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Monday February 14 2000
Reporter Roger Harrabin
Producer Toby Sculthorp

Panorama reveals that dropping urban speed limits could save children from being killed or seriously hurt. A study for the programme also reveals that the lower limit would add only a small increase to the average journey time.

Britain has one of the worst child pedestrian death records in Europe with more than 5,000 child pedestrians killed or seriously injured every year.

Government ministers have been told that this number could be more than halved by a reduction to 20 mph. Children are 10 times more likely to die if they are hit by cars at 30mph than at 20mph.

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Click here for 10 facts on children and roads

Lucy Maxfield, tragically killed by a car at 30mph
It takes a tragedy before people's attitudes crystallise on the subject. Lucy Maxfield was killed by a driver travelling at 30mph - within the speed limit. Her mother Merle says "In Europe, he would have been prosecuted because that child had died. Why? At the end of the day he has killed our child - whether he was obeying the rules or not

I think that the speed limits on all roads apart from dual carriageways and motorways should be 20 mph, it's as simple as that. There's plenty of countries where they have a 20 mile an hour speed limit and 20 mile an hour areas and nothing grinds to a halt. What happens is, fewer people get killed.

Mike Maxfield, Lucy's father.

Safety campaigners and children's groups say the government should drop speed limits immediately in towns and villages. The AA and RAC strongly oppose any overall reduction in speed limits, but support stronger enforcement of the existing 30mph limit . The government is considering leaving any controversial decisions on speeds to local councils.

Panorama visits a unit for brain damaged children, where 60% of the patients have been hit by cars. Their families lives have been devastated. Sports fanatic Alfie can now barely feed himself. He was hit by a car in a quiet cul-de-sac at less than 30 miles an hour.

Transport Minister Lord Whitty told the programme that the UK's rates of child road deaths was bad - especially compared with our European neighbours.
I think there is a degree to which the placement of cameras has been a bit lacking in priority and not particularly logical...We do recognise that there is some degree of unpopularity. The concentration of police cameras will be on areas where they can have an effect.

Lord Whitty, Transport Minister
He also confirmed that the government would look at moving the emphasis onto speed cameras on urban streets rather than fast inter-city roads and that money raised from speeding fines would be used to increase road safety.

Further research commissioned for the programme from Leeds University shows that drivers suffer surprisingly small increases in average journey time if speed limits are cut to 20mph - usually because motorists on many roads can often only reach 30mph in the gaps between queues.

The computer-modelled research by Leeds University showed a 20 mph speed limit would add just 3 minutes to and average urban journey to work, an increase of 14% on the average 9.57 mile, 22 minute journey. "It is not absolute speed that determines the length of the average urban journey, said Dr Carsten of the University's transport studies unit. "It is the time drivers wait at junctions"

Steve Berry, motoring journalist
Steve Berry, former presenter of Top Gear, is a trained racing driver. He is paid to test the dream machines the industry has designed to capitalise on the thrill of speed. Panorama asked him to show what even a basic car nowadays can do at speed. He found that some models did not perform well at low speeds.

Lower speeds - further benefits

The increase in journey times in the future might be reduced still further. Serious accidents are much less likely at lower speeds - so there would be fewer major traffic hold-up in the year due to accidents.

Safety campaigners believe lower speeds could also tempt children out of the school run to walk and cycle alone instead of adding to traffic jams in their parents' cars.

Related links:

Roadpeace - the UK charity for road crash victims

Department of Environment Transport and the Regions. Roads and Safety

The Pedestrians Association.

Leeds University, Institute of Transport Studies

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

Association of British Drivers


The Automobile Association

UK Transport newsgroup frequently asked questions

The UK slower speeds Initiative

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Panorama Speed 14.2.00 clip
WATCH:The human consequences of speed; WATCH: Steve Berry demonstrating the performance of family cars.

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