How effective is reducing speed limits on rural roads? Phase 1 final report

Surrey County Council

Amount awarded

Date of publication
April 2022

Project due to complete

Uploaded to Knowledge Centre
10 April 2022

This report details the findings of the first phase of a two-phase project, funded by the Road Safety Trust, to understand the impact of lower speed limits on rural roads in Surrey. Using speed and casualty data alongside stakeholder and public feedback, this first phase assesses this information in relation to those limits which had previously been reduced. The purpose of this phase is to gain an understanding of compliance, safety, and the perception of safety of incremental speed reductions. The second phase will involve similar analysis but after widespread speed limit reductions across the county.

Rural roads are a road safety priority as defined in the Department for Transport’s Road Safety
Statement (Road Safety Statement, 2019) with much higher proportions of serious and fatal collisions occurring on these roads than would be expected, based on traffic levels. There is overwhelming evidence that high speeds are a significant influence on these collision rates and reducing overall speeds on high-risk roads has been a priority for road authorities for decades.

The national speed limit on single carriageway rural roads in England and Wales is 60mph for cars,
motorcycles, car-derived vans, and motorhomes, but 50mph for all other vehicles. It has been common practice for these limits to be lowered on many of the country’s rural roads by means of a traffic regulation order, supported by speed limit repeater signs. This has been the case in Surrey, the study area for this report. Surrey County Council has a desire to see appropriate speed limits put in place on all its rural roads and this study aims to support them in achieving this.

The implementation of new speed limits on rural roads in Surrey has taken place gradually over many years, with limits lower than the national speed limit regularly put in place. This has most commonly been the case in the Tandridge, Reigate and Banstead and Mole Valley districts on roads south of the M25. The rural roads broadly south of Dorking, Redhill and Oxted are largely 40mph limits, with larger ‘A’ roads sometimes set to 50mph. Other roads in west Surrey, including the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have remained at 60mph, although these roads are often different in nature with lower traffic levels on more winding, narrow roads. To the north of Surrey, increased urbanisation means the roads are infrequently ‘rural’ in nature with only short sections of country roads connecting the urban areas to the north of Guildford.

Key finding
Overall, the analysis of the evidence relating to the selected rural roads demonstrated a clear relationship between travelled speed and the frequency of collisions, especially for the most serious collisions. The complex nature of the road environment makes comparisons between roads more difficult, especially where blanket changes across an area have not been implemented. Reviewing data for similar roads in other counties would perhaps deepen our understanding of the relationships.

Download the report from the Road Safety Trust website: