Towards a 20mph speed limit?

thumb-large-25 The story so far

The Road Traffic (Speed Limits) Bill aims to set a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour on minor residential roads. It was presented by SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt in June 2013. The Bill was reintroduced by his party colleague Pat Ramsey last December. Ramsey has briefed the Environment Committee and Regional Development Committee and is awaiting a date for a second reading.


Forty-one responses were received with a majority saying that it should only apply to residential roads. Some supported a zonal option, building on the pilot zones already introduced in Belfast. Others said that 20mph should apply (as a rule) to all restricted unclassified roads, with the Executive carrying out a publicity campaign before the law takes effect. This is Ramsey’s preferred approach.

The plans

Ramsey maintains that reducing the speed limit from 30mph would reduce the risk of a passenger struck by a car being killed from one in five to one in 40. The law could either be enforced via increased signage or more traffic-calming measures. The limit would apply on unclassified (minor) roads which have streetlights at specified intervals. The Department of the Environment would have the discretion to extend the limit along major thoroughfares or to exclude minor roads in commercial areas.

Assembly views

The Bill is backed by Mark Durkan MP and road safety charity Brake. Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has not yet commented. A full range of party – and perhaps individual – views will be expressed in a second reading debate. DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt is sceptical on cost grounds. He estimates that providing signage for 4,600km of roads could cost £24 million.

Minister’s perspective

Any change would be implemented by the Department for Regional Development as it is responsible for roads infrastructure. Minister Danny Kennedy has noted that existing traffic-calming measures reduce vehicle speeds to around 20 mph. He wants to see more research on the effectiveness of 20mph zones in Great Britain – introduced in areas with large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists. Trials are due to take place in Belfast city centre, Ballycastle, Ballynahinch, Ballymena and Whiteabbey before the end of the year. “As with all these things, unless there is local buy-in, the prospect of success is reduced,” Kennedy added. Police have advised the Minister that more resources would be needed to enforce 20mph limits.

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