I was taken by surprise a few days ago when out of the blue I heard my daughter-in-law speaking on Any Answers on BBC Radio 4. I was not surprised, however, by the topic: reducing speed limits to 20mph. She is a one-time A&E doctor and has seen at close quarters the impact on human bodies of a road traffic collision (RTC).
She feels passionately that speeding has to be tackled across the country, partly because of RTCs but also because of the need to reduce carbon emissions. She has been at the forefront of a 20mph campaign in Hampshire, where she lives. Speaking to her afterwards she urged me to look again at the evidence.
Although local speed limits in South Yorkshire are the responsibility of the district councils, not the police, I am often asked in community meetings to support proposals to reduce speed limits in particular towns or villages or along particular stretches of road. I am generally persuaded by what I hear but I usually take the view that there may be more to be said than I am hearing in the meetings and there is a cost in bringing in a new speed limit and changing the signage. These are matters that local councillors have to consider and it is not really for me to tell them what their priorities ought to be.
However, I do have a concern for road safety. So with the pleas of my daughter-in-law and three grandchildren echoing around my head, I have been looking again. It seems that an argument has already carried the day in Wales on this as well. The default position on Welsh roads is now 20mph. This should provide a large scale test case for the rest of the country within a year or two of being in operation.
The campaign would seek a 20mph speed limit on all those roads where people live, work, shop, play or learn, with 30mph as the exception. Leaving aside the health and climate change benefits this would bring through reduced air pollution and emissions, the safety considerations are quite stark. The Department of Transport estimates that a 1mph lower speed in built-up areas reduces road casualties by 6%. A 20mph speed limit would result in 30% fewer casualties. Stopping times are crucial if we want to reduce casualties, including deaths. It is a sobering thought that at the point where a car travelling at 20mph stops, a car being driven at 30mph is still moving – at 24mph. It is perhaps not surprising that speed is reported as a factor in nearly half of all fatalities.
The demand for speed reductions of this order have often come from parents worried about the speed of vehicles going past their child’s school. While I understand that – there are many children around the school at the beginning and end of the school day with cars pulling up to disgorge or collect them – many children have to make their way to school along roads that can be potentially dangerous. I have walked with people along 30mph roads where HGVs are within a few inches of us and where at some points pavements give out. I was in Wentworth, Rotherham on Friday, and this is a feature of the road through that village.
Enforcement is an issue; but enforcement is an issue now, not least on the many side-roads in urban areas that are already 20mph. But even without enforcement and without physical traffic calming measures, road safety still improves. Drivers reduce their speeds between 3 and 6mph.
There are other benefits that may persuade motorists. Fuel efficiency seems to peak where speed is capped at 20mph because there is much less acceleration and use of fuel.
I spend a lot of time each week going around the county, and what I find quite tiring and tedious is moving from one 20mph zone to another. I suspect, therefore, that the wider the area – a whole town or city – the less the need for calming measures and lots of signage and the easier to explain to the public. I note that when Edinburgh introduced a 20mph scheme for the whole of the city, casualties fell by 39% and fatalities by one quarter. These are very significant figures.
South Yorkshire police have many duties that I don’t at all envy them having to do. Going to the scene of a road traffic collision where there may be people with life changing injuries or fatalities, and among them may be children, is one. I think we need to think very carefully about the 20mph campaign – as my three young grandchildren would want.
Bobbies on the beat
I have reported previously on two allocations of additional funding that the Home Office has given us to increase foot patrols by officers.
The first was GRIP funding. This required the force to identify those areas where the most serious violence seemed to be occurring and, amongst other things, to patrol regularly in those places. This has been happening for sometime. The second tranche of funding was for patrolling in areas where there had been concerns around anti-social behaviour (ASB). For this, ASB hot spots had to be identified.
Each district – Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster – has looked at the data, some from the police but also from local authorities. Twelve areas in each district have been proposed and foot patrols are being carried out in each. The Home Office did, however, specify that areas patrolled using ASB funds should be different from those patrolled using GRIP money.
All this is in addition to the regular engagement that neighbourhood teams have with members of the public in their areas.
Taking GRIP and ASB together, it means that hundreds of hours of additional patrolling are now happening across South Yorkshire. And there have been some good results – extra stop and searches, arrests, seizures of quad bikes, and so on. And if the theories behind this regular patrolling are right, it should lead to a suppression of crime and ASB in these places with no displacement elsewhere. There is a deterrent effect.
I am pleased to say that people are beginning to notice seeing more police out and about on foot. One older resident of Wombwell wrote to me last week to say ‘thank you’ because in the last few weeks his estate had seen uniformed officers walking their streets. He and his fellow residents found this re-assuring.
I hope that as more people begin to notice this patrolling, they will become as re-assured as the man in Wombwell. We need not only to be safe but also to feel safe, and patrolling contributes to both.
I spent part of Friday in a stately home with, among others, the chief constable and the chief fire officer. Although we were drinking tea and coffee from bone china in a wood panelled room with a painted ceiling, it wasn’t a social occasion. South Yorkshire police had chosen Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham, as the place to hold their annual consultation event with partner organisations. And before you ask, I did enquire about the cost, and discovered that it was a cheaper venue to hire than most others!
The point of the gathering was to explore how the police and the other organisations were working together – what was working well, what could be improved, where any gaps in service might be. Round the tables, therefore, as well as the police and my staff, were senior officers and officials from bodies such as the Fire and Rescue Service, Probation, the prisons, the NHS, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the South Yorkshire mayor’s office, public health, four local authorities, and so on.
At one point we tried to look into the future to see what challenges were coming our way, what their implications were for the various public services and how we might better meet them together. You might be interested in the big headlines for the top ten trends we discussed (which were supplied by the College of Policing) and compare them with your own thoughts. They are in no particular order of significance:
1. Rising inequality and social fragmentation
2. An expanding and unregulated information space
3. A changing trust landscape
4. Technological change and convergence
5. A larger, older, more diverse population
6. Harnessing artificial intelligence
7. Workforce automation
8. Economic transitions
9. Growing influence of non-state actors
10. Climate change, environmental decline and competition for resources
Are these the major trends or is something missing?
(One footnote on Wentworth Woodhouse – which I had last seen many years ago shortly after it had ceased to be a training college for women PE teachers, called Lady Mabel. It is a stunning place, now open to the public – and there is a cafe. Well worth a visit!)
The PCC’s community grants scheme, Giving Back, is open for applications until 30th September. Funding of up to £10,000 is available to community groups and organisations whose work supports the aims of the Police and Crime Plan. Find out more about the scheme and how to apply here.