Minister aims to reclaim the streets

Speed zones: Norris considers introducing 10mph limit on roads to reduce the number of accidents involving children
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The Independent Online


Zones with 10mph speed limits could be introduced into residential areas if it could be shown that they would reduce road accidents, Steven Norris, the Minister for Road Safety, said yesterday.

Speaking at a conference in the City of London, on Play in the Streets, Mr Norris said: "If 20mph zones can be made to work, why not consider lower limits still." However, he warned that preliminary studies on such zones in the Netherlands suggested that they may be less effective than 20mph zones in reducing accidents because "children were confused" about cars going so slowly.

Nevertheless, he would look at the idea because 20mph zones had been shown to be effective in reducing speed and accidents. There are already more than 200 such zones in Britain and Mr Norris said regulations governing their design are being relaxed so that local authorities can introduce more.

A spokeswoman for the Automobile Association said it supported the idea of 10mph zones "in relevant areas such as roads without adequate footpaths" . However, she said that roads would have to be cobbled or designed with chicanes to slow the traffic, adding: "You can't just stick up a 10mph sign and expect it to be obeyed."

The conference, organised by the National Children's Bureau and the National Voluntary Council for Children's Play, called for the streets to be reclaimed as areas in which children could play by examining ways of redesigning streets and curtailing traffic. While streets used to have several functions as spaces for walking, cycling, and playing, they have now become through ways in which the sole function is to play host to speeding traffic.

According to Dr Mayer Hillman, of the Policy Studies Institute, children have become prisoners in their own homes, trapped by their parents' fears about the dangers of traffic. In 1971, 80 per cent of seven and eight- year-olds were allowed to go to school without adult supervision. By 1990, this had fallen to 9 per cent. The issue was not just about road accidents but about long-term health. "Already 450 people die every day from coronary heart disease. Because children are not allowed out to walk or cycle, they develop a sedentary lifestyle. It is a time bomb that will explode in terms of death rates in 20 or 30 years' time."

Road accidents are the biggest single cause of death for children up to the age of 15.

But, according to Rob Wheway, a traffic consultant, we are killing our children. "We will kill them in early middle age through heart and lung disease because they are not getting healthy exercise that they should get in their formative years. If children are prevented from walking and cycling as part of a healthy lifestyle, they are unlikely to start these activities in adulthood," he said.