“You must consider senior citizens too” – Maria Limbourg

on May 23, 2013

Whenever you read scientific literature about a 30 km/h speed limit and road safety, you´ll come across publications by Prof. Dr. Maria Limbourg. The child psychologist and mobility researcher worked as a professor at the German University of Tübingen and the University Duisburg/Essen influencing studies in the areas of mobility education, “children and mobility” and ”senior citizens and mobility”. We are very glad that she is supporting our initiative.  Let’s find out about her reasons why.


30 km/h:        Why do you support the demand for 30 km/h as standard in cities?

Limbourg:      This is for two reasons:

Firstly, for safety considerations. I am thinking of children’s safety on the one hand, but also that of senior citizens. By the way, elderly people are not just pedestrians, but more and more of them are car drivers.

Secondly, the forest of signposts should be cut back. It’s a matter of fact that more and more 30 km/h zones are being introduced, making up larger parts of our road networks. Always the same: “enter the zone – leave the zone – enter ….” – this is simply confusing.

It would be much better to implement 30 km/h as the default and then define reasonable exceptions and signpost just these. This would mean an efficient reduction of the numbers of signposts in our cities and towns. Should someone miss a 50 km/h sign and continue driving at 30 km/h, well this would not be a great problem (if that ever happens though…..)


30 km/h:        Many critics, like the ADAC (German automobile club), suggest that 30 km/h in residential roads, plus school zones would be enough.

Limbourg:      But it’s not only children or school zones that have to be considered.

It’s also about senior citizens, for example. Scientific research has proven that they behave very much like children and therefore are able to cope much better with speeds of 30 km/h than 50 km/h. They often can’t manage to immediately assess risky situations. Their reactions are slower, and as pedestrians or cyclists, they cannot get out of trouble quickly.

Defining school zones as 30 km/h zones is not enough. Senior citizens move around everywhere and at all times of the day. Maybe they’d like to go out eating, then they’re going out in the afternoon and in the evening as well, to the cinema, or the theatre. Policies must be adapted to them.

Elderly people are also car drivers of course. As they cannot react very quickly any more, they can cope much better with a 30 km/h speed limit than with 50 km/h. 30 km/h makes it easier to get into the right lane, to notice traffic signs etc. The risks decrease considerably if 30 km/h is everywhere people live.

I don´t understand the ADAC. They should be interested in having people grow older and keeping their driving licences longer as well. And there are definitely quite a lot of elderly people among their members.


30 km/h:       Why do you recommend acting on a European level when it comes to implementing a regular 30 km/h speed limit?

Limbourg:      Demographic change is not a single German phenomena, but is happening across Europe.

Also, a large number of people are travelling through Europe as tourists – and you can orientate yourself much more easily and adapt if there are basic rules consistent with those in your home town and country. Small town politics is not helpful for foreigners.

By the way, 70 km/h used to be the standard speed limit years before, and people were convinced that lowering the limit to 50 km/h would never work. But when 50 km/h was introduced in the fifties, people quickly got used to it.


30 km/h:        How did you come across the issue “30 km/h for urban mobility”?

Limbourg:      This was just by chance. Actually, I am a child psychologist. When there was an enormous amount of accidents involving children at the start of the seventies, nobody could understand why. Experts investigating the causes were traffic psychologists, but didn’t have much knowledge of child psychology. This was when one of my colleagues – I was then at the University of Tübingen in Germany – asked me to join their team. “But I don’t know anything about traffic”, I protested. – “No problem,” he replied, “we just need someone who knows a lot about children. This was how I began to believe in a 30 km/h speed limit because the high speed of cars turned out to be one of the main causes of the children’s fatal accidents.

Well, I then continued working on this issue, and pushed for an urban 30 km/h limit for many years. But the politicians didn’t seem to show any interest for a very long time. But I feel that eventually something now seems to be moving.

All my recent studies at the University of Essen, suggest that senior citizens themselves welcome slower speeds. Not only as pedestrians but also as car owners and drivers.


Professor Dr Maria Limbourg is Professor Emeritus for educational science specialising in mobility and traffic. She worked as an academic at the university of Tübingen from 1972 to 1993. In 1994, she was dedicated a chair of educational science at the University of Duisburg/Essen, with the focus on “accident prevention”, “mobility education” and “traffic psychology”.

Her work includes major international research focusing on Latin America as well as various training programs for teachers on traffic education. That several of her graduates have won prizes for traffic safety is testimony to her teaching.


Sign our European Citizens´ Initiative “30 km/h – making the streets liveable!”






  1. It is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard of. Have you ever try to drive a car 30 km/h? Why not ban cars in general, it will be much safer, wouldn’t it?

    • Of course I have tried, and it’s much safer than riding a bicycle on heavy-traffic 50km/h street.


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