20 mph? Change the default option.

I’ve been learning about Behavioural Economics recently and one area – defaults – really caught my attention. People tend towards the default option in many choices because it’s easier not to act than it is to act.

Take the beautiful example of whether to donate your organs after you die. In countries such as the UK where the default option is not to donate, fewer than 20% act in order to opt in to the scheme. In countries such as the Netherlands where the default option is to donate, over 90% donate. (In other words, fewer than 10% act in order to opt out of the scheme.)

The same reasoning might apply for 20 mph limits in residential areas. If you expect the residents of a street to make a fuss only if they are desperately in favour of them, I suspect most people will stay quiet. And if residents will have to form a neighbourhood coalition to fight not to have a 20 mph limit on their street, I suspect the majority of people will again stay quiet.

UPDATE: Residential streets and shopping areas in Oxford will go down to 20mph from July. A public consultation found 69% of residents in favour. With 19% of commuters cycling and loads of tourists on foot, it’s easy to see how this will make the streets safer.

Cyclists in Oxford

Cyclists in Oxford


4 thoughts on “20 mph? Change the default option.

  1. I agree. But say most people drive through a 30 zone at 35mph, remaking a street as a 20 zone might lower the speeding to 25, which is a whole lot safer for everyone.

  2. That’s S-L-O-W…we have local school zone that from start of school day to end of school day (0700hrs-1600hrs) is posted 35mph. The local police routinely clock people at 20mph over the posted of 35mph, the off hours speed limit is 45mph. It seems in the US 10mph over is considered routine with 15mph-25mph over considered acceptable. Unfortunately speed cameras have not made substantial inroads into the US market, mainly due to court challenges. Also every time the local police set up a speed trap it is always berated by the locals as a revenue grab. My philosophy is beat them at their own game, don’t speed! If everyone obeyed the speed limit, they wouldn’t be able to write tickets and would have to look elsewhere for their “revenue”. LOL


  3. Ah, I’d heard the US has far more belligerant drivers than here in the UK.

    Over here a lot of drivers believe that speed cameras are set 10% over the limit, so 10% over the limit seems the unofficial speed to cruise at.

    There’s absolutely no doubt that speed cameras make the roads safer though. At a slower speed, if you make a mistake or if something unexpected happens, you have more time to react.

    There are some petrolhead groups here who try to claim that traffic enforcement is a money-grabbing exercise. Most right-thinking people simply point out that if you don’t break the law, you don’t pay a thing.


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