Assessing the Impact of 20 mph Speed Limits on Vehicle Speeds in Rural Areas: The Case of the Scottish Borders

Organisation: Edinburgh Napier University

Date of Publication: September 2023

Uploaded to Knowledge Centre: 19 September 2023

This paper aims at delivering new empirical evidence as to the effectiveness of 20 mph speed limits in rural areas.

For this purpose, speed and traffic data were drawn from the area of the Scottish Borders, UK, where the local council led the rollout of a 20 mph speed limit trial in 97 villages and towns from October 2020. This intervention is considered as one of the first of its kind in the UK and overseas, as it was carried out on a large scale, in predominantly rural areas.

To evaluate the impact of the 20 mph speed limit on vehicle speeds, the researchers conducted a “before–after” quantitative analysis using traffic and speed data collected in different waves before and after the intervention. The descriptive analysis showed that both mean and 85th percentile speeds reduced directly after the introduction of the 20 mph speed limit (by 3.1 mph and 3.2 mph, respectively), and that such speed reductions were largely maintained even up to eight months after the onset of the intervention. The largest speed reductions were observed in locations with high-speed patterns before the intervention, and especially in those having mean speeds greater than 25 mph before the intervention.

Both non-parametric and parametric statistical tests, which were conducted using approximately five million speed observations, showed that the observed speed changes were statistically significant for the vast majority of cases. Linear regression models were also estimated confirming the significant impact of the 20 mph limit on vehicle speeds, while controlling for the influence of traffic volume.

Overall, the findings of this study will likely assist in filling an evidence gap regarding the effectiveness of 20 mph speed limits in rural settlements. The researchers say they can also provide encouragement to those local authorities in the UK and abroad that are currently actively examining the possibility of setting the 20 mph as the default limit in built-up areas.

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