• Country

Wales Reduced Their Speed Limit to 20mph for 35% of Roads: 6 Reasons why a 20 mph Speed Llimit is Better for Cyclists

By Charlotte Murray

In September 2023, Wales introduced a default 20mph speed limit to ‘restricted roads’, which are roads with lampposts, typically found in residential areas. So that’s quite a lot of roads.

The Welsh government made the decision to implement these changes to their roads after a year-long trial period in 8 different areas. The change is new to the UK, but is already in place in some European countries such as in Spain, where 30 km/h (18.5 mph) is the norm.

The statistics can seem polarising, but it’s worth bearing in mind that, according to Cycling UK, ‘more than a third of people with a driving licence also cycle’, and that ‘almost every adult cyclist who holds a driving licence also drives’.

Does the speed limit apply to cyclists, and can a cyclist overtake a car driving at 20 mph?

According to the Welsh Government, the speed limits in place in Road Traffic Regulations and in the Highway Code only apply to motor vehicles. That is to say that they do not apply to cyclists. However, it’s still important to be considerate of other road users.

What are the benefits to cyclists?

You’re much less likely to be injured. The city of Bristol, UK, found that in areas with a 20 mph speed limit, cyclist casualty numbers fell by around 40%. Who wouldn’t want safer cycling conditions?

More people are likely to cycle as they feel it’s safer.  With lower speed limits, more people are much more likely to feel it is safe for them to cycle.

Children and their parents will reap the benefits. Parents often state that they won’t let their children cycle to school, as it just doesn’t feel safe enough. According to a Living Streets survey conducted in Edinburgh, where 20 mph is in force around schools, the proportion of children cycling to school increased from 4% to 12%, with the most notable increase amongst older primary school aged children, from 3% to 22%5. This is great for those parents who want to cycle to work themselves, who can share the joy of cycle commuting with their children, on safer roads.

There’s less traffic to contend with. Have you ever left the house on the first day of the school holidays and considered how quiet it is compared to term-time? Well, with an increase in school children cycling themselves to school, there’ll no doubt be fewer cars on the road. This is not only a benefit to car users who will encounter less traffic, but it is also hugely beneficial to other cyclists who can enjoy safer streets.

Remember those cyclists who are also car drivers? Well, driving at 20 mph is better for drivers too. When driving at 20 mph, braking distances are shorter, which results in more vehicles utilising the available road space, therefore reducing standing traffic. The flow of traffic is generally better, with filtering at junctions being easier, and the ease of pulling into traffic improving.

Cyclists can breathe easier. With those lower speeds, and more efficient driving speeds, vehicles will produce less air pollution. This means that anyone cycling along roads that were once full of traffic are likely to breathe better air, benefiting the cyclists, the environment, and even the drivers themselves. It’s worth mentioning that there is still debate around whether air pollution is improved as a result of these measures, with different studies producing differing results. Ultimately, if people feel it is safer to cycle, then fewer cars on the road will inevitably lead to lower emissions.

So, you may or may not agree with the changes imposed by the Welsh government. Change is inevitably difficult at first, but these changes were favoured by the majority. As cyclists, we know that we’ll benefit in one way or another, and we can certainly get on board with safer cycling.