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Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Agenda: Subordinate Legislation, European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1


Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Agenda item 4 is stage 1 consideration of the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill. I invite members to declare any relevant interests.

I am the honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, which has an interest in roads.

The Convener

Thank you. In this, the committee’s first evidence-taking session on the bill, the committee will take evidence from academic, health, environmental and health sector perspectives. I welcome Rod King, founder and campaign director, 20’s Plenty for Us; Stuart Hay, director, Living Streets Scotland; Dr Adrian Davis, professor of transport and health, Edinburgh Napier University; Bruce Whyte, public health programme manager, Glasgow Centre for Population Health; and Gavin Thomson, air pollution campaigner, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK.

I do not know whether you have all given evidence at committee before, so I will say how it works. You do not need to touch any buttons on the consoles in front of you, as the microphones will be activated for you. When you want to come in, you should try to catch my eye and I will bring you in at the appropriate moment. We have quite a big panel—there are five of you—so you might not all get to answer every question, but I will do my best to bring you in.

I hope that we will have relatively short questions that will prompt short answers, as that will allow more of you to get in. I caution you that, if you see me waggling my pen, it will probably mean that you should wind up. Ultimately, it will become so quick that it might fly off in your direction if you are not paying attention to me, so please do not keep speaking and look the other way. In the unlikely event that you all look away when a question is asked, one of you will be nominated, so there is no hiding.

On that basis, we will start, and the first question will be asked by Colin Smyth.

This is probably the most straightforward question that you will be asked during the meeting. Why do you support the proposal to reduce the default speed limit on restricted roads from 30mph to 20mph?

As it is such a simple question, we will start on my right—your left—with Rod King and work along the panel to get a short answer from each of you, please.

Rod King MBE (20’s Plenty for Us)

We have to start with what we have now, which is a 30mph limit that was set in 1934 and was very much plucked out of the air as seeming reasonable. We have to ask ourselves whether that is appropriate for nearly a century later when we have so many more aspirations for ways in which we want to use the roads to do with public health, active travel and people’s ability to move around independently under their own steam. A limit of 20mph or 30kph is the developing standard across the world as the safe and appropriate speed limit where pedestrians and cyclists mix with motor vehicles.

Stuart Hay (Living Streets Scotland)

We support the proposal for the same reasons. It is really about creating towns and other places that are safe and feel safe for people to walk or cycle around and for kids to play in. A limit of 20mph is the only way to achieve that. A limit of 30mph is not appropriate if we want to have those conditions in our towns and cities.

Professor Adrian Davis (Edinburgh Napier University)

Notwithstanding what has been said, one of the key things is to reduce the numbers of deaths, serious injuries and slight injuries, which predominantly—in cities, at least—happen to people who are outside vehicles. Those people do not present much of a threat kinetically to other road users, but they suffer disproportionately.

Scotland has agreed and is trying to implement vision zero, which is about having no fatalities or life-changing injuries, and a 20mph limit is important in that regard, as it dampens down the kinetic energy in the system. It is also important as a public health position, as it increases population health, reduces the disease burden and reduces the cost to the national health service.

Bruce Whyte (Glasgow Centre for Population Health)

As Adrian Davis said, there is the great benefit of reducing casualties. Currently, 60 per cent of serious and fatal casualties on 30mph roads are vulnerable road users such as walkers or cyclists. We also know that there are inequalities in who is likely to be a casualty. Casualty numbers are higher among adult pedestrians in more deprived areas, and higher again among child pedestrians. The bill will help to address those inequalities across Scotland.

Gavin Thomson (Scottish Environment LINK)

I am very happy to be here. Reducing the default speed limit will improve the flow of traffic, reduce congestion and emissions and encourage more active and healthier travel choices, and all those things will have positive impacts on air quality. As an air pollution campaigner, that is why I support the bill.

Does any of you know what percentage of 30mph roads in Scotland are restricted roads that will, therefore, be covered by the bill?

Stuart Hay

I have asked that question. I believe that it is quite difficult to get the data from local authorities, because it relates to the number of traffic regulation orders that are out there, and nobody has collated them all.

There are supplementary questions on that issue.


Mike Rumbles

We are considering changing criminal law—breaking the speed limit is a crime. A publication from the Scottish Parliament information centre, which is publicly available, refers to research on the 20mph speed limit pilot in south Edinburgh. It said:

“The average speed of vehicles on streets, provided with a 20mph speed limit, has dropped by an average of 1.9mph from 22.8mph to 20.9mph.”

Before the speed limit went down to 20mph, the majority of motorists were not breaking the law. When it was reduced, the average speed exceeded the limit, which means that most motorists are breaking the law. Do you have any comments on that?

Professor Davis

First, I will provide a bit of the science behind that, by way of explanation. From the peer-reviewed literature on the science of speed and kinetic energy, we know that for every 1mph reduction in average speed, there is a 6 per cent reduction in the number of collisions. We know that the slower people travel, the more time they have to make the decision to stop. The faster they go—for example, once they get over 30mph—the more dangerous things become, and people often drive at well over 30mph where there is a 30mph speed limit. We have to think about the kinetic energy and the impact.

Often, the press portray a 1mph or 1.9mph average speed reduction as being not really worth it—we see that time and again—but that lacks understanding of the science of kinetic energy and the significant drop in the number of collisions that result from that reduction. We have seen data from Portsmouth City Council—the first authority in England to implement a 20mph speed limit across a whole city—Calderdale Council, Bristol City Council and Warrington Borough Council, where, as a result of speed reductions, significant reductions have been reported in the number of casualties. The link can be seen—if the kinetic energy is reduced, the likelihood is that the number of injuries is reduced.

As a coda to that, I point out that Scotland was the first place in the United Kingdom to implement a 20mph speed limit. That was done in 75 sites across 27 local authorities at the end of the 1990s, and there were significant reductions in the number of casualties. Scotland was the first place to do it and we have good evidence that small average reductions are important.

Professor Davis did not address my question, which is about criminality and the point that most motorists in south Edinburgh would now be considered to be criminals.

Rod King

One thing to remember is that when 20mph limits are set, a lot of roads are included where the speed is already low and possibly below 20mph.

There are three types of roads: residential roads with low speeds, roads with medium speeds of about 20 to 24mph and roads on which the speed is a little bit faster. Research shows that there is a mix of reductions in speed where 20mph speed limits are implemented. There is no reduction on the slow roads, some reduction on the medium-speed roads and a reduction of 3mph to 4mph on the faster roads.

Research also shows that, after the implementation of 20mph speed limits, the vast majority of people—80 per cent or so—travel below the speed at which there would be enforcement, which means that they travel at speeds below 25mph. There is good evidence on those changes.

Another point is that, if a consistent national limit is set and there is public consensus for it, compliance across the spectrum of speeds is affected, which obviously helps.

Mike Rumbles

My whole point is about compliance. We have 20mph speed limits in Edinburgh. The anecdotal evidence is that, sometimes, given the traffic, no one can drive more than 20mph, but that, at other times, quite a large number of people break the 20mph speed limit. What is the point of having a law that most people do not observe?

Stuart Hay

We should be aware that behaviour is no different where there is a 30mph speed limit. In fact, the statistics show that people behave worse in 30mph zones. A limit is a limit, and it is important that people drive according to the conditions. In an urban residential area, people should anticipate that there will be children and that sight lines are limited, and they should drive at about 20mph. Some drivers already do that, so the point about introducing a speed limit is to shift the behaviour of the other drivers. We can partly do that through education, so that people are aware of the new limit, partly through engineering, where necessary, and, finally, partly through enforcement, for the hard core who really do not get it.

The Convener

I have a follow-up question. The 20mph speed limit in Edinburgh is quite interesting. If you drive at 20mph, what you notice more than anything else is the bicyclists who are doing 30mph or 40mph downhill. Adrian Davis made the point about injury. Injury is about developing kilojoules of energy at a point of impact in a limited area. A bicycle will do that probably more effectively on a point of impact, because the point where it hits will be very narrow.

I know that bicyclists are a problem. What do you think about a car driver saying, “Well, I’m being overtaken by a bicycle.”? Does that make it easier for a driver to come to terms with the limit? Should we not be thinking about bicycles as well?

Professor Davis

That is an outlier question, because that is a minor point. Getting up to 30mph is quite difficult for most people on bikes. The science is based on mass and speed; there is an equation to measure that. It is the mass of the vehicle that will do more damage. You really do not want to get hit by a heavy goods vehicle, because you will be dead. With respect, convener, I say that mass is the most important consideration. A bike is much smaller. That is not the main point of consideration for us today. Most people are hit by motor vehicles.

As convener, I will take your point that I should not ask outlier questions.

Stewart Stevenson

I want to deal with the numbers question before my substantive question. My question is for Professor Davis. If you have 10 vehicles travelling through a zone, nine of which are doing 29mph and one of which is doing 40 mph, 10 per cent of the vehicles are breaking the speed limit, but the average is 31mph. That suggests that averages are the wrong way of looking at the problem. Is it fair to say that we should be considering median speeds, rather than average speeds?

Professor Davis

If someone was travelling at 29mph or even 30mph, the person behind them who was trying to go at 40mph could not do so because they would be behind them in the queue. One thing that we have talked about in the literature on 20mph is pace cars: when people abide by the speed limit, it forces other people to abide by the speed limit.

Stewart Stevenson

I am just exploring the arithmetic, because the thrust of the previous question was about average speeds. The 40mph driver could be at the head of the queue, rather than at the back of the queue. If the average speed is above the speed limit, that does not tell us the amount of people who are breaking the speed limit. I just want to get on record whether my comment—as a mathematician—is correct.

Professor Davis

My way of answering that—I hope that this is not abstruse—is that we find across authorities from which we have post-implementation data that the really high speeds come down the most. That is one of the most dramatic changes: where people might previously have gone at 40mph, they might now go at 28mph, which is well above the speed limit, but is a lot less than 40mph. That is the best way that I can answer your question using the data that I have in my head.

Stewart Stevenson

I will move on to my more substantive question, which is not just for Professor Davis. The bill covers restricted roads only. In other words, it does not cover A or B roads, or roads on which lamp posts are more than 185m apart. In a sense, that comes back to the question that Stuart Hay could not answer about whether we have any sense of what that means in the real world. Stuart Hay said that he did not know, but do we have a sense of what part of the road network the bill would apply to?

Bruce Whyte

My understanding is that about 80 per cent of the roads in Edinburgh are covered by the 20mph limit, so that leaves 20 per cent.

Right. I want to home in on that figure in order to be precise. Is that 20 per cent of the distance or 20 per cent of the number of roads?

Bruce Whyte

I am not certain, but I think that it might be 20 per cent of roads.

Twenty per cent of roads are unaffected.

Bruce Whyte

Yes. I think that it will have been decided that some roads are restricted roads but the speed limit should remain at 30mph, or whatever it was previously.

The bill is only about restricted roads. Is that too restrictive in terms of what we are trying to achieve in policy terms?

Rod King

The bill seeks to set what would be appropriate—the right national consensus—for most roads. It will not take away a local authority’s ability to use its flexibility. When a local authority is considering in what areas 20mph could be appropriate, 90 per cent of its roads might be restricted, so they would clearly come into that category. Another 5 per cent might be unrestricted but the authority wants the limit to stay at 30mph; and there might be another 5 per cent of roads that are not restricted but it wishes to make 20mph roads. In the latter case, the local authority can make a traffic regulation order to make those roads into restricted roads, which would enable it to accommodate those 20mph limits.

Jamie Greene has a supplementary question.

Given the opening comments, it is fair to say that every member of the panel is in favour of the bill, which is quite short.

The debate is about the principle of the bill.

Jamie Greene

As Stewart Stevenson said, the panel is in favour of the principle of the bill.

It is quite striking that nobody can answer fundamental and simple questions about how many roads or what percentage of road mileage would be affected by the bill that we are being asked to agree to. In Edinburgh, there even still seems to be uncertainty about how many roads are affected in the current zone, never mind how many would be affected in future zones. In order for us to consider fully the consequences of the bill, it is entirely appropriate that we get a sense of the scale of its impact, but no one seems to be able to provide an answer on that. Why is that?

Stuart Hay

We cannot do exact numbers, but we can say what—

Surely you can answer on how many roads there are and what the road mileage is.

Stuart Hay

No. Basically, that would mean counting up all the 30mph areas in Scotland that have an order applied to them—those are areas that the bill would affect. We have a very developed network; those streets have all been assessed at 30mph, and most of them would go down to 20mph. Where it was deemed appropriate by local authorities, a few would be retained at 30mph. From Living Streets Scotland’s point of view, those roads would be in places such as industrial estates, where there is not a lot of pedestrian activity and the primary function of the roads is to be distributor roads. However, the 20mph roads would cover all residential areas, areas where there is lot of pedestrian activity—for example, around parks—and every area that has a school.

We know where the bill would impact, but we do not know how many exclusions would be created, because that is a different process.

I am conscious that we are still on our first question and that the panel has a lot more questions to answer. I invite Rod King to come in briefly, then we will move on to the next question.

Rod King

No member of the panel knows the answer to Jamie Greene’s question for the same reason that the Department for Transport, the UK Government, Transport Scotland and most local authorities do not know. The mix of restricted and non-restricted traffic regulation order roads has been built up over time and there is no central database. That is why we are ignorant.


Is there no data? Has no one mapped the road mileage and what percentage is classified as restricted roads in any part of the UK?

Rod King

London has a public map of every road and every speed limit. There is no data for the rest of the country, but the DFT has an aspiration to do that.

The Convener

Instead of imposing a default national speed limit of 20mph on restricted roads, would it not be preferable to allow local authorities to impose 20mph speed limits where that is considered to be appropriate? That would flick it the other way around: instead of there being a default, local authorities would be allowed to make the decision. Perhaps Gavin Thomson wants to start off on that question.

Gavin Thomson

Sure. We have touched on local authorities having powers to create exemptions. The onus is on local authorities to implement 20mph limits, but the process is cumbersome; it takes a long time. The bill would speed up the process and be much more resource efficient.

It is about creating a norm, with a lower speed limit being that norm, rather than the exception. That is important for behaviour change and travel choices. Other panellists may want to touch on that point.

I accept the point on the norm, but the bill could have simplified the process of giving roads 20mph limits. I know that Rod King wants to come in but, for balance, I ask Bruce Whyte to come in.

Bruce Whyte

The issue has an important inequalities angle. Scotland has a mixed bag of 20mph limits; some authorities—the City of Edinburgh Council, for example—have covered the city, and other cities have very few 20mph limits. There are casualties on 30mph roads; the bill would reduce the number of casualties and fatalities and increase levels of active travel, such as walking and cycling. There is inequality in the distribution of 20mph limits and there are higher levels of pedestrian casualties in more deprived areas.

Gavin Thomson’s point about social norms is really important. A national limit, albeit with exceptions that local authorities could dictate, would create a lower speed environment, which would be more considerate for all road users, particularly those who are vulnerable, such as pedestrians and cyclists who are most likely to be the casualties on 30mph roads.

I will widen this out and bring in Peter Chapman, to ask his next question, which may allow Rod King to come in.

Peter Chapman

As an alternative to lowering the default speed limit to 20mph, the RAC has suggested the use of variable speed limits, with a 20mph limit during peak times only. In the scenario of driving through Edinburgh at 3 o’clock in the morning with no other cars about and nobody walking about, is it fair that the driver should be restricted to 20mph?

Rod King

That is a very big question. Would that approach be applied to motorways and rural roads or only to places where there are people—where a 20mph limit is appropriate and where people mix? The RAC suggestion does not stack up and would not be consistent with our broader range of speed limits. It would tend not to work, with people involved in interminable arguments about whether the limit should come in at 7 o’clock or 7.30 and so on. It is much clearer to say that a speed limit exists 24/7.

To come back to the question about letting local authorities continue to impose 20mph limits, such an approach treats the 20mph speed limit as the exception, rather than the rule. It continues the current situation, in which the public consensus is that we can drive at 30mph on most roads, with the exception of roads in a few odd local authorities that set the speed limit at 20mph. It endorses non-compliance and it is not a very smart approach. It is predominantly the approach in England, where 33 per cent of the population live in authorities with—more or less—a default 20mph limit, adjacent to authorities without a 20mph limit.

That is not a smart way to do it. The bill proposes a much smarter way, which is much more in line with what Scandinavian countries do. In Scandinavia, the default is 30kph, or 18.5mph, on most roads. There is both a social consensus and a civil liability consensus on that. If a driver is doing more than 25mph on a road with a 20mph limit, that driver is 100 per cent liable for the consequences of a crash, regardless of any negligence of the pedestrian. People who do not comply with the 20mph law can face sanctions under civil liability.

Mike Rumbles

I want to follow up on the discussion about taking a blanket approach rather than allowing local authorities to impose 20mph limits. I represent many people in rural Aberdeenshire, and the A roads that go through all the villages in rural Aberdeenshire will not be affected by the bill. However, committee members were told this morning at a technical briefing that every single road that leaves the main road will have to have signage to show the 20mph speed limit—that came as a surprise to me and, I think, to other members of the committee. The cost to Aberdeenshire Council alone will run to I do not know how much. Can you talk about the feasibility and cost of having a blanket approach across the country?

Rod King

The primary responsibility of local authorities when setting speed limits is to take into account the needs of vulnerable road users. I would ask whether that main road needs a 30mph or a 20mph limit. If 20mph is appropriate, the local authority can make a traffic regulation order to make the speed limit 20mph on that part of the road and then it will not need to put up any signs on the side roads.

We will come back to the question about cost, because John Mason will ask more detailed questions about cost later.

Stewart Stevenson

I am not looking for a long answer to this question, just perhaps an indication of where to find the answer. Rod King said that a third of English authorities have, in essence, a blanket 20mph speed limit, which suggests that two thirds do not have that limit. Are there differential accident and health outcomes between the two groups of authorities? Is evidence available that can help us?

Professor Davis

I mentioned the evidence from towns and cities that have implemented the 20mph limit and done an evaluation. Bristol has done the most detailed evaluation, which has shown a reduction in deaths and serious and slight injuries. I also mentioned Warrington and Portsmouth in my submission, as well as the original data from Scotland.

We have good evidence that reducing the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph brings about a reduction in deaths and serious and slight injuries, if that is what you are asking, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson

Forgive me—I accept that, but we know that authorities make different interventions to try to drive down accidents, so looking at what happens in one authority gives us only part of the answer. I was merely asking whether the shape of the graph in authorities that have not reduced the speed limit is different from the shape of the graph in authorities that have reduced it. It is not about comparing Bristol before implementation with Bristol after implementation; it is about comparing Bristol with Cheshire, for example.

Professor Davis

Absolutely. In a decent evaluation there must always be a comparator, to show what happens if the action is not taken. The calculations in “The Bristol Twenty Miles Per Hour Limit Evaluation (BRITE) Study” showed a drop, as was the case in Calderdale, relative to areas that did not implement the speed limit—all other things being equal, which is always the difficult issue.

Peter Chapman

I want to explore my question about variable speed limits a wee bit more, particularly with Mr Hay, because he said that it was important to drive according to the conditions. I remind the panel that the scenario is that somebody is driving at 3 o’clock in the morning in Edinburgh when there are no other cars about and nobody is walking. Is it fair to ask that driver to go at 20mph, or is it reasonable to say that 30mph would be perfectly okay at that time? It is about driving according to the conditions.

Stuart Hay

We have to consider the conditions at that time, when visibility is reduced because it is night-time, stopping distances are different and, on certain days of the week, people who have had a drink might be wandering around. A lot of factors need to be taken into account when the speed limit is brought in. Another point about variable speed limits is whether to sign those, which causes confusion for drivers. We need only to look at the problems that have been caused on bus lanes, which apply at different times in different places, and the controversy around that. We would be repeating that issue if there was a variable speed limit. It is much clearer to say that it is an urban area so the correct speed is 20mph.

Gavin Thomson

I was going to make a similar point. There will be pedestrians out and about in the middle of the night. There might not be many, but we can never predict where they will be and where they might need to get to. They deserve safe streets as much as someone who is walking about at peak time or rush hour.

Jamie Greene

I have a question that moves us in another direction, but I apologise if I go over some old ground first. No one is suggesting that night-time pedestrians should face less safe conditions than daytime pedestrians; the premise of Mr Chapman’s point is about taking a sensible approach to quiet roads and having speed restrictions that apply at different times of day depending on the conditions, which is a fair point to raise.

I want to go back to something that Mr Thomson said in answer to the convener’s question about the status quo in relation to exemptions versus what would happen in future. Am I correct that Mr Thomson said that it is a cumbersome or onerous process for local authorities to change a 30mph speed limit to 20mph?

Gavin Thomson


What makes you think that the bill will change that? Can you point to the section of the bill that makes it clear that the process will be easier or less onerous? It is a one-page bill so that should be easy.

Gavin Thomson

What makes me say that is the pace of change for local authorities that have implemented 20mph limits; it has taken many years and has had to be done through a TRO. Simplifying the process, as the bill does, makes—

Sorry—how does the bill do that? Explain it to us in simple terms.

Gavin Thomson

I cannot do that—I am sorry.

Jamie Greene

Okay, fine. The point is that, compared with applying to change a 30mph limit to 20mph, the process for changing a 20mph limit to 30mph will be different. It is still unclear to me why it will be better and simpler. My question is open to anyone on the panel who wants to answer.

Stuart Hay

You gave the example of Edinburgh, where there are very few roads left with a limit of 30mph and it has, therefore, been deemed appropriate. Under the new bill, Edinburgh would concentrate on those streets, retaining them at 30mph, rather than dealing with all the streets that need to be 20mph. It would be a much shorter list of streets, which means that there would be less scope for objections, and the TRO process would work more easily in terms of advertising and so on.

Jamie Greene

It may be a question for the member in charge of the bill, but no one has really explained to me how the new process will differ technically from the current process. Edinburgh is a different example because it already has a blanket 20mph approach and therefore, by default, there are fewer roads to exempt.

On a scale from zero to 100 per cent, where zero would mean that no one applied for an exemption from the 20mph restriction to go back to 30mph and 100 per cent would mean that everyone applied for exemptions, does anyone have an idea of the volume of TROs that local authorities might need to move limits from 20mph to 30mph, compared with the existing volume of TROs to go from 30mph to 20mph?


Rod King

Some answers to your questions are in the detail, which we do not have the data for. However, the experience of UK implementations is that about 80 per cent of the 30mph roads in an authority’s area get a 20mph limit. TROs must be made for every one of those roads and decisions must be made on where to put the required 20mph repeater signs on every one of those roads, which involves administrative and engineering work and outsourcing the engineering work. Appropriate consultation for a TRO must also be done. If a 20mph limit is to be successfully and effectively implemented across all areas, the media, social engagement and education must be done right.

All those things are imposed on a local authority when a 20mph limit is set as an exception to the national norm. If the national norm is changed, the situation will completely change. Instead of having to make TROs for 80 per cent of roads, a council will need to do them for probably 5 per cent of roads. Instead of looking at signage for 80 per cent of roads, a council will need to look at it for perhaps 5 per cent of roads. A local authority will be able to look at the best mix of engagement, including social media engagement and education, that relates to how the communities own the benefits and to the national consensus that 20mph is the right speed to do when in the presence of people.

Jamie Greene

I say with respect that you have changed the premise of the argument—your argument is volume based rather than process led. Arguing that the new process would be simpler is different from saying that, because fewer TROs would be required, the arrangements would by default be easier. You are saying not that the process would change but that the volume would differ.

Rod King

The volume would differ, but councils would not have to make exceptions to the national norm—they would be going with the flow.

Jamie Greene

Exceptions would have to be made. If a council currently wants a road to go from 30mph to 20mph, it seeks an exemption from the national limit, so it would surely have to go through an exemption process if the bill applied. If the blanket limit changed from 30mph to 20mph and a local authority wanted to change a road’s limit to 30mph—many local authorities might choose to do that—the authority would still have to go through an exemption process in the same way as it currently does. I cannot get my head round what would be different.

Rod King

Technically, there would be no difference, but the demand on local authority resources would be hugely different—we are talking about 5 per cent of roads instead of 80 per cent, which means that one sixteenth of the resources would be required.

That answers my original question—it is not the process but the volume that would change.

I need to bring in other members, who are lining up. Richard Lyle has a question.

Richard Lyle

We are all talking about cars, but what about buses? In my area, buses run through housing estates. The bill would create a timetable problem for buses, as it would add to their journey time if they could only do 20mph, not 30mph. What would happen to bus timetables?

Does anyone want to answer that question specifically? I am conscious that Rod King has been at the forefront of the argument.

Professor Davis

I will give a brief example from the city of Bristol, which I know in considerable detail. The main bus operator there is First, which opposed the 20mph programme when it started with a pilot, as in Edinburgh. However, analysis showed that it was not the speed limit but passengers boarding and buying tickets that delayed buses. First did not have to change its timetable.

The effect on average speed is relatively small. Some adjustments might be needed, but that issue is small relative to the delays from people boarding buses, which relate to ticket types.

Gavin Thomson

In areas where 20mph has been implemented, the flow of traffic has improved, so it is not necessarily true that journey times are longer. A bus’s top speed might be lower, but the overall journey time will not necessarily be longer.

Some 20mph zones have been rolled out in Scotland, albeit in quite an inconsistent way. If the bill is not passed and we stick with the existing system, what progress can we make on 20mph zones in Scotland?

Bruce Whyte

As I said, there is a piecemeal approach in Scotland just now. If we want to lower the 30mph speed limits on restricted roads in our towns and cities, to save lives, to get more people walking and cycling and to enable people to feel that it is safe for their children to walk and cycle to school, doing it on a national basis would have a national public health impact. Scotland could be at the forefront of a public health intervention that could have an impact not unlike that of the smoking ban—it would be that large.

Rod King

The reality is that the Scottish Government is being asked what the right speed limit is for residential roads, and it is in a position to say whether that is 20mph or 30mph. If it decides against 20mph, it will be endorsing 30mph on every restricted road, unless the local authority thinks otherwise. It will be endorsing a national consensus that it is okay to drive at 28mph or 29mph in housing estates, high streets and other places where people want to walk and cycle, with all the consequences of those higher driving speeds. That will certainly have a negative effect on public health, as far as active travel is concerned, and on the liveability and wellbeing of Scottish communities.

Professor Davis

I reiterate what Rod King said. Scotland is leading in many ways. For example, it led on the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, and the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill is currently before the Parliament. Scotland has strong ambitions on improving population health by increasing physical activity.

A 20mph limit is necessary, although it might be insufficient on its own; other measures need to go with it. It is a great opportunity to help to address many of the problems that Scotland faces, and not implementing the approach would be a missed opportunity.

Finally, we know from the science—it is very clear—that driving at higher speeds kills more people. We have an opportunity to try to reduce the number of people who are killed or have life-changing injuries. That is a big, big opportunity for Scotland.

That neatly brings us to the next line of questioning.

John Finnie

In their submissions, all the witnesses referred to road safety, for which I thank them. Professor Adrian Davis said:

“First, what is road safety? Road safety can be defined ... as ‘freedom from the liability of exposure to harm or injury on the highway’.”

He went on to say:

“This is in contrast to much of what is commonly misunderstood to be road safety. As researchers noted almost three decades ago, ‘road safety usually means the unsafety of the road transport system’. Road safety is more than about the avoidance of being injured. It must also address the perception of risk of harm and freedom from harm and its manifestation at the individual, community and societal levels.”

Will the panel talk about the road safety benefits that will accrue from the proposals in the bill?

Adrian Davis, you started to answer that question in your previous answer, so I will come to you last. Rod King, do you want to respond? Please be brief, so that I can bring everyone in.

Rod King

There is a problem with what we mean by road safety—it means different things to different people. Community roads can become a lot safer if children do not walk or cycle to school. Does road safety include the fears of a parent about allowing their child to walk or cycle to school? Does road safety include the fears of the 75-year-old who normally walks to the shops once or twice a week but decides that the speed of traffic is such that they do not think they can get safely across the road any more? If children are no longer walking or cycling to school and elderly people are no longer going to the shops, that will reduce the number of casualties on the roads, but road safety has to be extended beyond those statistics. Communities and individuals have to feel more able to walk or cycle on the streets, and lowering the speed of traffic does that. As well as the strict casualty aspect of road safety, lowering the speed of traffic has huge benefits for wider aspects of road safety, including emissions, which I am sure Gavin Thomson will address.

Stuart Hay

We have to look at what is being done by the countries that are doing best on road safety. They take a safe systems approach: accidents will happen and mistakes will be made, so it is about asking what factors deliver bad outcomes. One of those factors is speed, so, if you can eliminate that as a factor, you will get better outcomes for road safety.

Scotland is trying to move in that direction, and we are about to review our road safety framework. Progress has been really good, but that progress is plateauing and the 20mph limit is one of the few big-ticket items left in the locker that we could deploy to improve those statistics. That is what we need to do as a nation.

Bruce Whyte

We have all been involved in studies or have quoted studies that have shown reductions in the number of road casualties because of 20mph limits. There are various examples from Bristol and other cities across the UK. Those statistics are based on the number of police-recorded casualties, and we know that the police underrecord casualties.

A recent paper by Rachel Aldred suggests that the number of casualties on the roads is five times higher than the number of police-recorded casualties. Those unrecorded casualties were probably more minor, and speed might not have been a factor in all of them, but it is about safety and the perception of safety on our streets.

If we feel that our streets are safer, we are more likely to be out on those streets, we are more likely to cycle on those streets and we are more likely to allow our children to walk or cycle to school. Some of the estimates of the casualty reductions underestimate that aspect. It gets into the area of how we become a more active nation as well.

Adrian Davis, I will bring you in. I will not bring in Gavin Thomson at this point, because I think he will be the first to respond to the next question.

Professor Davis

I echo what Rod King has said. One way of addressing road safety is through fear. If we just remove pedestrians and cyclists from the roads, which is what has happened increasingly over recent decades, we can achieve the casualty reduction targets. Traditional road safety practitioners will say that that is fine, but it is not fine if we want to achieve the important public health outcomes and the climate targets that we need to achieve.

Other aspects relate to social inclusion. Stuart Hay mentioned that people feel they are no longer able to go out—that is what we call community severance. An example of that is when someone in their 70s feels that they cannot get across the road and is fearful of the environment out there—they are fearful that people are driving too fast and they are walking too slowly.

A whole welter of benefits come from slower speeds, including a reduction in the number of casualties and in the associated misery and suffering, which, in turn, leads to savings to the national health service. However, the benefits go well beyond the traditional road safety concept; it is about freedom from fear.


John Finnie

I thank the panel for those answers. In your replies, some of you alluded to something that also features in all your responses—active travel and its potential. The written submission from 20’s Plenty for Us states:

“Look at any city/place that has successfully encouraged active travel and you will find low speed limits of 20mph or 30kmh on most streets.”

I understand that, if people were confident to walk and cycle on the streets, there would be an increase in their doing so. Has any assessment of that been made, or are you able to quantify from experience elsewhere what the increase in active travel would be as a result of any reduction in the speed limit?

Rod King

One of the issues is that a 20mph limit is not a silver bullet for active travel. No one expects a big change, but a 20mph limit is a foundation for active travel. It provides a foundation for all the other initiatives on active travel that are going to be taken, such as cycle training, making dangerous junctions better, creating better off-route cycle paths and better walking facilities, having wider pavements or whatever. That is what happens when, as I mentioned, there is an approach to the community and it is told that active travel will be made easier.

Having a 20mph limit is one of the things that is done, although it is never done in isolation, which makes it a little hard to quantify the difference that it makes to active travel. Professor Davis will probably have more to say on that.

I promised Gavin Thomson that I would let him in now, so I will make good my promise.

Gavin Thomson

I am checking my notes. A study came out last year that looked at 20mph zones in London, which showed that 5 per cent of the residents who were surveyed said that they were walking more and 2 per cent said that they were cycling more. Given those statistics, if we expand 20mph limits so that they are the norm, I think that we can expect the figures to rise. Creating behaviour change is about people seeing it, demonstrating it in their communities and gradually, over time, changing their travel choices.

Bruce Whyte

I will give you a specific example of that. Prior to the introduction of Edinburgh’s 20mph limit, a 20mph limit was piloted in south-central Edinburgh—members might be aware of that. There were before-and-after surveys of residents that involved over 1,000 households; I will give some of the statistics from those surveys. The percentage of children who walked to school increased marginally from 63 per cent to 65 per cent, and the percentage of older primary school children who were allowed to play unsupervised outside their home, on the pavement or in the street, rose from 31 per cent to 66 per cent. When people considered how safe their street was, the percentage of people who felt that speeds were safe increased from 71 per cent to 78 per cent. The number of people who considered traffic speeds in their local area to be safe improved, the proportion of children who cycled to school increased from 4 per cent to 12 per cent, and overall support for the 20mph speed limit increased from 68 per cent to 79 per cent. That is a specific example from south-central Edinburgh.

Richard Lyle

No one in the room can dispute that reducing the speed limit would be an improvement. We know that speed kills—that is accepted. Mr King talked about drivers not knowing what the speed limit is on a particular road, but most new cars show the speed limit on their dashboard, which tells the driver whether they are in a 30mph zone or a 40mph zone.

The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee recently carried out a piece of work on air pollution. Air quality is important to people. In its submission, Living Streets Scotland says:

“Evidence on carbon reduction and air pollution is mixed and inconclusive”.

Gavin Thomson of Friends of the Earth Scotland says:

“Reducing the speed limit would improve the flow of traffic, reduce congestion and emissions”.

However, the RAC, which has been called the motorist’s friend, says that

“the potential impact on urban congestion from reduced speeds and the inevitable longer journey times may increase emissions.”

What impact will reducing the default speed limit on restricted roads to 20mph have on vehicle emissions and on local air pollution? Can you highlight any relevant research in the area that might be of interest to the committee?

I will let Gavin Thomson and Stuart Hay answer that question first, given that their organisations have been quoted.

Gavin Thomson

I will talk about the research in a moment. As I have mentioned, the evidence base suggests that 20mph limits improve traffic flow and—importantly, from an air pollution point of view—result in less stop-starting and less acceleration and deceleration. That means less particulate pollution. Particulates are tiny particles that cause a lot of damage when you breathe them in and, indeed, a lot of the air pollution work that we do focuses on particulate matter. When there is less acceleration and deceleration, and less stop-starting of traffic, there is a lot less particulate pollution and an improvement in air quality.

Studies that I would point to include that of the transport and environmental analysis group in 2013, which showed the reduction in NOx as a result of 20mph drive cycles. The evidence on PM10 is a bit more mixed, but I would point to a 2017 study on 20mph speed limits in Wales, which found that improvements in traffic flow led to decreased particulate pollution—in other words, decreased air pollution.

Stuart Hay

I would probably cite Edinburgh as a good example. It has a 20mph speed limit, and I do not think that there has been any real problem with air pollution getting worse. I believe that the situation is gradually improving, and it has not been affected by the 20mph limit.

Looking to the future, I think that one of the main sources of air pollution will be particulates from braking. When you drive at 20mph, you do not brake as hard, and that means that we start to bring down the level of particulates. Moreover, there will be increasing use of hybrid vehicles, which, because they run at lower speeds, will result in lower emissions. In the future, air quality measures will be complemented by a 20mph speed limit, and I think that such an approach is really going to work. The fact is that not many studies have been done on the matter, but we should not just assume that the situation will be worse. After all, it is all about how people drive their vehicles.

Mike Rumbles has a supplementary question.

Mike Rumbles

Indeed, convener, and it is on that very point. Both Stuart Hay and Gavin Thomson have—quite rightly—mentioned particulate emissions and how they are lower at 20mph, but what most people think about is exhaust emissions. The SPICe briefing that we have been given says:

“Detailed research conducted for the Corporation of the City of London concluded that exhaust emissions are broadly similar with either a 30mph limit or a 20mph limit”.

Do you wish to comment on that?

Gavin Thomson

I am familiar with that study, which points to the evidence being a bit mixed with regard to the difference between limits of 20mph and 30mph. It depends on the car and whether it uses petrol or diesel. However, what we would stress in drawing out any conclusions is that the study does not necessarily relate to people’s driving styles, which will change when the speed limit changes. I think that it is based on drive-cycle exhaust emissions, which are more laboratory tested. When the speed limit is reduced, driving patterns tend to change, with less acceleration and deceleration and, indeed, less fuel consumption, which also impacts on exhaust emissions.

Rod King

The background to this is the fact that most fuel consumption and emissions come from acceleration and from, if you like, replacing deceleration. Going at a constant 20mph, most vehicles will get about 90 miles to the gallon, which tells you how much fuel that they are using in that steady state. The Imperial College London report showed that the evidence was mixed. With petrol cars there was a slight increase in NOx and PM10 emissions, whereas in diesel cars there was a slight decrease.

However, NOx and PM10 emissions from diesel vehicles are 10 times higher than those from petrol vehicles, so the 8 per cent saving on emissions from diesel engines is very beneficial in comparison with the slight increase in emissions from petrol engines. We calculated that, on that basis and given the mix of diesel and petrol vehicles on the road, the reduction in emissions from setting a 20mph limit is equivalent to taking half the petrol cars off the road completely. That gives the committee an idea of the reduction in emissions. An important point is that the Imperial College London report said categorically that moving to a 20mph limit would not increase emissions.

Peter Chapman

When a modern car travels at a steady 30mph, it uses less fuel than when it runs at 20mph. That is a fact—I am sure that it is correct. I have seen figures that show that fuel consumption is 10 per cent higher at a steady 20mph than at a steady 30mph, because the car is in a lower gear at 20mph.

Does anyone want to respond to that? Rod King could come back in, but I promised to call Adrian Davis, so I will be in trouble if I do not let him in.

Professor Davis

I do not want to break the flow, but I would like to bring in a point about social norms.

Rod King can respond to Peter Chapman and then I will bring in Adrian Davis.

Rod King

I have a degree in automobile engineering, so I always enjoy such questions. Tests have shown that whether fuel consumption at a steady speed of 30mph differs from that at 20mph all depends on the gearing for most cars, but the difference is marginal. None of us gets 90 miles per gallon from our cars, because we use the most fuel not in keeping going at the same speed but in accelerating and decelerating.

The slight variation between steady-state fuel consumption at 20mph and consumption at 30mph is not pertinent at all to the effect on emissions, which comes from taking out all the acceleration from 20mph to 30mph. We should bear in mind that twice as much energy is used to reach 30mph as is used to reach 20mph.

I call Claudia Beamish.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you, convener—I appreciate that. I declare an interest as a co-convener of the cross-party group on cycling, walking and buses. I ask any panel member who feels that it is appropriate to answer to give their view on the impact of an increase in active travel on air pollution emissions or greenhouse gas emissions.

I stopped Adrian Davis before, so it is his turn now.

Professor Davis

I still have a point to make about social norms, if I can fit it in.

Emissions are a really interesting area, in which there is a disconnect between public understanding and the science. Time and again, European studies have shown that, particularly in urban environments, where pollution is most intense, the pollution is concentrated inside vehicles. That is an interesting point that must be unpacked because of the lack of understanding—people think that they are protected in their new cars, but they are not.

The pollution level drops significantly away from the centre of the carriageway, where it peaks. Pedestrians get the least pollution and cyclists get a bit more. In urban areas, most of the pollution is in vehicles, and the lack of knowledge about that is interesting. As I say, the fall away in pollution is significant. Someone who is on the top deck of a bus experiences less pollution than someone who is on the lower deck—that is how fast the pollution falls away.

Exposure is a serious issue. Active travellers still experience pollution, but the science is clear that the cardiovascular benefits of being physically active—as well as the benefits for mental health and wellbeing—are much more significant than the risk to health from pollution. That has been studied many times in the peer-reviewed literature.

I return to Richard Lyle for a follow-up question before we move on.

Richard Lyle

Given the uncertainty about the emissions impact of the proposed 20mph speed limit, can the panel members set out why they think that the benefits outweigh concerns about air pollution? Do you all honestly think that a 20mph speed limit would improve traffic flow—seriously?

Richard, you will have to apologise to Jamie Greene later for taking his question.


Rod King

The 20mph speed limit should reduce emissions. There is evidence that when speeds are reduced and controlled, rather than when it is a free-for-all, you get more traffic through. I have read that the ideal speed is actually 17mph in networks where there are a lot of junctions with incoming traffic and so on. Of course, it is well known that if you want to get more traffic on the M25, for example, you reduce the speed limit, because that allows you to get more throughflow. Basically, when you have congested conditions, reducing the speed enables you to get more throughflow.

Stuart Hay

We need to consider that one of the biggest barriers to walking and cycling is to do with perceptions of safety. If you improve people’s perceptions of safety, they will walk and cycle more and drive less, so there will be fewer cars on the road. The cars that remain will be more efficient because there are fewer of them, and there will be less congestion, so you get a virtuous circle. However, you will not get that virtuous circle unless you can change perceptions of safety. To do that, you need the 20mph limit to begin with.

Professor Davis

We should try to keep in mind that this is not only a road safety intervention but a behaviour change intervention. Human beings do not like changing their behaviour, so it will take time. It will also take time to create a new social norm, but it will happen. We saw it happen with drink-driving, which was perfectly acceptable in the 1970s—now you are a social outcast if you drink and drive. We have to move to such a position with speed, so that it is no longer acceptable for people to break the speed limit. We can create a new social norm, which would help to achieve compliance with the 20mph limit—that was the subject of one of the consultation questions. It would also require some enforcement and campaign activities, which I would label as social marketing. If we do that, as Stuart Hay said, we get the modal shift that we want, which releases the public health benefits.

Bruce Whyte

I will take the discussion back to safety. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the World Health Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Faculty of Public Health all support 30kmh—which is equivalent to slightly less than 20mph—or 20mph as a safe speed on urban roads, particularly where there could be conflict between cars and walkers, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

NICE also publishes guidance on air pollution, and in that guidance it strongly supports 20mph limits for smooth driving and speed reduction.

Gavin Thomson

The picture for exhaust emissions if we change the 30mph limit to 20mph might be mixed or have a degree of nuance, but when we look at air pollution as a whole, including tyre wear and brake wear, it is pretty clear that 20mph limits would improve air quality.

On the question of traffic flow, the evidence base is pretty clear that 20mph—or 30kmh—reduces idle times and gear changing and the accelerations and decelerations that we have discussed.

I am afraid that we have to move on to the next question now, which is from Maureen Watt.

Maureen Watt

My question is on the social benefits. There were comments in the written evidence that reducing the speed limit on restricted roads to 20mph would increase the liveability of neighbourhoods, particularly for residents and local businesses. Can you expand on what that means, exactly? Does it mean that children will be playing football across the road? I am all for residents and pedestrians reclaiming streets, but what exactly are the social benefits of this measure and what tangible differences will we see in our streets?

I will start off with Stuart Hay, as this seems to be his area.

Stuart Hay

The 20mph limit is part of the wider picture as well as an essential ingredient in how we change our streets. It changes the feel of our streets; people are happier to spend more time in them, especially in the town centres; and there is not as much traffic noise or as much of a perception of danger. However, we have some way to go before we see kids playing in the streets. I do not think that a 20mph limit will do that on its own, but I think that it is a step towards it.

I will bring in Rod King, and I will then have to go to the next question, I am afraid.

Rod King

This is important, because what we are talking about are the public spaces between buildings that we call streets. We must not forget that they are public spaces.

There is very clear evidence from Donald Appleyard in America and Josh Hart in Bristol on how dependent community cohesiveness and communications are on the traffic conditions on roads that separate the people in communities and how they affect their ability to visit neighbours, walk to the shops and, indeed, be in the community as a person. When you walk, you talk to people. This approach makes a very beneficial change in the cohesiveness of communities and how people feel about them; indeed, the Appleyard research quite clearly shows that increased traffic leads to reduced communication between neighbours and less of that collective community feeling. If we can get lower speeds and thereby do something that is symbolic of making communities better, it will help.

Thank you. The next question is from the deputy convener, Gail Ross.

Gail Ross

I want to cover two areas, but I have been told that I need to roll them into one question to save time. I apologise, therefore, because that question might be a long one.

I want to ask about awareness raising and enforcement. Evidence that we have received suggests that awareness raising should be along the lines of the drink-driving campaign, with the focus on social stigma and the like, but obviously the safety and environmental aspects need to be highlighted, too. What form should an awareness-raising campaign take?

On enforcement, we are obviously—or, I should say, maybe—going to get people who say, “I wasn’t aware of the speed limit.” There will be an implementation period to allow local authorities to get the signs in place, but how should the police handle any such instances that might arise during—or, indeed, after—that implementation period?

I am not sure how strictly the police are enforcing the 20mph speed limit around Edinburgh, but perhaps someone will bring that up in their response. Who would like to kick off?

Rod King

I will cover the enforcement issue. In that respect, we can look at best and worst practice around the UK. Worst practice is for the chief constable to say, “We’re not going to enforce 20mph limits,” because that sends out a huge message to non-compliers not only that they are not going to get caught but that it is not a proper speed limit in the first place.

The level beyond that worst practice would be some form of enforcement. In other words, the speed limit would be seen as just another speed limit; it could be any road anywhere, but the limit, whatever it was, would be enforced.

Then there is the kind of best practice followed by, for example, Avon and Somerset Police. First of all, it has 20mph speed awareness courses, and when it puts people on such a course, the administrative fee that it gets from attendees helps to pay for the enforcement process. It also publishes where the speed camera sites are going to be each week, and they cover 20, 30 and 40mph sites. That sort of approach spreads a consensus that 20mph limits are being enforced just like any other limit.

It is not a case of having a policeman on every corner. It is about establishing something that I would say is not just a social consensus but an establishment consensus, under which people know that 20mph is the legal limit and that if they get caught breaking it, they will face a restriction by way of a course or a fixed-penalty notice. That is the experience that we have.

Rod, can you please clarify whether you are suggesting that speed awareness courses—which I do not think are available yet in Scotland—would be good practice? Is that right?

Rod King

I am saying that they are part of a method that is used in some places in England in order to impose a restriction on someone without necessarily putting points on their licence, if that is appropriate. Yes, it can be done.

The other option is that the police can delegate responsibility for enforcement to local authorities or other agencies, which has been explored in some areas.

Until you said “yes”, I thought that you were going to give a politician’s answer.

Professor Davis

I will come back to my point that introducing a 20mph limit is a behaviour change intervention, as well as a road safety intervention. One example is the Think! drink-driving campaign, which has been running for decades and is trying to relieve the scourge of drink-driving. West Midlands Police provide a really good example, which I cited in my written submission. Although they are a relatively small force, their tactic is to deliberately go out and make a lot of noise in communities. They often go round school areas and other population-specific settings and deliberately book people for speeding and other infringements. In the case of a school area, they will tell the headteacher and ask them to put it out through their social media networks. They create a dialogue and cause quite a bit of noise for those people who say that the police should be out catching real criminals. They will explain exactly why someone is a criminal as a result of the action that they have been caught doing. That approach creates a consensus that the police are out there and it means that, with the level of capacity that the police have, they can create the impression that someone will be caught if they speed.

We need more police enforcement, but there needs to be a bigger discussion, which probably requires more time than we have in this evidence session, about a national awareness campaign and the constituent ingredients of that campaign, which, as I have mentioned before, need to have a strong social marking element of what people gain and what we take away. We take away a person’s right to drive at 30mph, but with a 20mph limit there are a lot of benefits, which we have talked about. Studies across the UK, such as the British social attitudes survey, consistently show that there is clear majority support for 20mph.

John Mason

I am interested in the financial memorandum and some of the costs of all this. I realise that that might not be the panel’s specialist subject, but it is connected to some of the questions that Mike Rumbles asked. The financial memorandum specifically mentions Angus, so I had a quick look on Google at Brechin. The A935 runs through Brechin and, as the bill stands, the speed limit would be 30mph. I counted at least 40 side roads that would all need to be in a 20mph zone, and there would be a 30mph zone around all those roads. There is a considerable cost to that and the council has made an estimate of the cost. Presumably, it would be cheaper to have only 20mph zones around the town, and for every road in the town to stay at 20mph. In many ways that would be simpler for people to understand, because otherwise a child who was playing in one street would not know that the next street had a different speed limit, for example. Would that be cheaper to implement and easier for people to understand? Why are we looking only at restricted roads for the purposes of the 20mph limit?

Stuart Hay

There is no reason why we should not be looking to bring some of the high streets that are part of the trunk road network down to 20mph. To be honest, Transport Scotland has attempted to do that, but it has faced the challenge that the local authority would have to bring down the speed limits on all the side streets. The problem is almost reversed. If Transport Scotland and councils worked together, we could make the change cheaply—that is the whole point; Transport Scotland would not exactly have to make a policy change.

Your point is valid. The bill would introduce an approach that was cheaper overall than making all the different orders would be. We would end up with fewer signs, rather than more signs, if we planned implementation on a network basis as a national programme. If changing the speed limit was a national initiative, there would also be an onus on the national Government to bear some costs.


To play devil’s advocate on my point, would the transport industry oppose 20mph zones on major routes through small towns?

Stuart Hay

The sections of road that are involved are relatively short, and such limits have been introduced before. What is proposed is not new, but doing it has been technically difficult. There is support in communities for 20mph limits. Most of the time, the average speeds on shopping streets where vehicles are loading and there are pedestrian crossings are not particularly high, so the impacts on businesses would probably be marginal.

Rod King

The beauty of the bill is that it is set at the optimum level, which addresses restricted roads and leaves it to local authorities to decide on A and B roads. That provides the flexibility that is needed. The bill combines national consistency with local flexibility, which is really good.

If the bill was the other way round and proposed to change the speed limit on all roads in urban or village environments to 20mph, the committee would ask different questions about whether that was appropriate. The bill achieves a fine balance and I commend it for that.

John Mason

That is fine. When Mark Ruskell appears as a witness, I will follow up the point with him.

I have another question on costs. The financial memorandum refers to a cost of £1 million to £2 million for removing repeater signs. I understand that present regulations say that repeater signs cannot be erected for whatever the default speed limit is but that if the speed limit is not the default—if it is 20mph or 40mph—repeater signs are needed.

The community councils in my area often ask for repeater signs. The Clyde Gateway, which is a new dual carriageway in my area, is a big sweeping road that looks and feels as if it should have a 40mph or 50mph limit, but its limit is 30mph. People have asked for repeater signs there, but the council says that it cannot put them in.

Should we change the rule about repeater signs? That would save us quite a lot of money, because the City of Edinburgh Council could leave all its 20mph signs up.

I am not sure whether John Mason is suggesting that he could become a middle man for the City of Edinburgh Council to sell on its repeater signs.

Rod King

John Mason raises technical issues that relate to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, which are different from the guidance on setting speed limits. The TSRGD has had numerous changes over the years.

Repeater signs are required when the national speed limit does not apply. If the national speed limit changed, 20mph repeater signs would not be needed on restricted roads, but repeater signs would be needed on 30mph dual carriageways, where the national speed limit would no longer apply. There are opportunities, because the position in the TSRGD has been relaxed, and the number of repeater signs is now at the local authority’s discretion.

Does the local authority have discretion over the number of repeater signs, whether it has them, or both?

Rod King

At least one sign is needed in an area—the issue is obscure—but the TSRGD does not necessarily say how many are needed, as long as drivers know what the speed limit is.

Other countries do not have repeater signs, which are a UK phenomenon. We keep on reminding drivers of the limit because they are not smart enough to know whether the limit is 30mph or 20mph.

John Mason

This proposal will complicate it, will it not? At the moment, if you are driving in Glasgow you assume that you are in a 30mph-limit area, but under the plan there will be confusion because some roads will have a 30mph limit and some will have a 20mph limit.

Rod King

There can be simplifications. You will have to look at changing the TSRGD, because in some places it refers to not having repeater signs on 30mph roads, and it conflates that with roads that are subject to the national speed limit. Some changes will be required anyway. That would allow you to say that where you have 20mph or 30mph roads, it does not matter if you have 20mph repeater signs and that you can leave them in. The detail of that could be worked out and addressed by a statutory instrument, rather than by legislation.

I accept that. That is great. Thank you.

Colin Smyth

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says that the current budget going through Parliament is a £147 million cash cut for local authorities. The Scottish Parliament information centre says that it is a £230 million real-terms cut for local authorities. Nobody believes that the Government will hand local authorities an extra £20 million to pay for this proposal. Do you think that it is fair to ask local authorities to pick up the bill for it? I will play devil’s advocate by asking whether that is local authorities’ priority and what you think should be cut. Do you think that what is proposed is the most effective road safety investment that local authorities could make?

Gosh, that was quite a subjective question.

Professor Davis

I will try to answer Mr Smyth’s question. He asked whether the proposal would be the most effective intervention. We have already had a debate about that in the wider literature. Yes, in terms of cost to the nation, it looks like one of the most effective interventions that we could make to try to reduce casualties.

I remind you at national Parliament level to consider that the value of a statistical life is more than £1.8 million—that is the cost if you kill someone on the road. That is a crude assessment, of course—it does not include misery, loss and all the other things that are not easily quantifiable.

There are big savings for the national health service. That is a question that needs to be addressed at national level. Given that there are savings to the national health service—which we can estimate from the studies that have already been done—could money from NHS budgets be crossed over to help the implementation of the 20mph programme? I know that my NHS director colleagues would not like to hear that, but it is a viable suggestion and the question should be asked.

Bruce Whyte

I will duck the question about who should pay for this, but it is clear that there would be up-front costs of having more signage and changing signage. However, over the piece, if we see reductions in casualties and fatalities, which we might expect year on year, there would be a long-term benefit in the savings we would make from that, and there would be public health benefits to having a slightly more active population. This intervention is not the only thing that we need to do to improve physical activity and health in Scotland, but, given that we are building pedestrianised areas and segregated routes, it will help by making people think that it is safe to use them—it will improve the effectiveness of some of those other schemes.

Maureen Watt

The financial memorandum says that the annual cost to local authorities in the first two years will be £9 million to £10 million. In its submission, Aberdeenshire Council—I represent part of Aberdeenshire—says that it will cost it £0.5 million. Half a million pounds times 32 local authorities is £16 million. Is the figure therefore not grossly underestimated? Where did it come from?

Stuart Hay

I did not prepare that figure, but the proposal will affect local authorities in different ways, depending on what level of progress they have already made on 20mph limits. Some local authorities, such as Glasgow City Council, which is rolling out the measure, will see a saving if they have a programme already—they will be able to do it more cheaply and efficiently. For local authorities that have not done anything or that have a very small network, it will cost them a lot more money in the short term, but even they will benefit because it is the cheapest and most efficient way of rolling out the limit. National Government needs to stump up and contribute if it wants to deliver the road safety framework. This is a national initiative that will deliver national benefits. There are not a lot of things left in the locker, and this is one of the cost-effective options for the Government to tap into.

In rural constituencies where there are lots of trunk roads, it will be a big problem.

Jamie Greene

I want to follow on from Maureen Watt’s line of questioning. I have had specific conversations with many local authorities about this, among other transport issues, and they are gravely concerned about the potential costs of it.

The financial memorandum states that some of the total cost will be offset by fine income. That is an odd stance to take, because we do not know what that income will be. It is also predicated on the assumption that people will break the law, which is not an entirely positive view. How can we come up with proper conjectures as to the cost of this to local authorities and other agencies, including courts, the Government, the Crown Office and the police, which we have not taken into account? Surely we should be able to come up with a total figure on this to show us the scale of it.

The Convener

That might be a question that the member in charge will have to answer. I am happy to bring in Rod King briefly, and then I am afraid that we will have to draw this session to a close, because we are very short of time.

Rod King

Some of the details will get resolved when local authorities start to look at the proposal and start to exercise their options in deciding whether to keep a main road a 30mph road or make it a 20mph road. Those questions are for further down the line. For UK implementation today, we are talking about £3 to £4 per head of population for implementing authority-wide 20mph limits. That is seen as very good value. You have a great opportunity to load that to national Government as well as local government and make efficiency savings by doing it in a nationally co-ordinated way. That is a very positive opportunity to get the best value for money from what is recognised to be the right thing to do.

The Convener

That is probably a good place to stop, on the basis that members will get the opportunity to talk to local authorities and the police as part of our evidence sessions. I thank all the panel members for coming and I hope that they all got the chance to put their points of view across. I will now suspend the meeting for five minutes.

Just before you do, convener, I point out that I failed to include in my declaration of interests my membership of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Okay. I will now suspend the meeting. I ask members to be back here at 11:47, please.

11:42 Meeting suspended.  

11:49 On resuming—