Call for lower speed limits in the countryside

Safer walking, horse riding & cycling in the South Downs, – in villages, the National Park & AONBs

There is a strong case for common speed limit on the minor roads in the South Downs. We should seek for the introduction of a modest speed limit of say 40 mph all country lanes and roads except A roads and trunk roads.

In the SDN briefing paper “Quiet Lanes” the benefits of using existing legislation to create safer walking, horse-riding & cycling routes in the South Downs is set out. Quiet Lane designation should also be accompanied by traffic calming measures in the countryside to avoid country roads and lanes becoming the province of cars and lorries. One traffic calming measure should be ‘zonal speed limits’ so that motorists get used to a standard speed above which they should not travel.

Speed limits distribution seems to be chaotic, with speed limits changing from 30mph to ‘no speed limit’ (60) to 50 or 40 in what appears to be a random fashion, over relatively short sections of country roads. It seems that some road users treat the ‘no speed limit’ (60mph) sign as an invitation to drive as fast as they like without concern for more vulnerable road users like walkers, horse-riders and cyclists. Most people would accept that the vast majority of our country roads and lanes are unsuitable for such high speeds. Perhaps a new regime would be easier for everybody to understand with a common speed limit of 40mph, with 30 or preferably 20 through villages.

It’s probable that the South Downs National Park will suffer even more from increased traffic on country lanes with the proposed large housing developments in the countryside at places like West Grinstead (3,500), Henfield (7,000) Plumpton (3,000), and Upper Dicker (2,500 homes) in addition to the thousands of homes already planned around Burgess Hill, Chichester, Horsham, Hailsham, and Uckfield. None of these developments seem to consider the effect on the nearby country lanes and roads.

Alongside all these developments, which is largely being proposed without adequate public transport links, the government is encouraging us to get out and do more cycling and walking. In the summer of 2020, the Government published its plans to get Britain cycling and walking, entitled: Gear change: A bold vision for cycling and walking. Earlier in May 2020, the UK Government had announced an emergency active travel fund because of the Covid crisis. In November 2020, the Government announced further funding for cycling and walking infrastructure across England,  ”to make local journeys safer for all.” But where can cycle and walk in the countryside with developments bringing even more cars and lorries onto country lanes? 

Very little funding is filtering down to rural communities! This is despite the fact that rural roads carry 40% of road traffic but account for 62% of road fatalities, as reported by the Government in 2015. See Facts on Road Fatalities. The report goes on to say that accidents which occur on rural roads are more likely to be of a fatal nature than those on urban roads, and that rural roads have a much higher average speed than urban roads. This problem continues to be the case in more recent years.  RoSPA say in their report of 2018, “More deaths occur on rural roads than on urban ones. In 2016, there were 1,015 fatal accidents on rural roads compared to 593 on urban roads.” The problem of deaths on rural roads comes into sharper focus when we consider that only 17% of the population live in rural areas. See Defra Official Statistics Rural population 2014/15 (Updated 27 August 2020).

What is being done on the ground in the countryside to make roads safer for walkers, horseriders and cyclists? Here is an update:

  • CPRE have already called for a 40mph on minor rural roads in written evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee as far back as 2012. Click HERE to see this written evidence.
  • In 2019 the Open Spaces Society called for speed limits on countryside unfenced roads across common land in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). They made this plea in their evidence to the government’s review of protected landscapes, led by Julian Glover (report published in 2019). Click HERE to see the Glover Review.
  • In Hampshire, the New Forest National Park has a uniform 40mph speed limit which was introduced on all New Forest roads, apart from the fenced major A-roads. This has had the most significant effect on reducing animal deaths, with annual accident statistics being slashed compared to pre-40mph limit years. Also, speed limits are lower in some areas of the New Forest.  
  • In their response to the Government on a roads consultation in 2014 National Parks England said they would “welcome the opportunity for area-wide speed limits in National Parks.”
  • In the Lake District, a 40mph speed limit on all roads except trunk roads and dual carriageways will be debated at a key meeting this summer. In May 2021 the Lake District National Park Authority members agreed to push their counterparts at Cumbria County Council to adopt a package of transport measures as part of their Local Transport Plan submission to the Government.

What is the Government’s position on speed limits?

In the Department for Transport Circular 01/2013, – Guidance: Setting local speed limits, the Government say “a speed limit of 40mph may be considered for roads with a predominantly local, access or recreational function, for example in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), or across, or adjacent to, unenclosed common land; or if they form part of a recommended route for vulnerable road users. It may also be appropriate if there is a particular collision problem.” – Section 129. In section 130, they go on to say “We would welcome applications for zonal rural speed limits, usually 40mph zones, for example in national parks or AONBs or on other networks of minor rural roads where speeds are already in line with such a limit. Such zones would include entry treatment and painted repeater roundels. The Department is keen to consider the effectiveness of such zones in reducing speeds and signing requirements.”

In Section 131 under the heading of ‘VILLAGES,’ they say “Fear of traffic can affect people’s quality of life in villages and it is self-evident that villages should have comparable speed limits to similar roads in urban areas. It is therefore government policy that a 30mph speed limit should be the norm through villages.” And, in section 133, they refer to this Traffic Advisory Leaflet 01/04 (DfT, 2004) which sets out policy on achieving lower speed limits in villages.

Accident locations map

County highways authorities often only use a simple ‘metric’ for deciding whether or not a lower speed limit should be implemented. They should also use government guidance and take note of the government’s policy to get more people cycling and walking. It should be noted that this policy doesn’t just apply to towns and cities, – it should apply to villages and communities in the countryside. However, local groups may have to battle with county councils’ negative approach to lowering speed limits. What will help is reference to ‘crash data’ or KSIs (killed and seriously injured) as the data is sometimes called. You can find out about this crash data by going to This site reports injury collisions. Maps on this site currently show the locations of injury accidents reported to the police from 1 March 2016 to 28 February 2021.

County councils have their own websites for recording data which should match with the National statistics. Click here to see the West Sussex map.

South Downs National Park

The South Downs Network (SDN) have arranged a meeting in June 2021 with the South Downs National Park under the heading, “Safer Roads for all in the National Park: How to achieve more influence with the four local highways authorities with respect to management of the roads network in the National Park.”

The starting point for this subject is the SDNPA’s 2015 document: Roads in the South Downs, Enhancing the safety and quality of roads and places in the National Park. This guide says it “seeks to extend this vocabulary to meet the needs of rural areas, their changing priorities, and the low-speed environment essential to prosperous and safe communities” and “Clarifying and fostering the appropriate speed for the particular context is a core principle.”

An update of the National Park document has been proposed to:

  • Include an objective of achieving a 40mph speed limit on all roads in the National Park with the exception of trunk and A-roads.


  • Include the importance of Quiet Lane designation. This would not only support the National Park’s Strategic Policy SD7 Relative Tranquillity but also the overriding National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Defra circular English National Parks and the Broads – UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 where it says, “safety on the Parks’ roads is a key issue. A number of Parks have 40mph limits” and, “Road transport authorities should design essential road improvements to avoid increasing the capacity or the perceived speed of the road unnecessarily. Transport authorities should work with Authorities to introduce innovative speed management schemes that are in keeping with the requirements of a protected landscape”.

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