TRAFFIC police with speed guns will begin patrolling residential streets to enforce 20mph limits for the first time, it was revealed today.
The speeding crackdown means officers will be positioned at accident blackspots as Edinburgh heads towards becoming the first city in Scotland to introduce 20mph limits across all residential areas.
Around 2000 Edinburgh streets operate lower speed limits which have been controlled through speed bumps and traffic calming measures but not enforcement – until now.
Police have been unwilling to devote resources to 20mph speed traps but this will change under a deal struck with city chiefs.
City transport leader Lesley Hinds hailed the move and said it would “send a clear message” to motorists who flout the law.
Road safety campaigners also welcomed the action, while drivers’ groups urged police to only concentrate on roads with a record of accidents and injuries.
Cllr Hinds said today: “From our research and consultation with residents, we know that there’s widespread support in Edinburgh for a 20mph limit in residential streets, shopping areas and the city centre, and we’re currently in the process of drawing up further, detailed consultations.
“Lower speeds in residential areas and shopping streets are not just good for safety and environmental reasons.
“Slower traffic makes streets more attractive to residents, pedestrians, cyclists and children, improves the environment for business and enhances quality of life.”
The city council made enforcement of 20mph areas part of its “service level agreement” with Police Scotland which saw it provide £2.6 million to enhance community policing.
The agreement – the first of its kind – gives city leaders the right to a refund if officers are switched from their commun-ity role without approval. The city council’s cash pays for 44 community constables and 12 city centre officers.
Superintendent Matt Richards confirmed road safety and monitoring 20mph zones were among the top priorities for police teams.
He said: “Plans to target distinct areas will be jointly discussed with partners and will be based primarily on accident and casualty numbers.
“This includes 20mph zones where prevention, warnings, patrols and enforcement activity are all options where appropriate, especially in areas where schools exist.
“As always, we would encourage the public to drive respectfully and responsibly to ensure all road users’ safety – no matter what the speed limit.”
The roll-out of 20mph zones follows successful pilots in Marchmont, the Grange and Prestonfield. Bus routes may be exempted from the restrictions, according to a previous council report.
It is not yet known which districts police are likely to target with mobile speed traps but streets in Newington, Blackford and Meadow Park may top the list after a four-day study found almost half of all drivers there were flouting the restrictions.
Streets surrounding schools are also likely to be closely monitored, while those already fitted with traffic-calming measures may not be subject to any police activity. Last August, residents in Southside called for beefed-up penalties to stop motorists exceeding the 20mph limit after warning letters rather than fines were meted out to offending drivers.
Statistics show that 97 per cent of casualties hit by a car at 20mph will survive compared with just 50 per cent at 30mph. A lack of enforcement has been a major gripe for pedestrian and cyclist pressure groups for years.
Drivers who flout speed limits can be hit with on-the-spot fines and three penalty points. More serious offences carry up to six penalty points or a discretionary driving ban.
Keith Irving, head of Living Streets Scotland, which campaigns for pedestrians’ rights, welcomed the move, which he said would slash road deaths.
“The news that the police are supporting 20mph in Edinburgh with a commitment to enforcement is very welcome,” he said.
“Slower traffic speeds make our streets safer for everyone, but particularly for our most vulnerable road users – child pedestrians, older people and those with sight impairment or mobility issues. This move will potentially not only reduce pedestrian fatalities, but will encourage people to walk more as the city feels safer and less polluted.”
Kim Harding, of cyclist pressure group Pedal On Parliament, said police monitoring of 20mph routes was a “good move for all road users”.
He said: “Evidence from other places where such metropolitan-wide speed limits have been introduced has shown that they are very effective at reducing all road accidents when the speed limits are enforced. There is also evidence that while there maybe some resistance when the new lower speed limits are first applied, within a couple of years they gain very wide support, with over 80 per cent approval ratings from people living in these cities.”
Neil Greig, from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said the action had to be properly targeted: “If the police are going to do this they have to link it to accidents and injuries. It’s pointless enforcing on a street with no history of car accidents on it. It needs to be properly targeted. If they do that it makes some sense.”
Edinburgh’s drive towards boosting 20mph zones in the city follows plans by Bristol City Council for a blanket roll-out.
Rod King, one of Britain’s leading campaigners for reduced speed limits, who founded the pressure group 20s Plenty For Us, said: “This will make Edinburgh a better place and you’ll see policing which will probably not be that heavy handed.
“More likely the police will offer a light touch but they will be present on the streets to show meaningful enforcement, which is what the community wants.”
Mr King said all 20mph pilots across the UK have been successful, even without police enforcing the law. But he said widespread lower limit zones helped change driving patterns rather than expensive speed bumps which only forced motorists to slow down on certain streets.