As Wales prepares to transition from a 30mph to a 20mph speed limit in residential areas, drivers have been cautioned against relying solely on sat-nav devices for speed limit information, as not all GPS systems may provide immediate updates to reflect the change. Wales will become the first UK nation to introduce a 20mph (32km/h) speed limit in built-up areas.
While the new speed limit is expected to enhance road safety, some GPS providers may take time to update their maps to reflect the lower speed limit accurately. Police in Wales have stated that they will initially focus on educating drivers about the new limit rather than resorting to strict enforcement, as drivers adapt to the change.
The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) has recommended that motorists adhere to road signs for speed limit information until sat-nav systems have been fully updated. According to Simon Williams, a representative of the RAC, drivers must remain aware of the new 20mph speed limit and pay close attention to road signage.
The shift to a 20mph limit will affect around 35% of Welsh roads where lamp-posts are situated no more than 200 yards (183m) apart. This change will make 20mph the new national speed limit, eliminating the need for additional signs on those roads, except when speed limits change.
Wales is following in the footsteps of countries like Spain, which adopted a similar nationwide 30km/h (18.6mph) speed limit in 2019. While numerous UK counties, towns, and cities have already implemented 20mph limits on residential roads, Wales will be the first nation to establish it as the default speed limit on what the law designates as “restricted roads.” Scotland is currently considering whether to follow suit.
The move to a 20mph default speed limit in Wales aims to reduce road collisions, noise pollution, and encourage walking and cycling. Official data from Wales indicates that a significant number of fatalities and severe injuries occurred in 30mph zones last year. Safety campaigners argue that being struck by a vehicle traveling at 30mph carries a significantly higher risk of fatality compared to being hit at 20mph.
The Welsh government believes that the £32.5 million cost of implementing the new limit is outweighed by the potential savings to the NHS and emergency services, which could amount to £92 million annually, as reported by a study. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) also sees 20mph limits as a more cost-effective alternative to traffic calming measures.
Of Wales’ nearly 22,000 miles (35,171 km) of roads, approximately 7,700 miles (12,500 km) will transition from 30mph to 20mph speed limits. Approximately 30,000 road signs will be replaced to reflect the new limit.
While police will have the authority to fine drivers exceeding the 20mph limit, officers will initially emphasize education during the first year of implementation and exercise discretion. Fixed speed cameras, however, will enforce the new limit consistently.
Local authorities in Wales have the option to retain the 30mph limit on approximately 3% of roads by providing evidence that higher speeds do not pose risks to pedestrians and cyclists. Exempted roads will continue to display 30mph signs.
The introduction of the 20mph speed limit in Wales has generated mixed opinions, with some respondents opposing the change in a government-commissioned consultation. However, the Welsh government remains committed to the new limit, which was part of the Welsh Labour party’s manifesto and also featured in Plaid Cymru’s manifesto. While acknowledging the adjustment challenge, First Minister Mark Drakeford emphasized the importance of road safety and the gradual acceptance of the new speed limit.