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How 20 mph Speed Limits Benefit Drivers

February 1, 2012

Most of the improvements our city’s streets have seen over the past few years have been hugely beneficial to pedestrians and cyclists.  They’ve been beneficial to drivers, too, but that connection isn’t always clear.  The DOT likes to trot out its statistic that streets such as 8th and 9th Avenue where separated bike lanes have been installed see a 40% reduction in injuries to all users, including drivers.  And even though the traffic may flow better than before, all it takes is being stuck in one traffic jam while cyclists whiz by in a bike lane to make drivers remember the Halcyon days when New York City was free from any sort of gridlock. (Note: those days did not exist.)

As the deadline to apply for a Neighborhood Slow Zone approaches this Friday, much has been made about how 20 mph speed limits are beneficial to pedestrians and cyclists, who find streets much safer to cross or be on and how neighborhoods with slower car speeds feel more like a place, somewhere a person wants to be in rather than get through.  But what hasn’t been articulated as much is how lower speed limits benefit drivers, too.

Based on some of the material provided by the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign in the UK on just that question, I thought I’d compile this short list:

  1. 20 mph speed limits result in fewer injuries to drivers and passengers. After 2 years of 20 mph speed limits, drivers in Portsmouth, UK had 23% fewer casualties.  Passengers had 31% fewer.  Elderly drivers saw 50% reduction in injuries while elderly passengers saw a 40% reduction.
  2. Less severe crashes save drivers money. It stands to reason that repairs to a car involved in a crash at 20 – 25 mph are likely to be less expensive than a car involved in a crash at 30 – 35 mph.  That means lower insurance payouts and, over time, lower premiums.  In fact, some insurance companies in the UK charge lower rates to drivers who live within a 20 mph zone, since they’re less likely to file a claim.  The same holds true for medical bills and insurance: the less severe an injury is the less it’s going to cost to treat.
  3. The cheapest car repair is the one you don’t have to make.  Driving at slower speeds increases reaction time and decreases stopping distances, meaning it’s much easier to avoid an accident in the first place.
  4. Less guilt. No driver wants to be responsible for another person’s death, but accidents happen.  A slower speed decreases the likelihood of death in the event of a collision and gives drivers more time to avoid an errant child or distracted pedestrian.
  5. More free time for parents. A parent who is confident that the streets in his or her neighborhood are safe is a parent who doesn’t have to drive his or her children everywhere.  And isn’t one of the benefits of choosing an urban life over a suburban one that you don’t have to be a chauffeur until your son or daughter gets a driver’s license?

Are there any inconveniences to drivers?  Sure.  Twenty mph speed limits increase the average car trip time by 40 seconds Arterial roads and main commercial strips will be excluded from DOT’s Slow Zone program, so most drivers would therefore only have to spend a minimal amount of time in a slow zone before reaching Fourth Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, or any other commercial or arterial road where a higher speed limit is the norm.

Are slower speeds worth it to drivers?  Definitely.  And since most of them are pedestrians at one time or another, too, there’s an even greater list of benefits that needs no explanation here.

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One Comment
  1. February 2, 2012 8:31 pm

    Thanks, Doug. There’s an application in my Park Terrace neighborhood in Inwood for a slow zone, and this was helpful in drafting a letter in support of that effort.

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