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COVID 19 - Call to reduce speed limits

28 March 2020

In UK the main focus has been to prevent its acute healthcare services from becoming overwhelmed by covid-19. Measures are designed to both “flattening the epidemic curve” and scale up intensive care capacity. It remains to be seen whether these measures will be sufficient. However, there is a third major approach with potential benefits: “reducing the baseline” demand for NHS acute services through the rapid introduction of public health policies.

In a blog, published by BMJ the question is posed that although the public have rapidly picked up on the need to “flatten the curve” are we missing a trick by not also working to lower the baseline demands placed on the NHS?

It suggests a number of additional measures to reduce the burden of non-covid-19-related disease on the NHS.

One of these is an immediate reduction in motor vehicle speed limits. In England alone there are around
35 000 non-fatal admissions to hospital every year related to road traffic accidents; more than one in 10 of these are serious and likely to require intensive support, including anaesthesia and surgery. Evidence from around the world shows that lowering speed limits can lead to major reductions in injuries. In Canada, for example, lowering the speed limit from 40km/h to 30km/h was associated with a 28% decrease in pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and a 67% decrease in major and fatal injuries. 

This measure would be particularly important in supporting those who follow government advice and avoid non-essential use of public transport in order to maintain social distancing. We therefore suggest that the government urgently explore an emergency reduction of all national speed limits to 50mph, and to 20mph in urban areas. These policies are already supported by the Road Safety Management Capacity review, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. We expect that the public would support this proposal for a limited time period if it was communicated appropriately in relation to the current NHS emergency.

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