Councils ordered to review local speed limits

The speed limits on thousands of rural roads across England and Wales could be cut by up to 20 miles per hour under new guidance issued by the government.

The Department of Transport (DfT) has called on all local authorities to review their local speed limits within the next five years to take into account accidents and danger spots.

There are no plans to change the national speed limits, which currently stand at 30 mph on street-lit roads, 60 mph on single carriageway roads and 70 mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

But in its new guidance, the DfT recommends A and B roads in the country be given speed limits of as little as 40 mph if there are a high number of bends, junctions and access points, or if the areas they go through are built up.

In towns, it says it would “encourage and support” applications for 20 mph zones, arguing the limiting of speed in these areas is “very effective at reducing collisions and injuries”.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) welcomed the new flexibility for local authorities to set speed limits, particularly on rural roads where more than half of all road deaths and 46 per cent of serious casualties take place.

“You need the application of speed limits to be appropriate to the road,” spokesman Roger Vincent told

“You need national limits but you do need more flexibility.rural roads in particular can be extremely dangerous, if they are narrow or winding.”

However, he stressed that lower speed limits, even set by local experts who know the dangerous spots on roads, “do not absolve motorists” from taking responsibility to manage their speed according to the conditions at the time.

Paul Smith, founding of the Safe Speed road safety campaign, made a similar point, warning that the new DfT advice was based on “faulty foundations” and would lead to an increase in road deaths, not a reduction.

“If we want safer roads we must look at the psychological factors that underlie crashes,” he said, explaining that by cutting speed limits where it was not necessary “de-skilled” driving and led motorists to be more careless.

“The department is clearly blinded by its own ‘speed kills’ propaganda and is not fit for purpose. It does not understand the process of safe driving and as such is not competent to devise road safety policy.”

But transport minister Stephen Ladyman defended the new guidance, saying: “Realistic and consistent speed limits help to keep traffic moving freely and safely.

“Our new guidance encourages lowering speed limits where the evidence warrants it, but equally traffic authorities should consider increasing limits if it can be done safely.

“The guidance also encourages traffic authorities to set limits that reflect the road environment and characteristic, and which drivers will instinctively understand.”