AdviceLife on bikes

Speed limits are reducing in rural areas

The National Speed Limit sign is becoming less common on country roads. Guidance introduced a few years ago is starting to hit home as more councils switch from 60 mph to 40mph or even slower in rural areas.

This starts on a ride out last week. 15-16 of us did a route around the Kent and Sussex borders for the second time in around a month. Only this time it seemed different.

At the end of the ride the guy who’d planned it asked for feedback. I said it first: “Is it me, or did there seem to be way more 40’s and 50’s than last time?” It wasn’t just me. Others had noticed it too.

A few days later the subject surfaced again when it was mentioned in a comment, on a post about the new night vision speed cameras, on Biker & Bike’s Facebook Page. Had people noticed, the commenter asked,  ‘how there were hundreds of 30 and 40 mph speed limits now up where they weren’t needed?’

Not just a coincidence, I thought.

Speed limit rural areas
© The A5127 in Shenstone, Staffordshire, is just one example where the National Speed Limit signs have disappeared.
Speed limit rural area

Time to dig around and find out

Unfortunately, B&B doesn’t have the funds to put in Freedom of Information requests to every council at £20 a pop. So instead we did our research online.

Sure enough, we found plenty of anecdotal evidence that councils were indeed replacing the National Speed Limit (NSL) on many rural roads with lower limits.

The website, run by Peter Edwardson, has taken a particular interest in the subject. “Oxfordshire is working through a programme of making all its rural A and B roads 50s, and something similar is happening in Surrey.

“Derbyshire have made 50 mph the default limit on all their formerly NSL single-carriageway A-roads in the Peak District.”

The website points out this has been going on for some time and they don’t see it ending. “It is not difficult to see in a few years’ time that we will reach a situation where the vast majority of “normal” rural A-roads have 50 limits, with 60 being confined to limited stretches of new-build roads, bypasses and roads that have been substantially upgraded.”


The Government are encouraging it

Back in 2013, the Government released new guidelines to local Councils in England. Councils set the speed limits for all roads except motorways and trunk roads.

The guidance recommended:

Upper tier A and B roads
• 60 mph: high-quality strategic roads with few bends, junctions or accesses. When the assessment framework is being used, the accident rate should be below a threshold of 35 injury accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometres.
• 50 mph: lower quality strategic roads which may have a relatively high number of bends, junctions or accesses. When the assessment framework is being used, the accident rate should be above a threshold of 35 injury accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometres and/or the mean speed already below 50 mph.
• 40 mph: where there is a high number of bends, junctions or accesses, substantial development, where there is a strong environmental or landscape reason, or where the road is used by considerable numbers of vulnerable road users.
• 30 mph: should be the norm in villages where appropriate.

60mph being the National Speed Limit on main single carriageway roads, not an excessive speed by most people’s measure, there need to be good reasons to drop it, surely?

As you can see, with the 40 and 50mph roads, the only justification needed is, ‘a high [or relatively high] number of bends, junctions or accesses.’ So that is just about every rural road you can think of, surely?

Certainly, in Wales they think so. In 2016, Ceredigion County Council slashed many roads to lower limits, including eight that went from the NSL right down to 30mph.


Slower is safer?

It’s clear that the Government equates higher speeds with lower safety levels. There’s plenty of evidence that, in built-up environments, reducing speeds does lead to fewer casualties.

On motorways too, reducing speed can be used to increase volume flow.

On open rural roads, however, the opposite can be true. In the US, states that increased the speed limit from 55mph to 65 and 75mph saw a fall in their accident rates.

Of course, we all believe that slower drivers cause accidents, don’t we? Well at least 60% of us do and at one time it was suggested that speed cameras should also hand out fines for driving too slowly.

Slow drivers, while not responsible, are often a causal element in accidents where a faster road user has become frustrated with the slow speed leading to an overtake with a slimmer margin of safety.


Are lower speed limits happening?

It’s clear that some councils are definitely implementing new lower limits across the board. It’s possible that many others are following suit and that’s where we’d like to hear from you.

If you came to this story from the Facebook post, please leave a comment if you have seen an increase in lower limits in your area.

Or send us an email using the [email protected] address on our Contact Us page.

Get yourself sorted:
If you suspect a local council has implemented an unreasonable speed limit falling outside of the national guidelines you can formally request a change:


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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.