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Points and fines for breaching 20mph limits begin

A 20mph road sign
The Welsh government says 20mph limits are helping cut speeds and will save lives

Lowering the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph in built-up areas has been one of the most controversial law changes made by the Welsh government.

It was introduced to save lives and get more people walking and cycling, and so far has been enforced through engagement with the public since January.

But anyone breaking the 20mph limit could face points and fines from Monday on roads where engagement has not worked.

Ministers say the £34m law, which came into effect six months ago, will reduce deaths on roads.

But it has not proved popular with many, with hundreds of 20mph signs being defaced.

'Proportionate and fair'

Wales’ road safety body, GoSafe, says the law change will be enforced where there is evidence of road safety risk and on new 20mph roads, following additional funding from the Welsh government.

It said its teams had monitored nearly 25,000 vehicles since January, of which 97% are not exceeding 25mph.

Where speeding drivers did not wish to receive the engagement, they were prosecuted.

In January and February, nine people were prosecuted.

Assistant Chief Constable Trudi Meyrick, roads policing lead for Wales, said: “Introducing enforcement in new 20mph areas is the next step of our engagement-led approach.

"We have continued to review driver behaviour and the response to the change in default speed limit.

“Enforcement will be used proportionately and fairly. We’ll continue to engage with people across Wales and we’re confident that a proportionate level of enforcement can now be used to keep us moving towards achieving safer roads.”

A 20 mph speed limit sign with the 20 Dragon and school warning
A newly designed 20MPH speed limit sign in Cardiff, Wales

GoSafe added that fixed speed cameras, installed where crash risk is highest, would be adjusted to the new speed and there would be enforcement if there was evidence of "low compliance with the new limit".

Drivers caught doing 26mph or more on those new 20mph stretches by speed cameras will be prosecuted.

If you are pulled over exceeding 20mph in a built-up area, you could be fined a minimum of £100 and receive three penalty points.

Traffic officer with a speed gun checking motorists speed
Police in Wales say they will try to educate and be reasonable with drivers adjusting to the 20mph speed limit

A controversial change

A 20mph sign which has been defaced with graffiti
Some 20mph signs have been defaced, such as this one in Llandudno, Conwy

The law led to the largest petition in opposition in the history of the Welsh Parliament.

It has seen some 20mph signs defaced with at least 145 incidents of damage to speed limits signs across Gwent since September, according to figures obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The highest number of incidents of vandalism or damage to speed limit signs were recorded in the Torfaen and Caerphilly council areas with 103 signs damaged.

In Monmouthshire, the council said since September it had recorded “at least 22” incidents of vandalism or damage.

In Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent, councils recorded 10 incidents each.

Newport City Council was unable to provide figures on the number of vandalism reports.

Anglesey council have also reported 66 damaged signs, 33 in Merthyr Tydfil and Bridgend council say they have had 100 signs damaged.

There has also been claims of confusion with the new speed limit resulting in varying speed limits on short stretches of road.

One road in Vale of Glamorgan now has eight speed limit changes in less than two miles following the switch to 20mph.

The A4222 in Aberthin, Vale of Glamorgan, includes stretches of 40mph and 60mph in the space of 1.8 miles (2.9km).

One 30mph stretch in the village just outside Cowbridge is 520ft (160m).

Each new road sign costs £1,000 to fit.

Driving instructor, Stuart Walker leaning against his car
Advanced driving instructor Stuart Walker says the roads have become more dangerous

'So dangerous'

Stuart Walker, an advanced driving instructor based in Wrexham, said: "I've been teaching driving for 37 years and have done millions of miles in the car, and I've never seen the roads so dangerous as what they are now."

"There are narrow roads where 20mph can feel too fast but there are some roads, like Cefn Road close to where I live, which is a big straight road with no houses and that's 20mph."

"The new limit on roads where it is inappropriate is creating frustration. Frustrated and angry drivers will take risks.

"When I was delivering speed awareness courses I'd see the same faces. They need to start prosecuting."

In January, Wales' transport minister, Lee Waters, said if people feel a road should return to 30mph they can let their council know why.

But in the Vale of Glamorgan where there are currently 25 roads under review the council says they’ve had a lack of guidance from the Welsh government.

A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “Updated Welsh government guidance on setting speed limits will also not be available until 2025 as it needs to consider future policies around net zero carbon production and transport strategies.

“These facts mean local authorities are currently in a challenging position."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “In their role as the local highway authority, local authorities are able to make changes to speed limits at any time.”

Dr Ian Walker, environmental psychologist at Swansea University, said: “Any street has lots of different people using it and we’ve all got different needs, and those things aren’t necessarily compatible, a law like 20mph is intended to rebalance this a little bit.

“It’s going to feel like a backlash in response if we only speak to one of the groups, and my worry is so far we’ve really just been hearing the drivers' voices who are affected by the change, whose voices are we not hearing in response to this?”