PLANS to reduce the speed limit on residential and urban streets across Scotland from 30mph to 20mph are still being considered by a Holyrood committee, with Transport Scotland now carrying out suitability assessments across 130 sites in the Highlands ahead of the roll-out of 20mph speed limits.

The aim of launching more speed limits is to reduce perceptions of road danger, encourage people to walk and cycle and to create more pleasant streets and neighbourhoods by providing a more equitable environment for all road users, including drivers.

This is clearly a divisive issue and the zones have been met with a mixture of anger and support from motorists and pedestrians in equal measure. They are however already producing positive results.

A recent report in Edinburgh evaluating the policy three years after its implementation found that average speeds have dropped by 2mph on average, but crucially the drop in speed has been mostly seen from the fastest drivers.

Research shows that for every 1mph drop in speed there is a five per cent drop in accidents, but in the previous 36 months in Edinburgh, collisions and casualties have both fallen by more than 30%. Significantly, the report found that when accidents had occurred, they had done so at lower speeds, which had resulted in far fewer severe injuries.

Reducing accidents hasn’t been the only positive though. The percentage of residents cycling at least once a week has also gradually increased, leading to a substantial drop in traffic which is also having a positive impact on harmful NO2 emissions across the country, although the report does state that the Covid pandemic makes this benefit more difficult to definitively measure due to drops in traffic levels throughout the period.

What we do know is dropping the speed limit in residential and urban areas protects both people and the environment and councilors are already discussing “Vision Zero” targets, those that would eliminate all road traffic fatalities. Road accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the UK, but those in Scotland are far more likely to be seriously hurt in collisions than anywhere else.

This is especially important in the period after Daylight Savings Time where people spend more time driving in the dark, leaving road users and pedestrians at greater risk of being involved in an accident. Compromised night vision, fatigue and the glare of flashlights are just some of the risks people will face. These dark nights and mornings also compromise our depth perception and peripheral eyesight, and it can be difficult to decipher how close traffic is around you. The glare of headlights also temporarily impair vision.

Figures show a 22% jump in the number of road accidents from this time last year, with darker evenings and more unpredictable weather putting both road users and school children more at risk.

The decision to introduce 20mph limits could have a huge impact on these figures, and these encouraging trial results mean the Scottish Government should continue to consider switching the limit to the “national default”, as Wales has done, with the policy being implemented from September 2023.

Jonathan White is Legal and Compliance Director at National Accident Helpline