The road to 30km/h as a default urban/village speed limit

Author(s): King

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There is almost universal acceptance that lower speeds on roads make for safer roads and ones which encourage active travel. Noise reduces and pollution can also be reduced.

Previous schools of thought have very much associated lower speeds of 30km/h with engineering and physical calming to reduce speeds. Such costly design and engineering then limits the areas targeted and means that deploying in all the places needing such lower speeds can take decades. During this time keeping a higher limit of 50km/h or more on the roads not so redesigned endorses 50km/h as a norm and exceptionalises where 30km/h speeds are deemed appropriate.

However, some countries and municipalities have been adopting wide-area 30km/h limits with minimal engineering. These rely on engagement and re-setting the perception of what speeds are appropriate in the presence of people. Often complete communities and local government areas covering large populations have implemented 30km/h limits on most roads. For example most Inner London roads have a 20mph limit including many arterials. This has been replicated in the majority of the largest UK city authorities.

Spain has already set 30km/h as a national urban default speed limit. The devolved government of Wales in the UK is preparing for a national 20mph (30km/h) adoption in April 2023 and Scotland looks to have 20mph set as a norm by 2025. Throughout the UK now 28 million people live in cities and counties where a 20mph limit has already been set or is planned to be set for most urban/village roads. Other European countries have widespread 30km/h without physical calming. The Netherland cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are calling for a national 30km/h limit for cities.

Now the United Nations in its Global Plan for the Decade of Road Safety 2021-2030 is calling for 30km/h as the default urban/village speed limit wherever motors mix with vulnerable road users unless there is clear evidence that a higher limit is safe. This was also the key focus in the UN Global Road Safety Week in May 2021 and activists in communities around the world became part of the process of adjusting the public consensus to recognise that 30km/h should be the default limit for cities, towns and villages.

This presentation will explore the history of the adoption of 30km/h and 20mph limits. It will look at the interaction between public consensus on 30km/h limits, the political decision-making to set those limits and the consequential behaviour change and reduced speeds. Whilst much of this will relate to the UK the issues are appropriate for any urban society.

20's Plenty for Us (also using the name Love 30 in countries using km/h) is a UK based NFP organisation that has over 500 local campaign branches in the UK and beyond making the case for lower limits.


Setting a speed limit as a norm across a town, city or county is an entirely different process to doing so specifically for a site. It is a process of public consensus and norming that complements the driver's recognition of a speed limit changing. Campaigns that advocate 30km/h as a such a norm inevitably become part of that societal norming process. The objective is to help politicians and professionals understand the benefits of lower speed limits and debate their efficacy objectively from a societal rather than a site specific basis. The objective of the central 20's Plenty for us and Love 30 organisation is to facilitate this debate and empower advocates to gain a change to 20mph (or 30km/) being set as a norm.

Target Group:

These new “actors” include public health for the benefits of active travel as well as noise and emission reduction. It includes social society organisations and the benefits of equitable travel for children, elderly and economically disadvantaged. It includes public transport organisations for the protection of customers in the first and last mile of their journeys. It includes enforcement and emergency service agencies. It includes the media. And of course it includes political representatives to understand the support from communities. It is the breadth of these actors across the societal spectrum which enable both the valuation of the wide benefits beyond road safety and also condition that public consensus towards lower speeds and behaviour change.


20's Plenty for Us/Love 30 works almost entirely in empowering its local branches rather than advocating with local authorities directly. It provides support, briefings, advice and campaigning resources to local campaigners. Where a local authority has decided to implement a 20mph default then it assists those authorities by making its considerable experience of other successful implementations available.

20's Plenty/Love 30 have also worked at continental and global level with such organisations as EU Commission, WHO, Global Alliance of Road Safety NGOs and others.


It will outline the opportunities and challenges. And this will include the need and benefit from bringing a wide range of actors into the societal debate. These transform the debate from “essentially about road safety” into discussion about the whole value of those public spaces between buildings that we call streets yet so prioritise for motors.

It will use examples of implementations which have resulted in successful setting of wide-area 20mph limits without physical calming where casualty reductions of 20-40% have been achieved. It will also identify best practices in gaining community-buy-in to maximise behaviour change when implemented at both local authority or national level.

It will also provide road safety professionals with methodology based on those success stories in order to prepare them for working with the UN/WHO call for 30km/h limits as an urban/village norm.