Speed Limits Should Not be Decided by Protest

There was a story in the press a week or so ago about a road in Wales having its speed limit reduced from 60mph to 50mph after a ten year campaign by residents.

The story that I first saw was on the ITV website. This linked the residents’ protests to the Steel Horse Cafe in Llanvihangel Gobion near Abergavenny and it was the worst and most unintentionally funny piece of journalism that I have seen for a long time.

The Steel Horse Cafe opened early in 2013 as a biker cafe. It had already overcome protests from local residents who feared that it “would attract a large number of bikers to Llanvihangel Gobion and could result in speeding along the B4598, as well as posing a risk to children.”

The ITV article, which I can no longer find – maybe ITV were embarrassed enough to take it down – stated that the protests came about because residents were fed up with “Hell’s Angels” on their “souped up choppers” riding at high speeds up and down the road to the Steel Horse. The article was accompanied by a picture of some French Hell’s Angel prospects riding their bikes somewhere which was almost certainly nowhere near Wales.

At this point I should express an interest. As you will know if you are a regular reader, I ride a motorcycle. I have visited the Steel Horse on a number of occasions and it is a fabulous place.

It is clean, welcoming and does good food. It caters to motorcyclists and, because it is good it does a roaring trade, especially when the weather is good.

So I can sympathise a little with the residents: it must get irritating having bikes zooming up and down your quiet road all summer. Nonetheless, I take issue with both the ITV article and the successful speed reduction campaign.

Firstly, why do non-motorcyclists always think that all motorcyclists are Hell’s Angels and all motorcycles are Harley Davidsons?

The Steel Horse attracts a wide range of motorcycles from mopeds to sports bikes, tourers to classics and yes, maybe even the odd ‘souped-up chopper’. If you have problems with bikes tearing around at silly speeds it is much more likely to be the sports bikes than the Harleys.

Secondly, a more reasoned article states that the residents have been campaigning for ten years – far longer than the Steel Horse has been there. It is a good road, so it attracted bikers anyway, especially as Abergavenny itself is a popular meeting spot. The Steel Horse may have increased numbers, but wasn’t the cause of the protest.

Thirdly, campaigns and protests by local residents are not a good reason to change speed limits.

When I did my BikeSafe training a few years ago it was taught by motorcycle police. They complained that speed limits across the country are all over the place: rising and falling unpredictably, mostly due to protests such as this. This is dangerous as people are confused about what speed they should be doing.

There are set guidelines for what road speeds should be and in most cases they are not followed. In most places away from built up areas where speed limits are set at 50mph or even 40mph they should actually be at the national speed limit.

The more sensible article states that the protest was because it was a ‘dangerous road’. A councillor is quoted as saying “we’ve had a major problem with accidents on this road. It is one of the most dangerous in Wales.”

No road is inherently dangerous; the danger comes from driving or riding inappropriately. According to the article, “Gwent Police recorded 17 road traffic collisions on that road between April 2005 and March 2011, two of which were fatal, six serious and nine were classed as slight collisions.” I don’t know how that compares with other roads, or whether it qualifies the road as “one of the most dangerous in Wales”, but if it does, and this is due to the road being unsafe at 60mph, then the speed limit should be lowered. But this should happen because of the facts, not because of a bunch of protesting residents.

It would also be instructive to learn how many of these collisions involved or were the fault of motorcycles, since they seem to be getting the blame.

The petition voiced concerns of speed, noise and dangerous driving. This is a different issue: if the danger is due to people exceeding the speed limit or otherwise driving or riding dangerously, then maybe more should be done to enforce road laws and existing speed limits. Lowering the speed limit is unlikely to make a difference.

If the issue is just that residents don’t like people using the road outside their house, then there is nothing much that can (or should) be done about it other than to address any specific anti-social behaviour.

Finally, what difference is 10mph likely to make? Is that really worth 10 years of protesting?


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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