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South Africa pressured to drastically reduce speed limits

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South Africa is facing increased calls for lower speed limits in urban areas in an effort to reduce road fatalities.

In May, the United Nations called on policymakers to act for low-speed streets worldwide, limiting speeds to 30 km/h (20 mph) where people walk, live and play.

We would need to look at local data before making a decision to lower speed limits in the country, said South Africa’s department of transport acknowledging the push.

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“In celebration of the 6th UN Global Road Safety Week (17-23 May 2021), the United Nations made a call for 30km/h speed limits in urban areas,” a departmental spokesperson said.

The week sought to muster policy commitments at national and local level to deliver 30km/h speed limits in urban areas, generate local support for such low-speed measures in order to create safe, healthy, green and liveable cities.

“That being said, reduction of speed limits will be guided by amongst others research and data extrapolated from it, to inform whether such reduction feasible.”

The department and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has previously looked at a proposal to review speed limits – especially on the country’s highways.

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This would see the baseline top speeds across the country’s roads reduced by 20km/h.

It would also effectively drop the speed limit on the country’s highways from 120km/h to 100km/h, while the top speeds on main roads would drop from 100km/h to 80km/h.

Speeds in residential areas would decrease from 60km/h to 40km/h.

Open Streets urban designer Kirsten Wilkins said that while South Africa’s road network in urban areas was generally of good quality, the typical speed limit of 60km/h presented a problem.

“Traffic data and studies around the world tells us that if you are hit by a car at 60km/h as a pedestrian, your chance of surviving is practically zero,” she told CapeTalk.

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“One of the important United Nations road safety solutions is to call for a reduction in speed limits in urban areas,” Wilkins said.

“(This) is the easiest and most effective way to start getting ahead of the problem from the point of view of what government can do,”

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