitous and idiotic 50mph limit on the open road. I followed a driver for many miles who kept rigidly to this limit – except that when when he went uphill, he reduced his speed to as little as 30mph. He also wandered all over his side of the road. Going too slowly means you are not in control of the car: you assume the “authorities” must know the right speed, and you don’t need to think at all. That is when accidents happen.

Slow speeds are demanded by local pedestrians because they see drivers going quicker than they are, and they assume that therefore they are going too fast. No, that’s not very bright, but we don’t live in a very bright world. They also never seem to notice how it’s more difficult to cross a road as a pedestrian when all the traffic is going at the same speed, with no gaps.

It’s April 1; so this could be a gigantic April Fool joke, or a rant by a boy racer. Sadly it’s neither: it’s the reaction of an experienced OAP driver to another money-making scam. 

Unfortunately statistics show that 90% of readers will have been brainwashed into thinking all the above arguments are absurd. I made that figure up, of course, but it’s about right. 

Happily I shall not live long enough to see the 10mph  limit or the return of the red flag. I  hope.