In 2020, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report in which it considered whether lower speed limits on motorways could reduce fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. This article suggests that the lowering of speed limits on our roads will not only be better for the environment but will also make our streets safer.
The EEA’s report shows that reducing the motorway speed limit from 120 km/h to 110 km/h could deliver fuel savings from 12-18%. This technological effect of the energy consumed decreasing as the speed used decreases is a part of a newly coined term, ‘eco-driving’. Eco-driving calls on individuals to maintain a consistent speed and restrict excessive acceleration.
The Irish government considered introducing the reduction of speed limits to 110 km/h on national motorways in the 2017 Climate Action Plan, however, nothing was agreed on. However, since then, the European Commission has published a White Paper on Transport encouraging EU Member States to implement such measures for the good of the environment.
It is of vital importance to note that the lowering of speed limits improving our air quality levels and CO2 emissions is contingent on various different factors. For example, the types of cars driven (some emit more CO2 and are worse for the environment), the frequency of the speeding as well as traffic on the road.
From this, we see another impact of lowering speed limits which carries equal weight – road safety. Lowering speed limits is condusive to lower stress on the roads, leading to better driving and safer streets, especially in Dublin city; where the inadequacies of our public transport system make themselves apparent in the mass usage of cars on our roads. By February 2022, the Irish Independent reported 9 serious road traffic accidents had occured. The number of deaths is uncertain, but it still led to the passengers of 9 different motor accidents to suffer injuries and severe trauma for the rest of their lives.
In a growing urban city like Dublin, it is essential that other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists feel safe. Lowering speed limits will certainly do that. Many may argue that Dublin has a congestion problem and that lowering speed limits will add to this. However, it is important to note that capital cities should not have as many cars as Dublin does on their roads. Worldbank recently estimated that by 2030, nearly 5 billion of the world’s 8.5 billion population will be living in urban areas.
This means that there will be more people in cities than ever, which means roads will be busier and more dangerous than ever. Lowering speed limits ensures that cities stay accessible for those with mobility issues, children and cyclists. It will ensure our cities remain inviting and livable and not become utopian nightmares of congestion, engine smoke and air pollution.
The UN’s Road Safety Week in 2021 called these streets, ‘streets for life’ as they promote wellbeing and healthy living in cities. It called for the making of 30 km/h the standard speed limit for cities and towns.
The government’s Road Safety Strategy adopts a ‘Vision Zero’, which is a commitment to end all deaths and serious injuries by 2050 and to reduce them by 50% by 2030.
The lowering of speed limits will save lives now, and our planet later. Both are important pursuits which our government should pursue diligently. Our growing urban population, particularly in Dublin city, deserves breathable air and a livable city with safer roads.
Mahnoor Choudhry – Co-Editor