Drivers warned of major 20mph speed limit changes introduced today with huge fine risk

A 20mph speed limit sign

It is hoped the speed limit changes will reduce accidents and protect pedestrians from harm

Felix Reeves

By Felix Reeves

Published: 17/09/2023

- 08:00

The law change has been described as the 'biggest step change in community safety for a generation'

Drivers in Wales will see major changes taking place today with almost all speed limits on restricted roads being slashed from 30mph to 20mph.

Today, September 17, the Welsh Government will roll out the default 20mph speed limit on roads usually located in residential and built-up areas where there are lots of people.

The Government announced the change in a bid to cut the number of accidents and injuries from speeding vehicles and encourage more people to walk and cycle.

The proposals, which were first unveiled in July 2021, have proved to be highly controversial with motorists and politicians divided over the policy.

A 20mph speed limit sign

The Welsh Government has brushed off any pushback to the changes


Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said the decision to introduce the new speed limits was the “biggest step change in community safety for a generation”.

Speaking in the Senedd earlier this week, he said it would save lives, prevent injuries and prompt people across the country to take up walking and cycling more often.

He added: “A 20mph default speed limit will pay for itself three times over from the savings to the health service in the first year alone.

“This is not a policy that has been rushed, it has been four years in development, in close partnership with local authorities, the police and key delivery organisations.”

If a pedestrian is hit by a car travelling at 30mph, they are around five times more likely to be killed than if they are hit at 20mph.

Initially there will be an “engagement approach” for drivers who are found to be exceeding the limit, with motorists being informed of the new rules.

However, people who are caught speeding “significantly” over the 20mph speed limit will risk a fine and points on their licence.

The Welsh Government has clarified that it is not a “money-making scheme”, with all revenue from the fines being directed to HM Treasury and not the Government.

Police, fire and ambulance services are allowed by law to exceed speed limits to respond to emergency calls, with many people being fearful that emergency services may be held up by the law changes.

Paul Barker, managing editor at carwow, warned: “Drivers will have to do some serious mental adjustment to account for the arrival of widespread 20mph zones in Wales, and we'd urge authorities to ensure there's equally widespread signage and information to avoid drivers being caught out by a poorly advertised new limit.

“The 30mph urban limit has been in place for getting on for a century, and speed awareness courses even teach that roads with streetlights and no signage can be assumed to be 30mph limit, so large areas of 20mph zones require a complete reset of driving instinct.

“These zones have proven unpopular with motorists when introduced on a big scale in places including London and Brighton, so despite the claimed safety and pollution benefits there is going to be a difficult transition period if 20mph is going to become the new 30mph in urban areas.”


A 20mph speed limit sign

Spain reported much safer roads after implementing similar speed limit changes


Spain was one of the first countries to introduce a 30km/h (18mph) speed limit in 2019, with the nation reporting 20 per cent fewer urban road deaths, and a 34 per cent drop in cyclist fatalities.

Álvaro Gómez, head of the National Road Safety Observatory in Spain, wrote to the Welsh Government reassuring them of the plans, adding that everything had gone well in Spain.

He added: “The main message to the people of Wales is that you can do it. There will be some fears beforehand but our experience and the experience of other cities across the world is that once it is done things become normal quickly.

“There are no big delays, there is no congestion there is no increase of pollution. Everything becomes normal, and everything gets better.”

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