Although our bill was ultimately unsuccessful we started an important discussion in Scotland about road safety and in the months since there has been a significant increase in 20mph speed limits across the country.
When I first began working on this bill I had no more interest in the road safety than the average person. However, after spending months researching road safety, reading about speed limits and the impact they have on individuals and communities I saw the intersectionality and importance of robust, safe, transport policy. It became clear to me that road safety is an intersectional issue, one which effects women, those with disability or mobility issues, and people on low incomes disproportionately. While it is clear and obvious that slower speed limits will create a much safer walking, exercising and travelling environment for those with disabilities and mobility issues, I found it illuminating to learn how road safety would impact particularly women and those on low incomes.
Car availability is closely linked to income and deprivation, as highlighted by the Scottish Households Survey: “in households with a net annual household income of over £40,000, almost all households (97 per cent) have access to at least one car compared to 51 per cent of households with net incomes of less than £6,001 and 37 percent of households with net incomes between £6,001 and £10,000.” People on lower incomes are less likely to drive to work or for leisure activities. As such creating roads that are safer, cleaner and healthier will have a greater positive impact on those on lower incomes. Not only are cars more likely to be used by those on higher incomes but the safety benefits created by lower speeds are greater for those on lower incomes. A report by Fife Council reviewing their rollout of 20mph areas highlighted the fact that SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) areas show a greater reduction in casualties when compared to non-SIMD areas (34% vs 20%).
Research by Brake has shown as that men are more likely to drive than women. Men are also more likely to drive under the influence, more likely to speed, and feel more confident on the road both in and out of motor vehicles. The reduction of speed limits and the creation of safer spaces creates a vital space for women to exercise and travel freely, safely and confidently. Men make up 72% of cycling trips in the UK, in countries with greater, safer, cycling infrastructure – such as the Netherlands – that number is 55%. As 20s Plenty put it, “20mph helps women especially to lead freer, more independent and active lives.”This is not to say that these are the only groups who will benefit from increased road safety – far from it! Increased road safety benefits all of us. A decrease in injuries and collisions not only prevents life-altering injuries but will save money for the NHS and other public services and create more pleasant living spaces for all.
Malachy Clarke is Parliamentary Assistant for Green MSP Mark Ruskell. Throughout university Malachy was a member of the Scottish Greens and volunteer for the party. Malachy has worked professionally for the Scottish Greens for over five years and led on Mark Ruskell's 20mph Restricted Roads members bill.