Variable limits will be introduced on main roads near schools, with digital signs ordering drivers to cut their speed to 20mph or less when pupils are arriving or departing.
Cameras that detect a vehicleâ€™s average speed will be used instead of road humps to enforce the limit in some of the new 20mph zones.
More than 3,000 people die on the roads each year, including motorists, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians. The target, to be reached by 2020, is expected to be set at about 2,000 deaths.
The Government is preparing a road safety strategy for the next decade and will publish proposals in a consultation document this year. Unlike previous strategies, it is expected to include a specific target to reduce road deaths and a series of tough measures.
Jim Fitzpatrick, the Road Safety Minister, told The Times that the Government would consider setting a challenging target for cutting road deaths. â€œWe get some criticism for not being ambitious enough,â€ he said, conceding that measuring deaths alone, rather than together with serious injuries, would provide absolute clarity.
One of the main ways of achieving the target, he said, would be to reduce the speed of traffic on residential roads.
Research from the Department for Transport indicates that 1 in 40 pedestrians struck by a car at 20mph dies, compared with 1 in 5 at 30mph. At 40mph the survival rate falls to 10 per cent. A 1mph cut in average vehicle speed reduces crash frequency by about 5 per cent.
The Governmentâ€™s existing road safety target â€” to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent between 1998 and 2010 â€” has been criticised for being too weak. The target will probably be met, but only because the number of serious injuries recorded by police has fallen sharply.
By 2006, serious injuries were down by 35 per cent but deaths had fallen by only 11 per cent. Hospital admission figures show that serious injuries from road crashes have hardly changed since 1996. This may indicate that the fall in numbers of traffic police since 1990 is resulting in fewer serious injuries being recorded.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: â€œWe could reduce crashes still further, with the help of more 20mph zones, especially in residential neighbourhoods and other areas where there are vulnerable road users.â€ He said that he wanted to reinforce guidance to local authorities that encouraged them to create 20mph zones.
The minister quoted a Transport Research Laboratory study of 250 20mph schemes across Britain, which found that, after the limit was reduced, crashes fell by 60 per cent, child casualties by 67 per cent and average speeds by 9mph.
He said that his department was conducting a further study of the benefits of 20mph zones to persuade local authorities to introduce them more quickly.
The DfT was also working with several authorities to develop cheaper speed-limit signs to reduce the cost of converting a road to 20mph.
Mr Fitzpatrick pointed to Swedenâ€™s â€œVision Zeroâ€ road safety strategy, which rejects the idea that some road deaths are inevitable and an acceptable price to pay for the benefits of personal mobility. â€œWe used to be top of the world league on road safety but now we are fourth or fifth.
We want to get back to the top,â€ he said.
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety urged the Government to adopt a target for 2020 of no more than 2,000 road deaths a year, down from 3,172 in 2006.
Rob Gifford, the councilâ€™s director, said that the Government should also set a longer-term target to cut to deaths to below 1,000 by 2030. This number is based on the idea that using the road network should be no more than twice as dangerous as everyday activities such as DIY. At present, road travel is 8.5 times as dangerous.
The Home Office is expected to approve an average speed camera system for 20mph zones by the end of the year. The system works by having a camera at every entry and exit point to catch all drivers exceeding the limit on any route through the zone.
Source: The Times Online website, by