Towns, villages and cities should be places where people are free to make safe and healthy journeys. Unfortunately, in many places in the UK, inappropriate speed limits and a lack of safe places to walk and cycle away from traffic, make movement dangerous, particularly for vulnerable road users, including children and the elderly.
For people to make safe and healthy journeys where they live, they need:
- Safe footpaths and cycle paths, separated from motorised traffic
- Safe places to cross roads
- Slow traffic
- Clean traffic
Faster traffic speeds make communities more dangerous. Speed affects people’s perceptions of danger, and can be a determining factor in whether people decide to walk or cycle .
It is widely understood that 20mph is the most appropriate maximum speed limit for built up areas where people live, work and play.
Safe roads and safe speeds
Safe roads with safe speeds are central to the 'safe system' approach to road safety .
Speed limits give road users information about the type of road and likely hazards on it, such as the presence of people on foot and bicycles in communities.
Unfortunately, many drivers break speed limits in built-up areas. A Brake and Direct Line survey revealed that more than half of drivers admit to breaking speed limits by at least 5mph on urban roads with 20mph and 30mph speed limits .
Effective speed management, including through low limits in communities, is essential to reduce casualties and enable more people to walk and cycle.
The World Health Organization has emphasised the need for 20mph limits, stating that in areas where ‘motorised traffic mixes with pedestrians, cyclists, and moped riders, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h (20mph)’ due the vulnerability of these road users .
Slower speeds mean stopping in time for a child
Road crashes are the biggest killer of young people worldwide and more than six children are seriously hurt or killed every day on British roads. According to the World Health Organization, speed is responsible for about a third of deaths on roads in developed countries. [5,6].
20mph limits are important for protecting children who use roads. Research has found children find it harder to judge the speed of approaching vehicles travelling faster than 20mph, so may believe it is safe to cross when it is not .
The faster a vehicle is travelling, the longer it will take to stop. At higher speeds, a driver has less time to react if a child steps out in front of them. They are more likely to hit that child and will hit them harder. A crash at 30mph involves twice as much energy and destructive potential as a crash at 20mph.
Safe streets are healthy streets
In the UK it is estimated that one in six deaths can be attributed to physical inactivity , and childhood obesity has been described as ‘one of the biggest health problems this country face’ .
Daily physical activity is hugely important for maintaining health, and
research has shown that regular exercise has many benefits - from reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, to improving muscle strength and helping combat mental illness .
Active travel, including walking and cycling within and between communities, provides a key opportunity for regular physical activity. Unfortunately, danger from traffic prevents many people from being able to walk and cycle safely.
Streets that are designed to meet the needs of people instead of motorised traffic enable more people to make safe and healthy journeys on foot and by bike.
The Healthy Streets initiative
The Healthy Streets initiative offers an evidence-based approach for creating fairer, sustainable, attractive urban spaces.
Ten 'Healthy Street Indicators' outline the key elements that are necessary for public spaces to improve people’s health, while also making urban places socially and economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable . These include the following:
- People feel safe
- Easy to cross
- People choose to walk and cycle
- Not too noisy
Transport for London has adopted the Healthy Streets approach to improve air quality, reduce congestion and help make London's diverse communities greener, healthier and more attractive places to live, work, play and do business .
- Department for Transport (2020), Walking and cycling statistics, England: 2019
- International Transport Forum (2016) Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: leading a paradigm shift to a safe system,
- Brake (2018) Brake and Direct Line safe driving report: Speed
- World Health Organization. (2017). Managing speed. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/254760.
- World Health Organization (2019) Global status report on road safety 2018
- Department for Transport (2019), Casualties involved in reported road accidents (RAS30), RAS30024
- Traffic at 30mph is too fast for children’s visual capabilities, University of Royal Holloway London, 2010
- Department for Transport (2020) Gear change: A bold vision for walking and cycling
- Department of Health and Social Care (2018) Childhood obesity: A plan for action
- Public Health England (2019) Physical activity: Applying All Our Health
- Healthy Streets
- Transport for London (2017) Healthy Streets for London