Speed limits on the agenda again

30kmh proposal for residential areas; helmet use to be encouraged

A new report from the European Parliament Transport Committee recommends the introduction of a 30kmh (18.6mph) speed limit in all residential areas. If approved, it would also apply to one-lane roads in urban areas with no separate cycle lane.

The study also says cyclists should be encouraged to wear helmets and high-visibility jackets, especially at night outside built-up areas. However, it holds back from recommending making this compulsory, arguing this could make cycling appear more dangerous than it is.

Other recommendations include a highway code covering the whole of Europe plus standardised road signs, traffic rules, road worthiness tests and blood alcohol limits. The report's author, German MEP Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, says the proposals could halve EU road accident deaths – reportedly running at 35,000 a year – by 2020.

The document gained the support of MEPs in a recent debate and it's now up to the European Commission to decide if it'll draft a law, which would then need to be approved by member states including Britain. Commenting on the report, Fabian Kuster of the European Cyclists' Federation said: "It's about politicians creating cities for living in rather than thoroughfares for vehicles."

An EU-wide survey in 2010 showed overwhelming support for 30kmh zones, with 78 percent of drivers citing excessive speed as a major concern. In the UK, a recent Institute of Advanced Motorists survey showed that 67 percent of people thought 20mph zones should be used outside schools, a quarter would like to see them as the norm in built-up areas and 43 percent would like one outside their house.

The proposals may not get a wildly enthusiastic response from the British government, though – their attitude to 20mph zones as displayed in their Road Safety Framework published last May was described by the CTC as "lukewarm" and falling "a long way short of encouraging local authorities to regard 20mph as the norm for most urban streets".

The government's plans to consult on raising the speed limit on motorways to 80mph are bound to make some people question ministers' attitude to road safety, especially when the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond (or "motorist's friend" as he describes himself) seems to have made his mind up already, saying: "... On balance we feel that the time is now right to revise the limit ...."

Some of the more strident reactions to the Koch report include Jacqueline Foster, the Conservative transport and tourism spokesman at the European Parliament, describing the proposals as "another example of Europe trying to dictate to Britain on issues that should be decided locally".

The MEP, one of three for the North West of England, did concede that the odd 20mph zone might be allowed. "Of course speed limits as low as 20mph or so can be right in some very specific areas," she said. "Especially near schools or children's nurseries..."

Transport guru Christian Wolmar feels that UK road safety policy is at a crossroads. "The fear is that with the new government's change in focus, the gains of the past couple of decades may be lost," he said. "The big question is whether the momentum can be maintained."

In other traffic news, the European Parliament has requested that the European Commission draft a timetable for mandating the use of Intelligent Speed Adaptation, whereby a vehicle can be made to automatically warn the driver that they are exceeding the speed limit or can even be made to automatically govern speed.

As part of its 2011-2020 Road Safety plan, the EU is looking at various "active safety" devices such as lane departure warning systems, mandatory automatic emergency braking for trucks and buses and mandatory speed limiters for commercial vehicles.

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