The Government is urging councils to cut speed limits to 20mph in residential areas and busy town high streets.
The guidance is expected to result in a significant increase in the number of 20mph zones – as well as more rural 40mph zones.
New guidance, issued by the Department of Transport, for the first time sets out the criteria for a reduction in speed limits which safety campaigns believe could reduce child pedestrian fatalities by as much as 70 per cent.
The most recent figures show that 24,870 people were either killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in the year to June 2012 – up 1 per cent of the previous 12 months.
While deaths and serious injuries rose year on year by 5 per cent for pedestrians and 9 per cent for pedal cyclists, the number of motorists injured or killed fell by 5 per cent.
The new guidance includes an online speed limit appraisal tool to help local authorities make the case for introducing lower speed limits.
Eight million people are already living under authorities where 20mph limits are in operation such as Liverpool, Bristol, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and parts of London. Islington in north London is set to become an entirely 20mph zone by March, with the only roads excluded from the scheme those managed by Transport for London.
A recent survey of 75 local authorities in England and Wales by The Independent found that 27 had introduced or were in the process of considering default 20mph zones, while six were awaiting new the guidelines from the Department for Transport.
Announcing the changes the Transport Minister Stephen Hammond said it was important for councils have clear and consistent guidance to help them set appropriate speed limits on their roads.
“Local councils should set speed limits based on their local knowledge and on the views of the community,” he said.
“That is why we have launched an online toolkit alongside our new guidance to help councils make the best decisions for their local areas.”
The new guidance was welcomed by the charity Living Streets which said it should reduce road fatalities.
“Whilst the guidance could have gone further this should be taken as a green light for Local Authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits to reflect the needs of all road users, not just motorised vehicles,” said Phillipa Hunt the charity’s Director of Policy.
“The guidance clearly recognises the overwhelming evidence of the effect of reducing traffic speeds in the reduction of collisions and casualties. A person hit by a car at 20 mph has a 97 per cent chance of survival; hit at 30 mph, half would lose their lives.”