Scotland is undertaking a remarkable initiative to become the first jurisdiction on the planet to make vehicular speeds a default of 20 miles per hour (32 kph) in any village, town or city.

The Member’s Bill going to Scottish parliament has bi-partisan support (across four different parties). Edinburgh, which has already implemented the 20 miles per hour speed in many areas of the city, has seen cyclist and pedestrian injury rates from vehicular crashes decrease by 25 per cent.

Scotland has also been implementing active transportation infrastructure in its cities, and is seeing speed reduction resulting in a decrease in pollution as well, which impacts everyone’s health, including that of children.

Professor Chris Oliver at the University of Edinburgh has stated, “In the future we can look forward to experimental ‘car free days’ and increasing pedestrianisation of city centres in Scotland. We have to get the public out of reliance on their cars and move across to walking, cycling, public transport and trains where possible.” 

Dr. Oliver is right. It’s as important to get people thinking of a future with less reliance on automobiles (including autonomous cars) as it is to support transit, rides share, cycling and walking facilities. As New Zealand transportation Engineer Bridget Burdett observed on Twitter:

And that’s also where road speed reduction comes in. From a research study on driving speeds and road crashes entitled Speed and Crash Risk, the OECD’s International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group expresses support for the growing list of cities that have defaulted to 20 mile per hour speed limits, as every reduction in speed of one mile per hour reduces the accident rate by four to six per cent. (For the record, the World Health Organization is also on-board.)

Cheshire’s Rod King of “20 is Plenty” gives more data on the effectiveness of slower speeds in communities. He notes that after Bristol, UK implemented 20 mile per hour speed limits, the University of the West of England estimated that fatalities were reduced by four, serious accidents reduced by 11 and 159 minor injuries were prevented annually. “With a national roll-out with enforcement and the consistency of knowing 20 is plenty except in certain places Scotland can expect similar benefits.”

On the other side of the equation, drivers breaking the speed limit in Scotland will face the same penalty all speeders do — a £100 fine (CAD $175), and three points on their license.

And a side note: the 30 mile per hour municipal speed limit in Scottish municipalities dates back to 1930. Slowing down to 20 miles per hour is a small but important road safety innovation from the 20th century which can benefit everyone in the 21st century.