Opinion: Plan for 40mph speed limit is a welcome move to tackle death toll on Norfolk roads



In Norfolk, there is a certain hard core element of drivers who will never change their driving habits.

They are like the hard core of smokers, the group that won't kick the habit whatever educational messages are thrust their way.

These are drivers who know best, the ones who tread a fine line between arrogance and ignorance, with neither particularly conducive to road safety.

You know the drivers we are talking about.

It is those who say, 'I've always gone round the corner at that speed and never had any problems yet,' or 'I've never known anything to be coming the other way in 30 years of driving down this way.'

Unfortunately, like the amber gambler of TV adverts of a few years ago, they will one day meet 'themselves' coming the other way, their own doppelganger of a driver who has the same carefree – or careless – attitude to the highway and other road users.

It is not only local drivers who pose the risk. Because Norfolk is such a popular tourist destination, we have many visitors who are not so familiar with our rural roads and the dangers that may lurk around a hidden bend.

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That is why I believe plans to trial a 40mph speed limit on some rural roads in Norfolk is a positive, and long overdue, step.

There are too many accidents on rural roads and I am convinced a good number of them are caused because people do not drive according to the road layout, the natural landscape or the conditions.

They race around blind corners, oblivious that there may be a tractor or any other kind of vehicle coming the other way or even stationary in the highway for whatever reason.

Worse still, around that corner may be a group of cyclists or walkers, children playing in the road, or horse riders. This is Norfolk after all and these activities are common.

That, however, is one reason why so many of us live here and love living here, because of this country lifestyle and the freedom and panorama these minor roads offer.

This 40mph limit plan isn't a 'nanny state' road safety issue, or a cash-cow speed camera scheme. It is one born out of necessity and common sense.

And the figures that have triggered this move – to have 40 mph limits imposed on rural roads to try to reduce the number of people being killed or seriously injured in crashes – are shocking.

In the 12 months up to the end of September this year, 389 people had been killed or seriously injured on Norfolk's roads, with more than 85pc of those happening on rural roads.

Norfolk County Council highway officials are drawing up a bid to the Department of Transport to carry out a trial of rural speed limit zones after monitoring road casualties to determine whether such a reduction - from the current 60mph for cars - could help tackle problems in Norfolk.

The initial area of focus is in parts of North Norfolk, but with us living in such a rural, agricultural county, there are numerous contenders for appropriate locations.

The initiative has been backed by the Norfolk branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, which has campaigned for lower limits on back roads for some time.

Norfolk CPRE's Katy Jones summed up the position succinctly: 'Speeding traffic is particularly dangerous in the narrow, winding rural roads and tranquil villages which typify much of Norfolk.

'Furthermore, walking and cycling, which are popular with residents and tourists and are clearly to be encouraged, will be made safer and more enjoyable if these lower speed limits are introduced.'

Whether we have these 40mph zones introduced or not, we should heed her words. One day, it may be a loved on coming the other way on a rural road. You never know who you will meet.

The problem, however, with all speed limits and restrictions is policing them and adherence.

I'm not suggesting positioning speed cameras or mobile speed camera vans on our rural network (we all know, they make far more money for the authorities from their positions on the A47 and A11). That would be impractical.

But this is an area where the volunteer community speed watch teams from various villages do play an important role and perhaps more funding for them may be a positive step.

Imposing a speed limit of 40mph on rural roads in Norfolk is one thing; enforcing it, or having people abide by it will be quite another.

That is why we who live and drive here in Norfolk should take more care on our minor highways and by-ways and play our part by driving with more care and attention as the first steps toward cutting this horrific toll of rural road casualties.