Police warn of 20mph speed limits and average speed checks

Essex Police is asking councils to drop speed limits as low as 20mph after 790 deaths and serious injuries on the county’s roads last year.

Speaking at a Maldon District Council meeting on March 10, the force said lower speed limits were likely to come into effect in the near future because of the greater priority placed on pedestrians and cyclists in the new highway code.

Head of roads policing Adam Pipe told councillors 20mph speed limits are more difficult to enforce, and average speed systems need to be enforced more widely, particularly in new housing developments.

The demand comes after 790 people were killed or seriously injured on Essex roads in 2021, with an additional 15 people killed since January this year, the latest occurring this week in Waltham Abbey.

Mr Pipe said: “It is likely that we are going to start to see speed limits that we probably haven’t seen before because the hierarchical changes in the highway code are meaning that vulnerable road user groups are going to get a greater level of priority. 

“So it could be some routes which are predominantly used by cyclists or pedestrians, which are going to rural roads in the main, could come down from de-restricted, so 60mph, to perhaps 50 or 40mph.

“You will potentially see a greater role out of 20mph speed limits in urban areas and a whole host of other changes and we will need to be doing more speed enforcement.”

Essex County Council is reviewing its speed management strategy, which could involve lowering speed limits, according to Mr Pipe.

He also said speed is the second highest cause of accidents in the county, and the highest in the 16 to 25 age group.

Drink and drug driving is another large contributor to driving-related deaths, with one in three people who die on the road having cocaine or cannabis in their system.

Mr Pipe said roughly 120 people are arrested a month for drug driving.

However, serious incidents in Essex have been declining, with the peak being in 2018, but the level has plateaued in recent years.

Essex Police, in partnership with the Safer Essex Roads Partnership (SERP), launched Vision Zero in September last year.

They want there to be zero road deaths per year in Essex by 2040.

Other police services, such as the Metropolitan Police, have similar targets, according to Mr Pipe.

Achieving this will involve local councils changing how they plan for the possibility of road accidents, which could include introducing new speed limits.

But Councillor Vanessa Bell criticised the target.

She said: “Vision Zero as such just excludes motorcycles completely because we’re never going to have zero fatalities with bikes.”

36 people were killed or seriously injured in Maldon last year.

Over the last five years, 92 people were killed or seriously injured in Maldon using a car, along with 41 motorcyclists, 21 pedestrians and 19 pedal cyclists.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter