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Police chief admits that use of 20mph speed zones in built-up areas ‘is generally a warning’

A police chief admitted that 20mph speed zones in built-up areas are “generally warning” and many are unenforceable.

Giles Orpen-Smellie, Norfolk’s Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, made the admission despite the fact that a third of local authorities have implemented the measures in recent years.

Speaking at a public meeting, he said: “It is extremely difficult for the police to prosecute…if you go in front of the magistrates, they will throw you out.”

The comments came in response to a question raised at a Norfolk County Council meeting sparked amid consternation among road safety organisations.

Liam Calvert, of the Living Streets charity, said he was “astonished” by the comment, adding: “I will be very interested to hear any advice you have received from officers on the matter.”

Giles Orpen-Smellie admitted 20mph speed zones in built-up areas are ‘generally warning’ and many are unenforceable

Rod King, director of the campaign group 20’s Plenty For Us, also dismissed the conservative CCP’s claim as “absolute nonsense.”

But Norfolk police revealed that they do not issue tickets for speeding up to 30 mph in 20 mph areas.

A spokeswoman said: ‘A local authority can enter a zone without requiring any permission. However, this can create a major problem for the application.

‘If a zone is entered without a traffic order (a legal document issued by the relevant highway authority), the applicable speed limit will be 30 mph.’

A statement added that police action “may be appropriate if there is clear evidence of significant noncompliance or injury collision,” and the force has issued 38 tickets for drivers speeding in a 20-mph zone since Jan. last year.

The National Police Chiefs Council said “enforcement is a matter for individual forces.”

Research has shown that only one in 40 pedestrians is killed when struck by a car going 20 mph, compared to one in five at 30 mph.

New signs for the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and a 20mph zone limit in East Dulwich, London

New signs for the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and a 20mph zone limit in East Dulwich, London

But a four-year government-commissioned study concluded in 2018 that 20 mph zones failed to make roads safer.

A study published in November of last year also found that they have “little impact” on crashes, casualties and driver speed.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge collected data on traffic collisions, casualties, driver speeds and traffic volume before a 20mph limit was introduced, as well as one and three years later.

Their study covered 76 streets in the city center and compared the data with that collected from nearby streets where the restrictions did not apply.

The analysis showed that, compared to sites that had maintained their speed limits, a 20 mph speed limit was associated with little change in short- or long-term outcomes for traffic crashes, casualties, or driver speed.

Schemes to reduce the speed of road traffic in certain areas have become increasingly popular in the UK and parts of Europe in a bid to improve safety.

The 20 mph limits were introduced in 1990, when the Department of Transportation established guidelines for local authorities to seek consent from the Secretary of State.

The law was then changed in 1999 so that highway authorities no longer had to automatically apply for a permit.

It created 20mph limits, indicated by speed limits and repeater signs, and 20mph zones, which were designed to be ‘self-enforced’.

In May 2021 Cornwall and Cambridgeshire voted to expand their 20mph schemes and in 2015 Bristol also tested 20mph limits in two areas.

And in 2020, Birmingham City Council said it wanted to introduce a 20mph limit on 90 per cent of the city’s streets.

Noted auto law attorney Nick Freeman, also known as Mr. Loophole, warned that the lottery over 20 mph speed limits exists across the country.

He said the zones must be formally created by a traffic order issued by the local authority and have the correct signage, including signs showing where they start and end and repeating signs, depending on size.

If any are missing, it is civil, not criminal. So he won’t get penalty points, but he might get a flat tip penalty,” he said.

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