Car Culture

20 mph safe zones result in more pedestrian deaths

UK traffic "safe zones" feature reduced speed limits and one year in, they aren't working.

Paul Faith/PA Images

A year after the UK cities of Bath and Somerset enacted 20 mph "safe zones," statistics reveal they are anything but.

To reduce traffic deaths, Bath and Northeast Somerset declared 13 safe zones both in urban and more rural areas with strictly enforced 20 mph speed limits. The idea behind these zones is that with reduced velocity, drivers would be better able to react to pedestrians. In practice, this hasn't been the case, as nearly all areas have reported a higher instance of pedestrian deaths in the year since the new limits took effect.

Now that officials know these zones aren't working, the logical thing to do would be to replace the new speed limits with the old ones, right? Well, according to the councils for Bath and Northeast Somerset, they can't because it would just cost too much money. The implementation of these safe zones cost the councils £871,000 ($1,165,576 at current exchange rates) and that changing them back would require approximately the same amount, money that apparently isn't in the coffers.

Cars pass a 20 mph speed limit sign in Britain.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

While this situation may initially seem like a boon for the staunchly anti-"Speed Kills" crowd, it is noted in the study that the areas of increased death (seven out of 13 total safe zones) failed to make use of additional traffic calming techniques such as speed humps, or other lighting and signage. Urban areas in Bath and Somerset where these additional traffic control measures are in place saw reductions in death and injury over the preceding year.

Many large metropolitan areas in the United States are undertaking similar measures as part of the pledge known as Vision Zero, which seeks to end traffic fatalities by 2024, with 34 municipalities having currently taken the pledge. Despite its lofty goal, the Vision Zero movement has gained strength as a result of steeply rising traffic fatalities, the bulk of which are pedestrians. It will be interesting to see if the changes made in Britain, and their results, will mirror those in the US.