A council review into new 20mph zones has revealed that deaths and serious accidents actually rose after the lower limits were introduced.
A year after rolling out 13 new 20mph zones, Bath and North East Somerset Council revealed that in seven of the areas the number of serious or fatal incidents increased.
The council‘s review found that the rates dropped in just three of the newly created zones and remained the same in three others.
The review concluded that: “Overall, the speed limit programme in B&NES [Bath and North East Somerset] seems to have provided little in the way of persuasive argument for continuing the programme into the future.
“Indeed, the rise in casualty numbers and severity as per the national trend (albeit with relatively small numbers in B&NES) would suggest against further expansion of area based schemes.”
Despite this, the council’s deputy leader said that the zones were likely to remain in force as it would be too expensive to reverse their implementation.
Patrick Anketell-Jones said: “It has cost over £800,000 to roll out the 20mph zones and it would probably cost the same to reverse them. We just haven’t got the money.
“I’m pretty sure the 20mph zones will stay in place for the foreseeable future.”
The council report warned that 20mph zones could give a false sense of security, noting: “It could be that local people perceive the area to be safer due to the presence of the 20mph restrictions and thus are less diligent when walking and crossing roads, cycling or otherwise travelling.”
It also suggested that drivers continuing to travel at higher speeds could be responsible for the increase in incidents.
The report comes a month after the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents published its own review into 20mph limits and concluded that they could help reduce casualties.
It noted: “A large number of evaluation studies have demonstrated a link between the introduction of 20mph zones and a subsequent reduction in casualties. The size of the reductions and the consistency of results over a wide number of areas are further evidence for this link.”
It, however, pointed out that the zones were much more effective where traffic calming measures were also introduced. The Bath and North East Somerset scheme only used lowered limits and signage.
The Bath report has also been criticised by the 20s Plenty for Us campaign group, which accused the report of being “biased and lacking in statistical rigour”, and questioned the small sample sizes and the comparison of urban and rural zones.
The RAC said the report highlighted the need for a more comprehensive study of 20mph zones.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “It is too early to draw constructive conclusions from a small study over a short period. We urge the Government to support local councils by conducting a national study into the effectiveness and best practice for the use of 20mph zones in a wide variety of locations and urban environments.
“The RAC has consistently highlighted that blanket 20mph zones are not the right approach as compliance diminishes as drivers have less confidence in their necessity or effectiveness. Nevertheless the RAC supports 20mph limits around accidents black spots and areas with high footfall and vulnerable road users such as around schools and hospitals.
“It is also clear that simply erecting a speed limit sign does little to change entrenched behaviours and what is required is a combination of interventions including better enforcement to ensure drivers know they are likely to be caught, an effective awareness-raising campaign, and better road design which makes roads ‘feel-like’ a 20mph limit road. ”