Mr Loophole’ claims 20mph speed limits pose road safety and environmental concerns

A 20MPH Roadside Speed Restriction Sign

Celebrity lawyer ‘Mr Loophole’ claims that the 20mph speed limit zones being rolled out across Britain are worse for road safety and the environment.

The legal expert, whose real name is Nick Freeman, claimed that the regulation does not take into account the design and technology of contemporary cars and instead advocates for 25 mph speed limits.

Mr Freeman stated that most modern cars are now automatic, meaning that even on the slightest decline, they are likely to exceed the 20mph limit because they are more liable to ‘free roll’. 

He also said that rather than relying on manual graduated gear changes to slow down and maintain a lower speed, automatic cars rely principally on brake pedals.

He cautioned that this makes drivers of modern automated cars more likely to obsess over their speedometer and less likely to pay attention to the traffic around them.

This news comes as London Mayor Sadiq Khan is making an accelerated push to ensure 137 miles (220km) of the capital’s road network will have a 20mph limit by 2024.

Camden, Hackney, Islington, and Tower Hamlets saw new limits on major roads launched in March amid his so-called ‘war on motorists’.

Later this year, work on more 20mph zones will begin in Lambeth, Greenwich, Lewisham, Ealing, Wandsworth, Southwark, Bromley, Merton, Chelsea, and Kensington.

Brake, a road safety charity, has begun a push for 20mph limits to be imposed on all roads near schools to reduce the number of child crash deaths.

According to campaign group 20’s Plenty For Us, 28 million people across the UK, equivalent to more than one in three of the population, now live in local authority areas that ‘accept 20mph as the right speed limit where people live, work, or play’.

But Mr Freeman, whose clients have included David Beckham, Frank Lampard, and Jeremy Clarkson, told MailOnline: “Cars are becoming increasingly sophisticated all the time.

“So it astonishes me that there has been absolutely no thought or consideration as to whether the design and technology of modern cars would be compatible with 20mph zones.

“As automatic cars are more free rolling, it means that even on the slightest decline such vehicles are likely to exceed the speed limit when that limit is as low as 20mph.

“And unlike manual cars, there is no hands-on graduated gear change. Instead, drivers of automatic cars rely principally on their brake pedals to cut speed.

“So, while they constantly brake, they are more likely to fixate on the speedometer and less likely to concentrate on what is happening on the road around them. So ironically 20mph zones actually pose a greater threat to road safety.”

Getting his nickname from his ability to win cases for celebrities on legal technicalities, Mr Freeman added that 20mph zones also pose a threat to the environment.

He said: “Constant braking increases particulate emissions from tyre and brake wear which has a huge impact on our carbon footprint.”

He argued that regions where the speed limit was once 30mph and is now 20mph should have only been reduced to 25 mph at most.

Mr Freeman, who himself drives around 50,000 miles a year, added: “But since 20mph zones are here to stay, these restrictions should only operate at peak times and in certain locations – such during school drop off and pick up times.”

One day after Brake released its campaign for a 20mph speed limit to be enforced on all roads nearby schools at all times, Mr Freeman spoke out, saying: “There is simply no sense in having a blanket 20mph limit – not least on empty roads, say later in the evening or at less busy times during the day.

“The problem is that legislation isn’t drafted by those who understand the roads or the law. Or if they do, one wonders if such lawmakers have a more fundamental agenda – to get cars off our roads?”

In the past, Mr. Freeman has asserted that lowering the speed limit to 20 mph makes roads more hazardous since slower-moving motorists are more likely to be lured to use their mobile phones.

He cited a three-year study by Queen’s University Belfast released last November that found restricting limits to 20mph in town and city centres did not seem to reduce road traffic collisions, casualties, or driver speed.

The University of Edinburgh’s study, which was published in October of last year, found that lowering the city’s speed limits to 20 mph decreased traffic fatalities by almost a quarter and serious injuries by a third.

Mr Freeman added: “Speeding is a serious criminal matter which, of course, must be controlled and regulated by the police in order to prevent devastating injury and fatalities on our roads.

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“But speeding is only one factor impacting on road safety – it’s vital that drivers concentrate on what is going on around them too.

“Thanks to the lack of consideration for automatic cars, the 20mph limit presents a danger to all road users – with a cost to the environment too.”

The Welsh Government is introducing a default 20mph limit on residential roads and busy pedestrian streets from September 17, making Wales one of the first countries in the world to bring in such legislation.

By 2025, all appropriate roads in built up areas will have a 20mph limit, the Scottish Government has pledged.

Parts of England have already seen roads adopt a 20mph limit, with zones around schools being the ones to have the new speed limit implemented.

But Brake said nearly two-thirds of parents reported that some roads near their children’s schools have higher limits, adding that cutting limits ‘saves lives’.

Department for Transport figures show 2,456 children aged under 16 were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads last year.

“We know that excess speed is a factor in about a quarter of fatal crashes, and the physics is pretty straightforward: the faster a vehicle is travelling, the harder it hits and the greater the impact.

“A crash at 30mph has twice the amount of kinetic energy as a crash at 20mph. Reducing speed saves lives.

“We’re calling for roads around every school to have 20mph speed limits – and other measures to effectively reduce traffic speed – so children and their families can travel safely to and from school every day.”

Participating in Brake’s Kids Walk, which involves walking in groups and advocating for safe and healthy travel without fear of traffic, were kids from more than 700 schools and nurseries.

Linda Taylor, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “It is up to each individual council to introduce measures based on their own local needs, taking into account the views of the school, police and local residents. Speed limits exist for a reason and road users must observe them to keep children and parents safe.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Local authorities in England decide speed limits on their roads but we always encourage road designs that prioritise safety. There are no plans to introduce default or national 20mph speed limits in urban environments.”

6 thoughts on “Mr Loophole’ claims 20mph speed limits pose road safety and environmental concerns”

  1. Mr Ben Graham

    I’m not a fan of someone looking for loopholes for poor drivers, although Mr Freeman has a point here.

    Lower limits in certain situations make sense, however it does seem this blanket approach to 20mph limits has little to do with road safety or the environment. A speed limit that is artificially low 95% of the time fools people into thinking they are ‘driving safely’ and is likely to lead to them going far too quickly that 5% of the time when 20 is way too fast. As a cyclist too, 20mph limits make being overtaken safely more difficult.

    Locally I’ve seen shared cycle and foot paths with signs saying to cyclists to go no faster than jogging speed, which will have exactly the same effect – artificially slow most of the time, far too fast dealing with pedestrians with small chidren or a dog.

    We’re all aware of impact speed versus injury rates which often gets quoted for support of 20 limits which misses the fundamental key message of road safety – don’t have a collision in the first place. Avoiding collisions starts with all road users paying attention.

    Personally I would far rather be dealing with a properly trained and alert driver staying within the 30mph limit (note the word ‘within’) than a comotosed driver sat at 20mph on the limiter or cruise control bored into fiddling around with technology legally or otherwise or starting to nod off rather than looking where they are going.

    As a driver trainer body, we need to promote better driving through education. We should not wish it was easier, we should wish we were better.

  2. As Mr Freeman says more cars are automatic these days and then again most cars have better up to date technology. Ie a limiter button which will lock the vehicle at a selected speed so just use that. I do agree with the 20 zones around schools but should have a system when during the day when children are in school back to 30 zone in certain areas

  3. As an ADI, all of my students are taught to obey signs on the roads, therefore once the speed changes check your mirrors and proceed upto the speed limit when safe to do so, glancing at the speedometer when safe and regularly in built up areas.
    Most modern cars are fitted with speed limiters so the driver does not drive above the speed limit. Automatic cars used to have three gears 1,2, drive gear (automatic) and so you could stay in a low gear if you wanted to.
    The speed limit is there for a good reason.
    As mentioned by Mr Freeman, if the driver chooses to operate a mobile phone whilst driving then they are breaking the Law.

  4. Most automatics have a manual override option. This helps control the vehicle at lower speed with less reliance on the brakes. Either flappy paddles behind the steering wheel or + – next to D tapping the gear shift over to the left or right.
    Sounds as though Mr Loophole may need a little extra driver training!! 😉

  5. Has ‘Mr Loophole’ not heard?

    The driver is responsible for their actions and any consequences they create.
    STOP Making and Giving drivers excuses to speed!!!!

    I drive both automatic and manual cars. I agree that modern day cars and speed creep can be an issue, especially on slight declines. That’s why the driver needs to take responsibility and control instead of looking for excuses.

    Doing 25mph instead of 20mph would mean that where the vehicle would have stopped at 20mph, it would still be travelling at 15mph when it crashed. If that was a pedestrian that would mean quite an impact. That’s physics!

    Do drivers think about the physics?

    In reality, our impacts would probably be higher as we have to include reaction time, and most drivers aren’t very good at it for the reasons ‘Mr Loophole’ gave, focusing on the Speedo, mobile phones etc. (again, drivers doing things they shouldn’t be doing, more excuses!)

    But there are other ways to keep control rather than relying on brakes and constantly focusing on the speedos.

    Selecting sports mode or manually select a lower gear, use of speed limiters, cruise control or even brake regeneration if it’s an electric or hybrid vehicle. These all allow the ‘Driver’ ways and choices of how to keep control. You could also train yourself to ‘feel’ and recognise what 20mph is like. You don’t need to keep looking at the speedo if you do all the above.

    I think the more relevant question should be; ‘WHY DON’T people do as they’re asked?’

    I think, and tell me if I’m wrong; it’s not that people can’t keep to 20mph, it’s more that most can’t be bothered because of selfishness, they only think about their inconvenience of having to go slower.

    I was driving in a 20mph yesterday and the amount of people deliberately breaking the speed limit as well as other rules was ridiculous. WHY?

    Drivers will ALWAYS look for excuses as to WHY they can’t, (it’s too difficult, my car won’t do 20mph, I was in a rush/late, I didn’t notice, nobody does it so why should I, etc etc etc. )

    But when a loved one gets knocked over and injured by these people none of us would accept any of these excuses. So why should we use them?

    It’s simple, take responsibility for yourself and others and stop making excuses!

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