ROAD safety campaigners are calling for an urgent citywide slash in speed limits in residential areas - as new figures lay bare the shocking human and economic toll of traffic accidents in Leeds last year.
In 2014, there were 1,937 road traffic collisions in Leeds, with a total of 2,543 casualties.
Of the total casualties, 337 people were killed or seriously hurt. Pedestrians made up 404 of the injured, and 253 were children.
Now, research based on Department of Transport analysis has worked out the costs of those accidents for the first time.
A new council report reveals that the ‘prevention value’ of all injuries suffered in road smashes in Leeds last year was a staggering £127m.
The total cost of the accidents - taking into account policing, emergency service attendance, hospital treatment, insurance and property damage - was estimated at £139m.
Researchers acknowledge that “there is no absolute value that can be put on human pain and suffering”.
However the revelations have led to campaigners calling for an urgent fast-tracking of the city’s 20mph zones rollout.
Leeds City Council is currently implementing the lower speed zones in communities around schools, and it says this has already led to a “promising downward trend” in accidents.
The YEP previously reported that the authority wants to create 20mph speed limits in the majority of residential streets across Leeds by 2020 in a programme set to cost a total of £6m.
The council has also pledged to slash serious injuries and deaths on the city’s roads by HALF by 2026.
However campaigners want a quicker, blanket rollout of 20pmh zones to all residential and built up areas - and the creation of a forward thinking highways strategy which prioritises walking and cycling over car usage.
Gary Rae, campaigns manager for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “These figures highlight both the human and economic costs of road crashes.
“By starting to introduce 20mph limits, Leeds council is taking one simple step to reduce collisions and casualties, enabling residents to live active lifestyles, and reduce pollution.
“20mph limits are a proven, cost-effective way of making our streets safer, which is why it’s time for the government to adopt 20mph as the default national urban limit.”
Mark Lansdown, Leeds spokesman for the national ‘20’s Plenty For Us’ road safety campaign, said: “20’s Plenty For Us would recommend much wider areas are committed to 20mph zones in one go. Rather than speed bumps and so on, we would prefer a cultural change.”
The campaign group is urging the council to look at other cities which have set up blanket 20mph zones and to follow a “borough by borough” approach rather than a school-by-school one in its implementation.
Mr Lansdown cited one 20mph zone in Roundhay as an example of a “less than ideal” implementation of the strategy.
He said the zone starts at a school, but ends near a church hall which is a regular meeting place for a large scout group and “it doesn’t make sense” to stop it there.
Mr Lansdown, a doctor, said a lower citywide speed limit across all residential areas would not only reduce accidents, but would also encourage walking and cycling and help “change the behaviour of the next generation”.
“Road accidents are just one part of it,” he said.
“The figures don’t take into account the obesity epidemic. I think the actual costs will be a lot more because of the damage we are doing by encouraging a car culture for short journeys.”
A report presented to an internal council watchdog, which is investigating the impact of 20mph zones, said: “Effective 20mph speed limits have been shown to deliver tangible road safety benefits in Leeds”.
It revealed the number of accidents in Leeds areas covered by 20mph zones FELL by 50 a year.
For 26 areas which had 20mph zones implemented over a five year period, there was a 43 per cent fall in accident numbers from 625 to 375.
The report pledged to explore “opportunities for partnership working to deliver the benefits of lower speed limits more efficiently”.
However it also warned that the “more blanket wide area based approach” - as favoured by campaigners - risked not being as effective and could lead to areas that need other road safety and pedestrian-friendly features being “overlooked”.
A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “By looking at individual sites and tailoring 20 mile an hour zones for each one based on need and circumstances, we can achieve better outcomes for those communities than a blanket rollout would achieve.
“With a mix of rural and urban areas, a ‘one size fits all’ solution won’t work for Leeds, and when and how 20 mile an hour zones are implemented in other cities may not be appropriate here.”
She said 20mph zones have already been rolled out to 100 areas already and half of Leeds schools will have speed reductions measures by the end of the year.
The spokeswoman added: “Although a monetary amount can be attributed to the cost of an accident, the true cost of lives saved by improving road safety with 20 mile an hour zones is immeasurable.”