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Why 30kmh speed limits mean that children are safer in towns and cities

UK expert tells RSA lecture young road users are most at risk from traffic travelling above 30kmh

Last week, Rod King (pictured), from the UK’s 20’s Plenty campaign, was the keynote speaker at our Annual Academic lecture. The lecture kicks off Irish Road Safety Week each year. This year the topic was 30kmh speed limits.

We wanted Rod to talk about the campaign he has fronted in the UK to get local authorities to introduce more 20mph (30kmh) speed limits in housing estates but also in city and town centres.

As a result of his campaigning there are now 16 million people living in 20mph zones in the UK.

For his dedication to road safety and tireless campaigning, Rod was awarded an MBE. We filmed the presentation and it will be uploaded for viewing on the RSA website soon, so you can see for yourself.

He makes a compelling argument for 30kmh limits in our towns and cities. The one argument that resonated most was to protect the most vulnerable people: children.

He provided substantive evidence that children are simply unable to cope with traffic speeds above 30kmh without putting their lives at risk.

For example, this year a study by the University of Iowa found children up to their early teenage years had difficulty consistently crossing the road safely, with collision rates as high as one in 20 for a 10-year-old attempting to cross the road with 40kmh traffic. It was not until the age of 14 that collisions were avoided.

Children have to deal with two challenges when deciding whether it is safe or not to cross.

The first involves their perceptual ability – how they judge the gap between a passing car and an oncoming vehicle. Younger children, the study found, had more difficulty making consistently accurate decisions.

The second was their motor skills – how quickly they time their first step from the kerb after a car has just passed. Younger children were incapable of timing that first step as precisely as adults; that gave them less time to cross.

In 2011, Royal Holloway, University of London found that at vehicle speeds faster than 30kmh primary school children may not be able to detect cars approaching.

In 2013, the UK’s Department for Transport guidelines on setting speed limits by local authorities noted: “Fear of traffic can affect people’s quality of life and the needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account… to further encourage these modes of travel and improve their safety. Speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life.”

In the same document, it says to achieve this councils should consider more 20mph (30kmh) limits and zones.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also recognises the long-term effects of poor air quality on children and has called for actions to reduce toxic emissions.

Imperial College London found an 8pc reduction in harmful diesel emissions, nitrogen oxides and nasty micro particulates (PM10) with a 30kmh compared to a 50kmh speed limit.

Think about your children walking or cycling from home to school. Or are you afraid to let them? Then consider this. How on earth can they reasonably be protected with speed limits when the evidence clearly shows they are unable to deal with anything above 30kmh?

If a child crosses a road with speeds faster than they have the capacity to cope with and makes a mistake, they pay with their life.

I’ll leave the last word to Rod: “There is clear and compelling evidence that 50kmh limits expose our children to unacceptable dangers from traffic in direct casualties, effect of emissions and suppression of mobility rights. Already many authorities in the UK have shown that setting 30kmh speed limits is effective, affordable and popular.”