24 November 2023

Twenty's plenty for us, isn’t it?


This week marks the biggest annual campaign to highlight the preventable deaths and injuries on the UK’s roads. BRAKE, the road safety charity, this year have dedicated the 19th – 25th November 2023 to their Road Safety Week. The campaign aims to get “thousands of schools, organisations and communities involved to share important road safety messages, remember people affected by road death and injury, and raise funds to help Brake care for more road victims and campaign for safe roads for everyone.”

This year, the key focus of the campaign has been on speed. Speed is a universal issue which affects all road users. Excess speed is a common cause of injury and deaths on UK’s roads.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will be aware of the desire to lower the speed limits in many built-up areas from the traditional 30mph to a lower 20mph. The Welsh government rolled out 20mph limits in September 2023, triggering a furore among motorists, populist politicians and Daily Mail readers. But, dear reader, believe me when I say, 20mph speed limits are a good thing. Let me tell you why.

Much of the negative press about 20mph; that they will bring town centres to a standstill and that we’ll all suffocate and die of pollution as cars crawl at snails’ pace past our front doors is, at best, misinformation and, at worst, downright lies spouted by those with a political agenda. In this article, I will address the myths and mistruths surrounding the new speed limit and argue that, in fact, it might be a good thing for all of us when it comes to road safety.

Reduce speed

Perhaps the most obvious outcome the 20mph limit seeks to achieve is a reduction in speed. Many motorists see the speed limit as a target, not a limit. This inevitably leads to excess speed being carried through areas where there are schools, town centres, and housing developments. Travelling too fast for the conditions or excessive speed is reported in 11% of all reported accidents and 18% of fatal accidents. Edinburgh Napier University investigated the effect a rollout of 20mph would have. It was found that average speeds of motorists reduced across the board, perhaps an inevitable conclusion, but an important one, nonetheless.

Save Lives

The Welsh Government’s assessment is that 20mph will save 9 lives and prevent 98 serious injuries each year. According to data from The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, at traffic speeds of 30-40mph, the risk of pedestrian death because of a collision with a vehicle is 5.5 times more likely than at speeds between 20-30mph. (A public health study estimated that the 20mph default speed limit could result, every year, in 40% fewer collisions, 6 to 10 lives saved and 1200 to 2000 people avoiding injury.)

Encourage active travel

By now, it is generally accepted that we all must do our bit to reduce our “carbon footprint”. One of the ways the public can do that is to use sustainable forms of transport or active travel. One idea behind the introduction of 20mph is to make the roads a more inviting place for cyclists but also people using other modes of transportation which are not cars.

Those are some of the positives of 20mph, so let’s address the negatives, or the perceived negatives.

Journey times

Some media commentators have said that the increased journey times caused by 20mph will cost the UK economy £4.5 billion. When pushed, there is very little substantive evidence to back this claim. Journey times on roads in urban areas tend to be determined by a whole multitude or factors; junctions and signals, rather than the speed limit. In many cases, lowering the speed limit to 20mph will have little or no impact on journey times. The Welsh Government’s analysis was that average journey time would be around 1 minute longer.

Vehicle efficiency and fuel consumption

An increase in fuel consumption is another claim made by anti-20mphers; they claim driving at 20mph causes cars to “struggle” and use more fuel than at 30mph. Nonsense. Fuel consumption is influenced by the way we drive – not speed alone. Driving at a constant speed is better than stopping and starting and accelerating up to 30mph can take twice as much energy compared to speeding up to 20mph. My car is most efficient cruising along the motorway at 65mph, but you won’t hear me advocating that I should therefore be driving through built-up areas at that speed.

Air pollution

Imperial College London, in their analysis of 20mph limits, found that in areas where 20mph was in place, they were “pollution neutral”, meaning no negative impact of the new limit on pollution levels. Of course, many things contribute to pollution levels. They can include driving style, braking, vehicle condition, acceleration, engine temperature and distance travelled. Lower speed limits will hopefully encourage more people to choose active ways to travel and therefore there will be fewer polluting cars on the roads.

Cost to the economy

As illuded to above, the estimated cost to the UK economy of £4.5 billion over 30 years may not be an accurate reflection of the true cost as it was based on journey time alone. Slightly longer travel time is truly the only potential negative economic impact of 20mph. In any case, flexible working and new communication technologies negate this. Furthermore, it is estimated that the casualty prevention savings, including the reduced impact on NHS and emergency services, could be up to £92m every year.
I hope I have gone some of the way to convincing you that 20mph may not actually be all that bad. The potential to save up to 9 lives per year for, on average, a journey time of 1 minute extra is surely worth it, isn’t it?

These proposals have benefits for all roads users, but especially the most vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. In 2018, 86% of cycling casualties and 95% of pedestrian casualties in Scotland occurred on built-up roads, with a speed limit of 40mph or less. Evidence suggests that accident survival rates are between about three and five times higher when a pedestrian is hit by a car driving at 20mph, compared to 30mph.

In summary, 20mph, in my view, saves lives, encourages active travel, saves the NHS money, protects vulnerable road users, lessens the chance of serious injury if a collision occurs, lessens the chance of motorists suffering serious injury and has no negative impact on pollution levels, journey times, or the economy. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a pretty good proposal to me.

Thomas Mitchell


26 January 2024

Road Crime and the Life time sentence myth

Summary of a RoadPeace webinar discussing road crime and why no one ever receives a lifetime sentence for killing someone by dangerous driving.

Read More >


22 December 2023

Empowering tomorrow's legal minds

A peek into my journey hosting work experience at RTA Law LLP with students from Peebles High School.

Read More >


11 December 2023

Eradicating the element of surprise

Brenda Mitchell, Senior Partner discusses the benefits of an Advanced driving course with The Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Read More >


24 November 2023

Twenty's plenty for us, isn’t it?

The key focus of Road Safety Week 2023 is on 'speed' so a debate about the introduction of 20mph speed limits is inevitable.

Read More >


12 November 2023

What's going on at the MIB

An increase in the time taken to process claims, a reduction in employee numbers and a significant hike in Directors remuneration is unacceptable and utterly shameful.

Read More >


31 August 2023

Work Experience for young students

We were delighted to be able to offer some work experience to two young students who wanted to find out more about what it's like to work in a niche practice law firm.

Read More >


16 July 2023

Poor maintenance causes increase in deaths

According to figures obtained from Police Scotland, road defects, especially potholes, have been blamed for 15 deaths and over 700 injuries since 2013 

Read More >


22 May 2023

The new autonomous future

Certainly, whilst it seems the future is already here, remote driving remains a legal grey area as its neither prohibited nor expressly allowed under current legislation.

Read More >


26 March 2023

Stormy seas for defence of automatism

The defence of automatism should not mean that parties injured due to the negligence of another should be left exposed and unprotected.

Read More >


23 February 2023

Improving Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian fatalities appear to be on the increase. Associate, Jo Clancy, looks at the reasons for this and considers whether there are any sensible measures which can be taken by drivers and/or pedestrians to remedy the situation.

Read More >


5 December 2022

Money or Quality of Life?

Which is more important to someone who has experienced life-changing injuries? A large sum of money or a new quality of life? The former is meaningless without the latter.

Read More >


14 August 2022

A collaborative and client centric approach

A collaborative and client centred approach in Scotland would lead to an imrpoved outcome for all.

Read More >


26 April 2022

Breaking the bias

Dear sirs, we're breaking the bias. More needs to be done to move towards true equality; this conversation cannot and should not be confined to just one day.

Read More >


20 February 2022

The new Highway Code – what’s all the fuss about?

Safe and courteous road users have nothing to worry about as far as the new Highway code rules are concerned


Read More >


16 November 2021

Road Safety Week 2021

RTALS are supporting Road Safety Week 2021 recognising the work undertaken by our Road Safety heroes. 

Read More >


31 October 2021


A defence in automatism has no place in Civil Law

Read More >


2 September 2021

It's all in the balance

Working a 4 day week may sound strange to many, but if a busy Law firm can make it work, then surely others will be able to follow suit.

Read More >


21 March 2021


When it comes to the question of who’s to blame in a road traffic incident, sometimes it is not entirely clear. 

Read More >


26 January 2021

The Courts are getting there virtually

There can be no going backwards now for the Civil courts after accepting a new virtual system for Court hearings.

Read More >


We cover the whole of Scotland and have solicitors based in the Borders, Central Belt and Aberdeen.

South of Scotland
5 Cherry Court,
Cavalry Park,
EH45 9BU


Happy Clients

Correspondance Address
16-20 Castle Street,





Scottish Legal Awards WinnerScottish legal Awards 2022

                   Contact Us
              Tel 0333 5557781



© 2023 RTA LAW LLP