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Speed versus safety? Last year the Government gave all local authorities the power to cut residential speed limits to 20mph and Portsmouth became the first British city to take advantage of the offer. The limit is being imposed in stages, but will eventually affect some 187 miles of its roads.

It has been suggested that all London�s residential streets should become subject to a 20mph speed limit � this despite the fact that central London traffic is now said to move more slowly than before the introduction of the congestion charge and slower than in the chaotic days of the horse and cart.

The inconvenience is obvious, but the safety figures are compelling. There are already four hundred 20mph zones in the capital ranging from zero in Chelsea to thirty in Tower Hamlets. According to the figures, casualties in those areas fell by nearly 60% after the limit came into force.

In other parts of the country, the prospect of a still lower limit looms. If carried through, Government plans for a range of �eco-towns� will aim to reduce the amount of private car journeys by at least 75% and see speed limits as low as 15mph. Again, the safety benefits, especially for pedestrians, are self-evident.

The IAM supports the 20mph limits when they are accompanied by good urban planning. Ideally all new and reconstructed residential areas would be designed to operate with a 20mph maximum speed. Speed humps should not be used as they are noisy, unsightly and cause drainage problems. They also cause vehicles to burn more fuel by making them stop and start. Average speed cameras would be an unacceptably expensive way to enforce the lower limit.

All the above would be more acceptable to drivers if we knew that, once free of urban restrictions and using Britain�s fine motorway network, we were guaranteed rapid progress to our destination. That, of course, is not the case. Such is the volume of traffic these roads now carry, that even the most minor of incidents can result in an instant tailback of many miles. Long delays, once only associated with the extremes of winter weather, bank holidays or the weekday rush hour, can now be encountered at just about any time of the day or night.

We�d all like to see accident rates cut, but we also want to enjoy sensible, predictable journey times. The balancing act of speed versus safety gets ever harder.
MATLOCK (Derwent and Hope Valleys) Group of Advanced Motorists Tel 01629 812732