The introduction of a 20mph speed limit in residential areas across Wales has many benefits:
■ Up to 10 fewer deaths and 2,000 fewer serious injuries every year.
■ £100 million a year saved by the Welsh NHS due to the reduced casualties.
■ Consequential incalculable savings in resources, time and trauma for the police, emergency services and medics who have to deal with the incidents.
■ A long-overdue halt to the encouragement and enabling of car use (UK policy since the establishment of the Ministry of Transport in 1919) in favour of pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers, children, old people, disabled people, pets, wildlife, the environment and the 20% of the population who don’t have a car.
■ Drivers too are safer in 20mph zones: it’s easier to pull out into traffic, there’s more time to react, collisions become largely harmless, road-rage and resentful tailgating are rendered pointless and eventually subside, 20mph soon comes to seem normal and driving becomes less stressful and even pleasurable, and the chances of killing someone in an accident and thereby being imprisoned and ruining one’s own life as well as someone else’s are virtually eliminated.
■ The people who protest about 20mph speed limits don’t have a case, therefore they have been reduced to adopting truly “insane” positions (to borrow the word that leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt used to describe Wales’ eminently sane measure). So the Tories now characterise the 25% reduction in death or serious injury that 20mph limits bring about as insane – a wanton perversion of the prime responsibility of any government to protect and improve the lives of its its citizens. To put velocity before mortality rates is the very definition of unhinged – confirmed by the years of research showing that those convicted of dangerous driving invariably display three terrible traits – narcissism, unscrupulousness and psychopathy. Mordaunt and her ilk have turned the Conservatives into dangerous, destructive far-right thugs on the Trump model. As for their completely insincere and frequently repeated claim that 20mph zones create more emissions (as if Tories were concerned about air quality!) that is just yet another twisted lie: 20mph is at least 25% cleaner than 30mph because of the extra fuel burned by cars accelerating up to the higher limit then slowing down again when they reach the next junction or set of traffic lights.
■ Contrary to the organised campaign of lies and misinformation in the shrieking rightwing press and media, co-ordinated by the desperate and despicable UK government of Sunak, most speed limits in Wales will remain unchanged. The 20mph limit is restricted to built-up areas where the very idea that it’s ok for 1.5 tons of lethal metal to bully their way through residential streets laid out before cars were invented is patently wrong. It has been calculated that 20mph limits add less than a minute to most journeys, an irrelevant few seconds that hardly justifies the extreme anger being whipped up by the Tories and their allies. Hold-ups in towns and cities are actually nothing to do with speed limits but caused by traffic lights, volume of traffic, accidents, illegal parking and the over-concentration of amenities and events in one hub. Moreover 20mph limits in villages and urban areas already exist across the UK. No less than 61 local authorities (many Tory-controlled) in England, for instance, have introduced an authority-wide limit of 20mph and, once the initial knee-jerk protests from foaming-at-the-mouth ‘motorists’ dominating the public debate fizzled out, not one Council has reversed the policy. In fact, support for slower speed zones rapidly grows as people experience the tangible benefits and councillors stick to their guns and support their own residents rather than pandering to outsiders who just drive through the areas. Most of the UK’s 40 biggest authorities have introduced 20mph zones meaning 30 million people live in places where 20mph is the norm. This has been the case in Cardiff for more than three years: nobody is protesting, the disasters currently being predicted for Wales by the car lobby have failed to happen, life goes on, and general well-being and safety have noticeably improved.
■ Sunak’s duplicitous interference in Welsh affairs is part of his ditching of any remotely ‘green’ policy following the Tories marginally clinging on in July’s Uxbridge byelection – a narrow victory achieved entirely thanks to massive online manipulation attacking London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez). The London mayor’s office has discovered that Ulez opposition was funded by ‘dark money’, co-ordinated by oil corporations and car firms, and facilitated by troll farms on social media and the flooding of the internet with fake ‘spreader’ accounts. This was enough to embolden billionaire Sunak to tear up the cross-party consensus and try to exploit the climate crisis for his political gain: he has already abandoned ‘net zero’ targets, authorised new oil fields and extended the lifespan of high-polluting vehicles in shocking crimes against humanity and the planet – a shameless disgrace typical of Sunak the snake and his utterly discredited, rotten to the core Tory Party. The contrast between Sunak’s cynical, barrel-scraping cowardice and the courage, leadership and principles of Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford could not be more stark.
■ Over time, as the century-long trend of bowing to the motor car is reversed and people gradually convert to walking/cycling/public transport for short journeys, residential neighbourhoods become safer, cleaner, quieter, less congested, less ugly, less alienating, more neighbourly and more pleasant – like the 5mph cul-de-sacs, private estates and no through roads where the wealthy choose to live. Moreover, jobs, amenities and services eventually return to hollowed-out local communities from the distant, car-dependent ring-roads where they have been shifted over the last 40 years to suit the oil-lobby. In time, more pavements, cycle-lanes and safe crossing-points emerge and the momentum to create efficient, affordable, comprehensive public-transport systems becomes unstoppable. That, of course, is exactly what Big Oil and petrol-heads don’t want. It was pressure from those sources, starting in the USA where popular public transport tram lines and railways were ripped up to satisfy the car manufacturers after WW2, that brought about the social, environmental and structural catastrophe of mass car use. The UK and the rest of the world duly followed suit and the appalling consequences are now everywhere apparent across the planet. The tide is turning and Wales is in the vanguard. We should all be very proud.