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‘Cut speed limits to ease burden on NHS’

03 April 2020

The national speed limit should be cut to 50mph and in urban areas to 20mph to reduce pressures on the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic, say a group of health researchers. 

“We suggest an immediate reduction in motor vehicle speed limits,” they say in a blog article published by the British Medical Journal. “In England alone there are around 35,000 non-fatal admissions to hospital every year related to road traffic accidents; more than one in ten of these are serious and likely to require intensive support, including anaesthesia and surgery.”

Evidence from around the world shows that lowering speed limits can lead to major reductions in injuries, they add. “In Canada, for example, lowering the speed limit from 40km/h to 30km/h was associated with a 28 per cent decrease in pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and a 67 per cent decrease in major and fatal injuries. 

“We suggest that the Government urgently explore an emergency reduction of all national speed limits to 50mph, and to 20mph in urban areas.

“We expect that the public would support this proposal for a limited time period if it was communicated appropriately in relation to the current NHS emergency.”

Rod King MBE, founder of campaign group 20’s Plenty for Us, welcomed the call. “The Welsh Government already has 20mph as nationally agreed policy. It’s been signed up to by the UK in Feburary’s ‘Stockholm Declaration’ as global best practice.  Every road injury is a preventable and unnecessary drain on emergency services and NHS at a time when both are facing critical Covid-19 workloads. 

The researchers also call for more effort to cut tobacco consumption and for minimum pricing for alcohol, saying these too could reduce baseline demand on the health service. 

They have launched a website LowerTheBaseline.org, and are inviting contributions of ideas, evidence, and analysis. 

The researchers include Robert Hughes, a clinical research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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