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Lowering the default speed limit in residential areas: opportunities for policy influence and the role of public health professionals
  1. P Pilkington
  1. Correspondence to Dr P Pilkington, University of the West of England, Institute for Sustainability, Health and Environment (ISHE), Glenside Campus, Blackberry Hill, Stapleton, Bristol BS16 1DD, UK; paul.pilkington{at}

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A recent article in this journal argued that climate change represents an opportunity for injury control to advance its aims.1 This paper examines the policy of lowering the default speed limit in residential areas (the speed limit that would apply across all residential areas), long advocated by injury prevention and public health professionals, to see how this could be advanced through shared agendas.23 The paper also comments on how public health professionals are uniquely placed to bring together these shared agendas and further the injury prevention cause.

Lowering residential speed limits: need and evidence

Each year, approximately 1.2 million people die and 50 million are injured in road traffic collisions.4 Many of these deaths and injuries occur in residential areas, where there is the greatest mix of vulnerable road users and motor vehicle traffic.4 Vulnerable road users are often children and young people, resulting in the situation whereby road traffic collisions account for around 30% of all injury-related deaths in children worldwide.5

The evidence for speed as a significant factor in these road traffic deaths and injuries is well documented, increasing both the risk of collisions, and the risk of serious injury and death should a collision occur.6 The probability of fatal injury for a pedestrian colliding with a vehicle increases dramatically above speeds of 30 kph.6

Lowering speeds in residential areas, mainly through self-enforcing traffic-calmed zones, is associated with reduced collisions, deaths and injuries.789 A trial in Scotland of 20 mph (32 kph) limits without traffic calming measures at 78 sites found reductions in speed and casualties, concluding that such limits offer a low cost option for promoting road safety.10 There is less evidence on the impact of reducing the default speed limit in residential areas across a town or city without …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.