Wales became the first country to introduce a default speed limit of 20 mph in built-up areas.

Wales will introduce a default speed limit of 20 mph (30 km/h) in built-up areas from next year to reduce road collisions and noise pollution, and to encourage people to walk or cycle.

On Tuesday, the Welsh Parliament voted on a plan that would lower the speed limit currently set at 30 mph (50 km/h) on most busy streets and roads in residential areas.

The move makes Wales the first country to have a default speed limit of 20 mph on most roads. The new law is expected to come into force in September 2023.

Many cities across the UK already have 20 mph speed limits in place, however no country has yet implemented a default speed limit on all roads across the country. Scotland is set to introduce similar driving laws in 2025.

The Welsh Government estimates that the initial signage change will cost £33m (€38.96m), but it could ultimately save £58m (€68.49m) by reducing emergency services and hospitalizations in over the next 30 years.

Saving money and lives

The government and activists say the move will save lives.

Police Data since 2018 have shown that half of all injuries and 40 per cent of road traffic deaths in Wales occurred on roads or 30 mph zones.

In Wales, eight pilot trials have already taken place, which Welsh ministers consider successful.

“We know that 20 mph zones slow down traffic, reduce accidents, especially those involving children,” Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford told Parliament.

“We want this to be the default position in all of Wales.”

Proponents of the proposal say pedestrians are 40% less likely to die in a collision with a car traveling at 20 mph compared to a car traveling at 30 mph, with nearly half the stopping distance between both speeds. .

“Drive at 20 mph has been shown to reduce crash risk and the severity of crashes that still happen,” said Dr. Sarah Jones, environmental consultant at Public Health Wales.

“It also makes less noise and reduces fuel consumption. It encourages people to walk and cycle, helping fight obesity and improve mental well-being.

“All of this is likely to contribute to improved health and reduced demand for medical services, which will help the NHS recover from COVID.”

More traffic, longer trips?

Both Labor and Plaid Cymru, who have a cooperation agreement and hold nearly three-quarters of Senedd’s 60 seats, supported the plan, but it was also met with criticism.

A consultation last year that polled more than 6,000 people for their opinions on the scheme found that 53 percent of people said they were against the lower default limit, as opposed to 47 percent who were in favor.

Reasons for opposition to the scheme ranged from concerns that it might “irritate” drivers to increased travel times and congestion.

The proposal also caused an uproar among Welsh conservatives. Sam Rowlands, MP for North Wales, urged residents to voice their concerns about the plans.

“They are quite rightly very worried because they believe that pollution is increasing because cars have to drive in lower gear and wait longer at traffic lights, there have also been more accidents,” he said.

“I support allowing councils to set a 20 mph speed limit outside schools, hospitals and other places where evidence shows it is beneficial, but a general 20 mph speed limit on urban roads in Wales is simply not right.”