Addressing the risk of death in road traffic is fundamental to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically those affecting health security, sustainable cities, poverty, and reducing inequalities among and within countries. Policies that tackle the of impact road traffic, and create environments for safe, sustainable and inclusive transport options, also unlock action for protecting the climate and gender equality too.
A paradigm shift in how streets are designed, starting with low speeds where people and traffic mix, makes streets safe, accessible, enjoyable and equitable for all road users, delivering multiple benefits for all whilst accelerating action across interlinking SDGs.
30 km/h (20 mph) streets save lives and protect all who use them, especially the most vulnerable, like pedestrians, cyclists, children and older people and people with disabilities.
30 km/h streets where people and traffic mix help prevent road traffic deaths and promote physical activity because when streets are safe, people walk and cycle more.
Liveable streets, made possible by low speeds, are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and can facilitate many of its targets.
As we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone should benefit from low-speed streets, so that they not only survive but also thrive. 30 km/h (20 mph) streets where people and traffic mix are streets for life.
30 km/h (20 mph) streets are vital in efforts to shift to zero-carbon mobility. Streets that promote safe walking and cycling can reduce car dependency and harmful vehicle emissions that contribute to climate change.
To protect the environment, people need safe, low-speed streets that encourage sustainable transport choices.
MYTH: 30 km/h limits don’t make a difference.
FACT: Low speed streets save lives.
Evidence from around the world shows that low speed streets reduce the risk of serious injuries and save lives. In Tanzania, AMEND’s SARSAI has been shown to cut road injuries by as much as 26% and has now expanded to 50 high-risk school areas in 9 countries. In Toronto, Canada, road crashes fell by 28% since speed limits were reduced from 40 to 30 km/h in 2015, which led to a reduction in serious and fatal injuries by two thirds. In Colombia, Bogota has included 30km/h zones in a package of measures in its Speed Management Plan that have reduced traffic fatalities by 32%. A study from London found that lower speed limits (in this case 20mph zones) were associated with a 42% reduction in road casualties, while in Bristol the introduction of 20mph limits was associated with a 63% reduction in fatal injuries between 2008 and 2016.
Other studies suggest that there can be a casualty reduction of up to 6% for each 1 mph speed reduction for urban roads. Overall, the WHO have concluded that an increase in average speed of 1 km/h results in a 3% higher risk of a crash and a 4 to 5% increase in fatalities.
Above 30 km/h impact speeds, pedestrians are at considerably greater risk of death. This is even greater for the young and elderly. In the distance a 30km/h car can stop, a 50km/h car is still driving. Higher speeds narrow motorists’ peripheral vision and impact their reaction times.
MYTH: 30 km/h limits are not popular.
FACT: People consistently say they want lower speeds where they live.
Over many years, surveys from around the world have consistently shown that the majority of people agree that 30 km/h is the correct speed limit for residential roads. Indeed, low speed streets help reduce congestion and are widely popular. A recent global YouGov poll in 11 countries for the Child Health Initiative found that 74% of people supported restrictions on streets around schools if it allowed children to walk or cycle to school more safely, including limits on speed.
In UK surveys, 70% of motorists say that they agree that 20 mph (30 km/h) is the right limit for streets where people live. Surveys in Scotland suggest 65% are in favour, and one in four people think that it would make them more likely to walk or cycle in their everyday life. Evidence also suggests rapid acceptance across Europe.
There are also significant health benefits from slowing traffic, including supporting a shift to active lifestyles through walking and cycling. The social interactions that people have with others on the street are important for building community and collective wellbeing. Slower traffic also reduces road danger, improves noise and social cohesion.
MYTH: 30 km/h limits will increase journey times.
FACT: In urban areas, journey times are more influenced by other factors.
In urban situations, the peak speed between congestion points or junctions rarely impacts on journey times. Real-world tests have shown across most typical urban journeys, the time difference between driving at a maximum of 30 km/h or 50km/h is minimal.
Congestion and time spent waiting at traffic signals are often more significant on journey times than the speeds that vehicles travelling between them. Areas designed for slow moving vehicles can also potentially eliminate the need for some traffic signals, creating a more equal relationship between road users who yield for each other.
MYTH: 30 km/h limits are only for certain countries.
FACT: Low speed streets are effective in any context.
Although many of the countries that have pioneered the effective road safety approaches are high income countries, low speed streets are possible for any country to implement, no matter their level of development or number of vehicles.
30 km/h zones have been successfully set in neighbourhoods in Africa, North America, Asia, Europe, Latin America and Australasia. In many cases, these have started around schools, such as Amend’s project in Tanzania, which won the prestigious Ross Prize for Cities, and in Zambia which has recently introduced lower speed limits around schools and areas with high pedestrian flow.
MYTH: 30 km/h limits are anti-motorist.
FACT: Low speed streets help cut congestion and create healthier streets for everyone to enjoy.
Low speed streets can actually make life better for motorists. Safer roads will help shift some shorter urban trips away from private vehicles, reducing congestion and the associated emissions.
Air pollution affects all road users, but professional drivers are disproportionately exposed to it, increasing their health risks. Many major motoring groups support low speed zones; for example the RAC called for them to be introduced in Australia.