Leader: Slow down before rolling out more 20mph zones

Many drivers find observing the limit frustrating. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Many drivers find observing the limit frustrating. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The case for motorists to drive more slowly in built-up areas is strong and well supported; few would argue against strict speed limits, especially near schools and in densely populated housing estates.

But, while we agree that traffic should be carefully controlled in certain locations, we remain to be convinced that lower speed limits are an across-the-board solution for traffic problems in Scotland’s towns and cities.

Over the past few year, swathes of Edinburgh have been turned into 20mph zones. These speed limit cuts, rolled out in stages, have enthusiastic political support but residents raise concerns about this “catch-all” solution to the various problems created by heavy traffic.

As the programme to impose new limits in the capital nears completion, other Scottish cities are preparing to make their own changes.

Before they do, they should pay heed to the serious concerns of many Edinburgh residents.

Reports that motorists simply ignore 20mph signs and drive at whatever speed they choose are commonplace. And it appears clear that police are unable to keep on top of the number of drivers who freely break the limit in Edinburgh.

It was always inevitable that the creation of new limits would increase the number of drivers guilty of speeding. This, in itself, is no bad thing. But what good are new speed limits if they are impossible to enforce?

It is not just residents who have concerns about the new limits; motorists, too, highlight legitimate problems.

Take, for example, roads that are especially busy during rush hours but are otherwise quiet. Yes, at busy times strict speed limits might help ease congestion and ensure that traffic keeps moving, albeit slowly. But should these limits necessarily apply at quieter times? What purpose is there, for example, in forcing a delivery driver to keep under 20mph on a quiet road in the middle of the night?

Before this new speed limit is widely adopted by other cities and councils the Scottish Government must assess fully both the benefits it provides and the drawbacks it creates.

It may be that the best solution is for new limits to apply on some roads only at certain times. It may be that the lower limit is simply not necessary on some peripheral roads.

While examining the experience in Edinburgh, politicians must also factor in the costs – in terms of new signage and policing.

We believe strongly that speed limits are important and that those who break them should face serious penalties. But we are far from convinced that the introduction of new limits for no good reason is a sensible step.

Only when we fully understand how the introduction of 20mph zones in Edinburgh has impacted on the capital should we consider their blanket use elsewhere. Until then, politicians should proceed with caution.