Find out policies and figures
The Highways Agency is responsible for motorways and trunk roads (A roads generally marked in green on maps), all other roads are the responsibility of the local highway authority - see the finding information and partners section. There are likely to be local policies in your authority’s Local Transport Plan (LTP), which probably dates from 2011. It’s the best place to look first, though do see if your authority has a separate road safety strategy, even though these are usually part of the LTP now. See if there are any sources of funding identified as a lack of funding could be a show-stopper.
There may also be reports available that give useful background information. All local authorities were supposed to review speed limits on their A and B roads by 2011, not all managed to do so while some reviewed speed limits on minor roads too.
National policy that gives guidance to local authorities is set by the Department for Transport in the Setting Local Speed Limit circular, which was revised in 2013.Since the last edition of the circular, which was published in 2006, there is now a much greater emphasis on introducing 20 mph in built-up areas and 40 mph on minor rural roads. So if your LTP is not supportive of lowering speed limits on the streets that matter to you, you can argue that the local policy has become out of date and that you authority needs to take account of the latest national guidance.
It’s worth finding out what your local police force priorities are in relation to road safety, such as if there is a target to cut road deaths. Also see if there are any community concerns recorded by the police in your immediate area that relate to road safety and consider feeding into it.
You may want to get some hard figures about flows and speed of existing traffic see where crashes have happened in your area. Again finding partners and information section shows you how to find these sources. How much research you actually need to do will depend if you are pushing on an open door or not.
Make your case to potential allies or opponents
There are lots of reasons to reduce speed limits - see the benefits section - and although road safety arguments can be very compelling, you might find other arguments work better with different people.
Perhaps the best way to argue the case is first to show why lowering speed limits would fit with national policy in this particular location. Then why there are local reasons, such as crash rate, community concerns etc. why spending to lower speed limits there should be a priority for scarce funding. It can help if you can give examples of similar places nearby that have the benefits of lower speed limits, which your area is missing out on. If you can get any hard figures or even just comments from people affected that could be really useful. It's worth being flexible at this stage as to the area that could be covered by lower speed limits - there may be opportunities to do this as part of a wider initiative and that could gain you wider support.
Do make speaking with your local councillors in your highway authority a priority as they will be key to securing support from officials. Parish and town councils are also key, particularly as they are being given a statutory right to comment on traffic order consultations.
The potential concerns of officers and elected members of local authorities and responses you could use to tackle them are:
- there isn’t the money to do it at the moment - see if you could identify other sources of funding and show that new national rules now make it cheaper to change speed limits
- there isn’t sufficient support for it and/or opposition could be more hassle than it’s worth - show you are working in partnership and create some pressure for action by getting a story in the local media and encouraging local people and shops and businesses to put up posters calling for lower speed limits
- it would go against national guidance - show that it is supported or at least allowed by the newly updated guidance
- it would create additional clutter - new rules on 20 mph mean less clutter is needed and these could be rolled out to rural 40 mph zones
- most of the roads are self-enforcing / average speeds are low - it’s those times when/where they are not that cause a disproportionate amount of problems
- police would object and so there would be no point having a speed limit that isn’t enforced - engage with the police
Police are statutory consultees for changes to speed limits and, because they deal with enforcement and the aftermath of road crashes, their views can be given particular weight. Potential concerns that they could express and ways you could respond might be:
- the speed limit be too low to be widely obeyed - show how speeds driven could be changed through psychological traffic calming and community campaigns
- police would not have the resources to enforce it - propose a community speed watch scheme to reduce the enforcement burden on the police, see the tackling speeding section
- 'ACPO guidelines' would not allow it - guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers is six years out-of-date, based on previous government policy and is due to be updated in 2013. In any event it is not binding.
Engage with the consultation
See if you work with your local council to influence what is proposed in the public consultation. There may be a temptation to consult on a small scheme to show that ‘something is being done’ rather than a change to speed limits over a larger area, such as including a village or town centre. Or to use traditional and ugly traffic calming that officers are more familiar with rather than trying to do something innovative. A good compromise can be to introduce an experimental scheme - see the case study for more information.
Finally don't forget to try to get as many people as possible to respond positively to the consultation.