Restricted roads in Wales drop to 20mph speed limit

Wales 20mph speed limit facts_1


If you live in Wales – with its amazing roads and scenery – or if you visit for a motorcycle ride to take in and enjoy those same roads and scenery, then it’s important that you know that the speed limit is changing on 17th September 2023.

The new Welsh speed limit coming into effect on that day (it’s a Sunday) will mean that the default speed limit for restricted roads will reduce from 30mph to 20mph.


Why is the Welsh Government reducing the speed limit?

The power to set a national speed limit in Wales was devolved to the Welsh Government in 2018, and it was a decision made by them very early on to reduce the speed limit on restricted roads from 30mph to 20mph.

The government stated several reasons for the change when they published a proposal in 2021, which included reducing the number of collisions and resulting severe injuries that should also, they think, reduce the impact on the NHS.

The hope is that it will encourage more people to walk and cycle, which should help to improve health and well-being while making the streets safer and safeguard the environment for future generations.


Do all roads in Wales now have a 20mph speed limit?

No, only restricted roads in Wales are being reduced to 20mph, which means those in residential areas where there’s streetlighting in place. The affected roads will most likely have been a 30mph zone before, and they will be signed in just the same way that 30mph and 20mph roads are now: a circular sign with a red border, white background and black numbers.

The Government and local councils have been working to identify any roads that are a 30mph now and may be exempt from the reduction to 20mph. You can check the local authority’s website for details of those but in reality, they will be signed as a 30 limit so you shouldn’t have to do any research.

National speed limit roads will still be 60mph for single carriageways and 70mph for dual carriageways – assuming you’re on a motorcycle – unless they are signed otherwise.


Is it lawful to just change the speed limit?

As the government in Wales has the authority to change the law in relation to speed limits in Wales, then yes, it’s lawful for them to do so.

The Road Traffic Act 1984 was amended in July 2022 by The Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Wales) Order 2022. It comes into force on the 17th September 2023.


Have there been any trials to see if 20mph limits work?

The Welsh Government chose eight areas of restricted roads across the country to trial a 20mph limit spanning 2021 and into 2022, to see what effects the change would have on driver behaviour.

The report’s interim findings in November 2022 were that 64% of drivers were now travelling at or less than 24mph, where it had been a figure of only 45% before the implementation of the trial.

The trial also reported an increase of 51% in the takeup of active travel in the reduced zones on school journeys.

If you thought about taking the bus instead of riding then the trials showed that it in some areas, punctuality was better and in others it was worse. It mentioned that with a limited bus service in many of the areas and inconsistent findings in the data it was unable to show whether the reduction had any effect on bus journeys.


Will the 20mph cause worse air quality?

In terms of the air quality in the zones, the report’s findings were that there was no material change. However, the Welsh Government hopes that with a lower speed limit and potentially safer roads, more people will be encouraged to take up active travel, so with fewer vehicles on the road there will be less pollution.

The report from Transport for Wales does state that the reporting period will roll on until the start of the scheme and six months beyond, when more findings will be produced. It also stated that the timescale of the trials post-implementation was short for measuring the effects of an intervention that is intended to be part of a major behaviour change programme. The report conceded that the trial areas are also small in geographical scale, and went on to say that any conclusions drawn at this stage are therefore tentative in nature and based on limited data.


Will the new 20mph speed limit in Wales be enforced?

Yes, the police, Go Safe (The Welsh road safety and casualty reduction partnership) and the Fire Brigade will be working alongside community groups and local authorities.

“Engagement, education, and enforcement plays a huge part in the rollout,” said Supt Leanne Brustad of Gwent Police said. “We will continue to work closely with our partners to educate drivers as much as possible as the new speed limit comes into force and help deliver all of the benefits of this policy.”

Although the penalty for speeding is usually £100 and three points on a driving licence – or a speed awareness course – it does look as though, in the early days at least, those caught just over the limit may be offered the chance to watch a video as a means of education. Those way over the limit can still expect the points and fine.


What are the benefits of a 20mph speed limit?

In free-flowing traffic, one mile of your journey completed at 30mph takes two minutes. The same one mile completed at 20mph takes 3 minutes. Analysis by the Welsh Government states that the average journey may take a minute longer, and they’ve said that reducing the speed limit could impact road safety annually through reducing collisions by 40%, which would reduce casualties by 1,200-2,000 and save six to ten lives every year.

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