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Lynn Sloman from Transport 2000
"We'd like to see the government showing some commitment"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 November, 1999, 16:36 GMT
Fury at speeding climbdown
speed gun Safety campaigners say lower limits would reduce accidents

By transport correspondent Roger Harrabin

Road safety groups have reacted furiously to news that the government has scrapped plans to save lives by cutting speed limits.

Ministers had been planning to cut the national single carriageway limit from 60 mph to 50 mph, and considering a reduction in the 30 mph limit for built-up areas.

They are due to publish their reviews on speed and road safety in the next few weeks - but under pressure from the prime minister's press secretary Alastair Campbell they have decided to leave any potentially controversial decisions to local authorities.

macdonald Lord Macdonald denies any interention by Downing Street
On BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Transport minister Lord Macdonald repeatedly refused to answer a question about whether the plans had been dropped.

A government spokesman said ministers were still committed to new policies on the management of excessive speed, which the government's White Paper on transport last year acknowledged as a serious problem for people living near main roads, and for pedestrians - particularly children.

Britain has one of the worse records in Europe on child road casualties - around 5,000 children are killed or seriously injured on the roads every year.

"The government should be ashamed of itself," said Lynn Sloman of Transport 2000.

"Ministers appear to be prepared to sacrifice children's lives to win motorists' votes. What they don't appear to have understood is that motorists are also parents and residents - and no-one wants people speeding through their own area."

The new government strategy is to announce a watered-down speed review - but present it as a major advance by urging local councils to cut road deaths by better speed policies.

But experts are dubious about the effectiveness of the policy. Rob Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, PACTS, said "The theory is fine ... but in practice most local councils don't have the expertise or the cash or the political will to take on the issue.

"If it is given to councils without a very clear mandate from government with targets for improvement, this policy initiative is likely to add up to very little."

The new scheme will also cost taxpayers more. If the government had carried out its original idea to make the national limit 50 mph, with exemptions for trunk roads, only the trunk roads would have needed special signs. Now that policy has been reversed, every non-trunk road in the country will need to be specially signed if traffic speeds are to be cut.

The same is true in cities, where motoring groups want to have highly-noticeable traffic calming measures when drivers move into a lower-speed zone.

speed sign Ministers have shelved plans to cut 30mph limits to 20 sources claim
But Britain is estimated to spend one 16th as much as the Dutch on traffic calming - and ministers have been told that very little extra money will be available following the review.

Some transport analysts think the government has under-estimated the potential of traffic calming as a means to achieve wider objectives.

In Holland it has improved the health of children, brought independence to children, cut obesity and heart disease, allowed parents more time off from child-taxi duties, cut rush hour jams as more people cycle, and even cut crime as people spend more time on the streets.

The government's climbdown was welcomed, though by motoring organisations.

"We will support lower speed limits - but only when they are demanded by local people, and where there are other routes available for through traffic. This is best decided by local councils," said John Dawson of the AA.

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See also:
19 Sep 99 |  UK
Drivers face speed cuts
09 Sep 99 |  UK
Road deaths fall to record low
19 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Speeding 'as bad as drink-driving'

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