/ Motoring

Most people admit to breaking speed limits…

Car driving fast

According to car insurer Admiral’s survey, almost four in five motorists admit to driving over the speed limit. And thirty-somethings, who really should know better, are the worst offenders.

In Admiral’s survey of 3,614 motorists, 81% of people aged 30-39 admitted driving above the speed limit, making them speedier than 18-24 year olds and the over-70s – 72% of both groups admitted to breaking speed limits.

That’s a slightly different story to the exorbitant car insurance premiums offered to the youngest and oldest drivers…

Perhaps this survey highlights the need for ongoing training for drivers, as 31% of survey respondents thought they’d fail their L-test if they took it again.

My colleagues at Which? Car will definitely sympathise, only two out of five of our researchers passed their test when they re-took it back in 2009. So maybe mandatory refresher courses every five or 10 years would help?

Are Britain’s speed limits right?

To me the survey also suggests that many of our speed limits are woefully out of date. While I’d never advocate increasing the 30mph limit on urban and residential streets, the swathes of dual carriageways with 40mph limits and miles of motorways with a 70mph limit both feel behind the times. In Admiral’s survey, 55% of drivers thought the motorway speed limit should be 80mph, while 14% wanted the limit to be even higher than that.

When I’m driving at 70mph on the motorway, I found it extremely frightening and dangerous as faster vehicles frequently make hair-raising manoeuvres to get past me.

I’m not saying that the motorway limit should be increased to 80mph just because everyone else is doing it – I really do think that in good road conditions it’s a safe and sensible speed for modern cars to travel at. I personally think the motorway limit should be 80mph, on the proviso that the police then enforce this limit rigorously so people no longer ignore the legal limit.

So, with the majority of people admitting to breaking the speed limit, do you think current limits should be changed?

Do you think current speed limits are out of date?

Yes - speed limits need to be updated (60%, 679 Votes)

Maybe - it depends on the particular speed limit (24%, 274 Votes)

No - speed limits should stay as they are (16%, 181 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,137

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par ailleurs says:
28 August 2012

30mph is more than fast enough in most urban situations and too fast in many. 70mph is mostly fine on dual carriageays and 80mph would be more realistic on full motorways. What worries me more than anything else is the fact that there is almost no police traffic car presence anywhere these days. Bad driving is more of a problem than speeding per se. Excess speed with lack of attention to the road ahead, tailgating, distraction from technology etc etc all contribute to the very real danger on modern roads. Until there is more realistic policing and punishment of hard core offenders then please leave things alone. As an ideal I would like to add more advanced driver training as a normal part of the scheme of things too. Fat chance but I live in hope!

Andy Kendall says:
28 August 2012

Hear Hear!! I completely agree. The only thing I would like to add is that whilst the vehicle is getting it’s MOT, so should the driver be!!! Bad driving IS more of a problem than speeding. I’ve spent A LOT of my life driving on motorways and they’re one of the safest places to drive – as long as everyone is driving correctly.

Manuel says:
31 August 2012

5 stars comment, Agreed 100%.

What an excellent first comment!

The key point in both bad driving and speeding is: “am I driving slowly enough to assess the situation then react, if something goes wrong”. Most drivers have a very optimistic view of their ability to cope with trouble and their speed of response, so the experts are wise to be cautious.

It’s common, for example, for drivers to pass main road schools at ‘chucking out time’ at the speed limit and above, where even the new 20mph limit is too fast. And many tests over the decades have found drivers en masse to be wildly optimistic about their ability to cope with another vehicle pulling out into the third lane of a motorway (NOT the ‘fast’ lane) closely in front of them at speed. Driver error is the key factor in almost all accidents, but it’s always the OTHER driver, of course!

I quite agree. It is not a matter of speed. It is a matter of driving standards. I drive a lot on the continent and USA and feel very safe in Germany doing over 100 mph. In England this would scare me as British drivers tend to be so poor technially in driving skills, there is little or no enforcement by traffic police, many of whom themsleves seem unware of how to use indicators, lights and be in the rigth lane. Little though compares for poor driving to the US.

I tis not my view on the UK that the police are there to enforce traffic safety, or know much about how to.

BTW I am British..

Brilliantly put! Bad driving is a far bigger problem than speeding, although it is often combined with it. In recent days I have seen drivers chatting on the phone and overtaking on the inside lane on the motorway. The worst was when I was driving on a narrow winding road, at just below the speed limit with another driver within inches of my rear bumper flashing his lights trying to make me go quicker.
Mind you, there are some incredible speed limits. There is a 40 mph limit sign near me which is about 30 yards from a busy roundabout. You’d have to be insane to go from 30 to 40 there!
So, please leave the speed limits alone and do something about inattentive and aggressive drivers.

Tudor says:
31 August 2012

Fine, so let’s get rid of poor drivers first and THEN think about increasing the speed limits. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse as that makes it unmanageable DOESN’T IT?

Agree entirely. Tailgating has often been the cause of some of the biggest motorway pileups

I would like to see cars restricted to the maximum speed of the road. The technology would be easy to develop. Once that is in operation we can think about reviewing speed limits, but any increase is likely to use more of our dwindling oil reserves and push up fuel prices.

Argus says:
28 August 2012

You base that on what exactly?

From your post it seems as if you believe that everyone can afford a new car (to include your new, easy to develop technology) and that we have passed peak oil.

In both cases, so very incorrect


Not at all. Any change like this would have to be phased in, just like other changes in car design are. Maybe a good start would be to make the system voluntary. My licence is clean and I would like to keep it that way.

If we had a surplus of oil in the UK, fuel prices might not be rising.

Rubbish, speed limiting everyone will end up with some being unable to avoid problems they see coming up because they are already at the limit and they know they cannot brake in time.

I was in that position many years ago and with a police van behind me, the driver of a van stared to cut me up and my only alternative was to speed up to avoid the inevitable impact, I was in a 30MPH limit and had to exceed it.

The police did stop me but agreed it was the correct thing to do as they observed the van drivers poor driving – don’t ask me why they didn’t stop him!

Stupid i/dea

You often see this idea (or variations of it) proposed. In theory, it’s fine but in a small number of dangerous situations the best way out of them is to accelerate hard – even if it means exceeding the limit temporarily. Example: you’re driving at 69mph on a motorway. Ahead of you in the middle lane is a car doing 60mph (by no means uncommon) who will not move over to let you pass. You pull out into the third lane and immediately there’s an idiot tailgating you. The best way to get all three cars safe is for you to accelerate hard to get past as quickly as possible and return safely to the middle (or even ‘slow’) lane.

On the general issue of speed limits versus driving habits: I lived for many years in the land of the much maligned Belgians and now live in the land of the equally much maligned French. I have driven a lot on German motorways (some of which still have no speed limit) and recently I travelled the length of Italy and back. While all this driving has not been without incident, nothing is as regularly terrifying as driving up the M20 from the Channel Tunnel due to the bad habits of many of the drivers (and I don’t mean the foreign ones either).


I’ve been driving fairly high mileages for over forty years and have always had a penchant for fast cars – I’ve had several including one absolutely ludicrously fast car.

In those four decades fast cars have got me INTO, shall we say “uncomfortable”, situations on very, very, many occasions. Yet I can remember one, just one single incident in forty years, where the acceleration of a fast car has got me OUT OF trouble.

In virtually all cases, slowing down or maintaining a steady speed is safer than accelerating.

I should take stock of your driving if I were you, Dromo. Have you thought about having your driving assessed by one of the recognised advanced driving organisations?

@gradivus. By your own admission it’s you who needs to take stock of your driving.

I did not say that I regularly exceed speed limits only that fitting governors to cars so that they cannot go faster than 70mph is a bad idea. Would you have liked it on that one occasion when acceleration DID get you out of trouble? Also, please explain how slowing down is going to help with a tailgater behind you; the jerk is upset enough as it is.

For what it’s worth, my preferred speed on a French motorway is 120kph/74mph (i.e.10 kph under the maximum of 130kph/81mph) as a good compromise between getting to my destination in a reasonable time and not using too much fuel.

I apologise if I gave the impression that you regularly exceed the speed limit. That was not my intention at all. I also acknowledge that you did say “small number of situations” but there really should be “no situations”.

I do not think speed governors would work, primarily for simple down-to-earth reasons such as cost and practicality.

For the record, on my one ‘acceleration case’ a governor would have made no difference – I was a good 20mph below the speed limit at the start and still just below at the end of the manoeuvre.

I always try to avoid tailgaters. But if I am being tailgated I continue to drive at my chosen speed. However, I can see an argument for slowing down, (though I never have done so) – I’d sooner be driving at 20 mph with a car one yard from my back bumper than driving at 80 mph with a car one yard from my back bumper!

And in the spirit of your “for what it’s worth” I’ll admit I usually drive in the low 70s on UK motorways and high 70s on French motorways. I’ve also driven at over 140 mph on a German autobahn – terrifying beyond belief and something I’ll never repeat.

PeterW says:
28 August 2012

The priority ought to be to set sensible, nationally consistent speed limits for the various classes of road and then enforce them rigorously.

80 mph may presently appear to be a “sensible” upper limit on motorways in good conditions and light traffic. It’s doubtful if the increase from 70 mph would be worth it though. The world will soon be running out of cheap fossil fuels and the priority – and financial imperative – will be to drive economically.

par ailleurs says:
28 August 2012

I agree with you but I’m also being realistic. I see no sense in having laws which are routinely ignored and where offenders are unpunished. The ecological side of things is almost a seperate issue. Also I would hate to be in a situation where driving economically played second fiddle to safety. Zealots can be very trying to those who have to use their vehicles for work and need to get from A to B in reasonable time.

I don’t think anyone who does drive can really be considered an environmental zealot, but some of us care a lot about what problems we leave for future generations.

Mike says:
31 August 2012

Presumably you base your observations on the UK market. What about countries such as the United States where increasing fuel prices is enough to topple a Government hence it never happens, as it does here. The US / China / India / Indonesia are the largest world polluters, what exactly are they doing to reduce their emissions? Our contribution is simply a sop to LibDem policies. It will achieve nothing other than higher fuel / heating oil costs thereby driving more folk into fuel poverty. Needless to say this will not impact on rich Tory / libdems .

Oh, dear. Why did we bother with the Clean Air Act?, why did we remove lead from petrol?, why did we remove sulphur from fuel?, why have new diesel cars got DPF filters?. Let’s blame this government, the last government or all governments in the last 40 years. Perhaps a little education about environmental issues is needed.

Argus says:
28 August 2012

One direction for the author is this article re: “When I’m driving at 70mph on the motorway, I found it extremely frightening and dangerous as faster vehicles frequently make hair-raising manoeuvres to get past me.”

Get out of the middle/outside lane!

This kind of “research” is only intended to find another way to discriminate against drivers. “81% of 30 – 39 yr olds admit to speeding do they? Right that’s another £150 on their premium”

By publishing these sorts of misleading figures Which is actually making it harder for the motorist rather than easier.

It should be borne in mind that our motorways were designed for the current maximum permitted speed in terms of gradients, lane widths, radius of curves, sighting distances for signs, turnouts and deceleration lanes [although some urban motorways are relatively “tight”]. Many of our dual carriageways were certainly not designed for 70mph and need speed restrictions for safety reasons. In rural areas I think the speed limit should be determined by the representatives of local people who live on or near the road and have to walk and cycle along it and cross it in order to go about their daily business. There is obviously a case for more by-passes to reduce vehicular intrusion and proper interchanges to eliminate conflicting traffic movements. In the meantime we should all set an example and drive carefully and responsibly within the conditions prevailing [including the applicable speed limit]. I know it sounds dreadfully pious but no other way is likely to be as safe. Driving economically is good practice too and increasingly essential for many people – we all know what speed does to fuel consumption.

John Rose says:
31 August 2012

Motorways were NOT designed for a speed limit. That was imposed later, initially when there was an oil crisis and ordinary roads were given a blanket 50 mph limit. Since then, as well as improved performance, handling, stability and braking have vastly improved. I accept that traffic density is now far greater. Sensible driving is the key, IF drivers would only be so! It is more dangerous when all traffic is moving at much the same speed, they stop assessing the situation ahead, focus on the car in front and metaphorically fall asleep. Flexible speeds demand attention, make driving more interesting and you stay awake and alert.

Motorways WERE designed for a speed limit. It was the maximum speed of most cars in the 1960s – about 70-80mph! Road engineers will tell you that the lines-of-sight, curves, cambers and surfaces were planned for this and any faster cars were expected to have better-than-average brakes and more skilled drivers. As motorways have been rebuilt, more of a safety margin has been built into the improvements, but the truth is – as you’ll find driving in Germany – that at 100mph, any but an open road leaves too little reaction time when trouble looms, and few surfaces are smooth enough for comfort at those speeds anyway.

Speed limits, it’s a minefield.

Like many laws in this country, they are not policed. It also seems as if we are a nation of hypocrites, saying everyone should obey the law and then disobeying whenever it suits us.

For instance, who can honestly say that they waited until they were 18 until they had their first alcoholic beverage?

Some speed limits are outdated, but in many places they are perfectly adequate. Speed cameras help police this in accident blackspots, but in other areas (notably Kirkstall Road in Leeds) they are simply a cash cow. I also bring forward the notion that police forces turned cameras off when they were no longer reaping the revenue rewards.

So it’s a minefield of hypocrisy, some are outraged by rising insurance premiums, others think that we should all travel at the speed of an ox cart so that no-one ever gets killed.

Personally I drive as the situation/conditions allow, I only recently got “snapped” for doing 63 in a 50 when it is clear that I thought the speed limit was 60 (national speed limit signs, no lampposts, wide road etc) and I am just within the threshold for a speed awareness course. Previously I was “snapped” doing 37 in a 30 when I clearly remember doing 27. Sometimes even the cameras themselves are incorrect.

If you believe you have been wrongly accused of speeding, you can challenge this Dean. I try to stick to speed limits, not always successfully, hence my earlier comments.

Quite a few people never drank in pubs etc before they were 18. In my case I hated the taste.

Martin Lancs says:
28 August 2012

The 70mph limit on motorways is self-evidently out of date. It is in total disrepute with the majority of the motoring public – try driving at 70! The sooner it is raised to 80mph the better.

I grit my teeth when I write this because I would like to be able to drive faster but here are the reasons why there should be no change:
On motorways:
1. It won’t change journey duration, in fact it may make journeys longer. Britain is a crowded island and on busy motorways the risk of traffic jams caused by accordion effect (when you come to a stop for no particular reason) increases when the traffic moves at higher speed (thats why motorways like the M25 have variable speed limits).
2. Increased speed = increased fuel consumption. With climate change we simply can’t afford to release more carbon into the atmosphere. Increased fuel consumption will be exacerbated even more by the the increase in frequency of traffic jams.
3. Increased speed = more accidents. The argument that improved technology like ABS brakes and airbags doesn’t hold. When we believe we are protected against a risk we change our behaviour towards that risk and negate the safety effect (risk compensation). Drivers with ABS brakes for example drive faster, close their following distance and brake later. This behaviour cancels the safety benefit.

In urban areas:

All the above reasons are true for urban areas as well except that the accident risk is even higher. Airbag and seabelts may protect the car occupants but the risk to vunerable road users (pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists and motor cyclists) increases. Increasing the speed limit not only decreases reaction time for the driver, it also increases the impact velocity to vunerable road users.

It was only recently that the previous government’s mad plan to reduce the casualty rate by arbitrarily reducing 10% of a council’s main roads speed limits was effected. In Solihull this resulted in an accident free dual carriageway with no houses being reduced from 70mph to 50mph. Meanwhile some narrow country lanes remain at 60mph!
Let’s look at a road and set a sensible speed limit!

frustrated driver! says:
28 August 2012

one thing that i find causes a danger, not to mention hold ups and frustration, is the way HGVs have taken to using 3 of the 4 lanes now available on some motorways. Since the government introduced speed limiting i have noticed an increase in traffic bunching. I personally disagree with the limiting but if it has to stay then maybe ban HGVs from overtaking on or before an incline and ban them from the 3rd lane on 4 lane roads. Oh and HGVs are not alone … the middle lane owners club now use the 3rd lane to to dawdle at 60mph or less. Why not start a campain to outlaw this phenominon. Millions are spent on widening to, or building, 4 lane motorways only to be reduced to a 2 lane road by inconsiderate idiots. If driving standards were better the speed limit would not be such a concern!

Mike says:
31 August 2012

Wholly agree re the 60 mph lane hogs. As far as the lorries are concerned do you recall a previous Governments initiative where they decided to replace road freight to rail . Where you had overnight deliveries they suddenly became weekly or worse, fortnightly deliveries. Perishable freight lying in railway goods yards for days on end. Would you be happy with the ensuing result if you were inconvenienced? Mind you it would solve the lorry problem.

M Clark says:
28 August 2012

Tailgating HGV’s cause major problems on the M62 and at certain times of the day it is very difficult for a car to drive safely in the first two lanes as there is no space between HGV’s to get enough speed to overtake or to move back into the inner lane. This can cause slow moving traffic in the third lane. HGV’s often pull out to overtake the vehicle in front with virtually no warning and then can take several minutes driving alongside the vehicle they are overtaking before they pass them and pull back in. This cause traffic in the middle lane to slow down – at times to 30mph – I know – I travel regularly on this road. Last year there were long term roadworks with speed restriction set at 50mph and my journey was often quicker and also much less hair raising. I also experienced no delays due to accidents.

Mike says:
31 August 2012

Who is causing the tailgating? Dont blame the lorry driver, his vehicle is limited to 88KpH (56mph) When he drops speed by 2 mph it can take 500 yards to recover his original speed. So dont automatically criticize the lorry-driver, look at your own performance. Are you above reproach? Or would you prefer to sit at 55/56 mph on a motorway inconveniencing all others!

Phil says:
31 August 2012

Only one person ever causes tailgating, the driver doing it. That the car in front is travelling “unnecessarily slow” or whatever is NO EXCUSE.

Twenty years ago, in urban areas, we were restricted to thirty or forty and outside town it was sixty, or seventy for dual carriageways – that was it. Now speed limits are scattered like confetti where ever those responsible want us to exercise caution. Most of Derbyshire is a fifty limit because they believe motor cyclists are a danger to themselves on these roads. It is impossible to drive any distance without coming into yet another speed restriction of some sort. It would seem to the unititiated motorist, who has absolutely no say in the process, that a speed limit is the immediate answer to every problem and it is the first thing that those “up there” think about doing on any stretch of road that takes their fancy. Since it is not always obvious why the limit has been placed on a road after fifty years without it, the driver thinks “not another one!” rather than “o.k. there’s a hazard ahead.”
I’m sure some speed limits are debatable. Some, like those in Derbyshire, are explained, though without the chance to argue the case for or against.

I see a speed limit and I slow to it as a matter of course, though I do think, “not again!” Then, of course, there’s a long queue behind me and I’m tail-gated. Sorry I’m holding you all up, but It’s not my fault. I can drive just as fast as any of you when I’m allowed to.

Regarding the seventy limit on motorways. Yes, there are plenty of times when it’s empty and eighty, or more is quite safe. This does use considerably more fuel and we’ve been restricted to seventy for so long that it seems a comfortable speed to trog along at. I expect to be allowed to overtake slower vehicles by using the middle lane without being rammed from behind. I will pull back in afterwards to let the speeders by. It’s their licence, not mine.

The problem of tailgating could be resolved by fitting unmarked police cars with sensors and cameras to automatically take photos of those who drive too close behind vehicles. It should not cost much because the information could be collected during normal police driving. When drivers realise that they risk a fine by tailgating, they might be more careful.

Such vehicles are already on the road.

Thanks for that, Mike. I think we might need more in use on some motorways.

We all want our new TV from Amazon by tomorrow afternoon but we don’t want the lorry that brings it from the container terminal to the warehouse to go fast on the motorway and occupy the third lane on a four-lane carriageway. This is a small country with short distances between population centres. How much road priority do car drivers need? And how much better would our lives be if they all went 10mph faster?

Frequent changes in speed limits on rural roads are a fact of life and only a minor annoyance. What I should like to see is more consistency in the standard, sighting distance and continuity of signage and a more obvious change in road surface texture or colour or markings when there is an abrupt change from the national limit [60 mph for cars] to 30 mph. I also think it would improve respect for camera enforcement if every sign that warns about camera enforcement had a speed limit repeater sign adjacent to it.

The only goods that need priority transport are fresh food and other items that would deteriorate rapidly.

I strongly agree with John about the need for consistency on our roads. If every speed camera showed the speed limit it would help avoid motorists braking sharply when they are already complying with the speed limit.

John, it doesn’t work that way! Whenever goods are delivered – next day or in a week’s time – the delivery truck will take the same journey, at the same 62mph (or whatever the carrier thinks cheapest). That’s the economical speed, and it’s why trucks have speed limiters. This is economics; banning trucks from the third/fourth lane is safety. And if a truck is slowed by another in front, it just improves the economy!

We do need higher speed limits on motorways including the removal of speed limits altogether when motorways are almost empty. However, this cannot happen without proper lane discipline, proper use of indicators and safe distances left between vehicles. I find it a pleasure to drive at 120mph in Germany where all traffic keeps to the inside lane when not overtaking; it means I can concentrate on the road rather than the speedometer. Even when driving at 120mph, you need to keep to the inside lane because otherwise someone will come up behind you at 150mph. We need to tackle bad driving, not speed. Speed is a danger only when coupled with bad driving, and speed limits should exist only where necessary, not as a blanket system at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places.

Mike says:
31 August 2012

On-going driver training is the only way forward. Automatic retesting at age 40, 60,70,75,78,80 then every second year. This is most unlikely to happen for a number of reasons, primarily most of the House of Lords would be disqualified overnight alongside many politicians in the lower house. And that’s not what Government’s about, it’s all about protecting MPs. Seriously, there has been a need for on-going testing for several decades and nothing has been done, which leads me to think that DfT has been overtaken by its’ own inertia. Not a single original idea has been forthcoming in many many years. I notified the DfT at least 10 years ago when the Republic of Ireland introduced flashing amber (traffic lights) outside of peak periods and all through the night thereby speeding up traffic flow at one fell swoop and a noticeable reduction in driver temperament. Is it too much to expect a study / test in this country? Apparently so. The DfT is a cosy organisation that has little to recommend its’ continued existence.

1. The fact that there is a legal differential of only 10 mph between a country road (blind corners, tractors) and a 3 or 4-lane motorway must these days rate as loopy and ignorant of realities.
2. The 70 mph limit is widely disregarded. Those who do so are not criminals – except in the eyes of the law – but in other respects law-abiding citizens. In most if not all cases common sense dictates what is a safe speed in given circumstances. The more unrealistic the limit, the more it will be disregarded.
3. The justification for 70 mph is confused. There was a time when it was meant as a fuel conservation measure. With the present cost of fuel that is clearly redundant and in any case there is nothing “magical” about 70 – it is just an arbitrary milestone. 85 mph in a Micra consumes less than a 4 x 4 at 70. Prosecute all Range Rovers?
4. Safety: Logically there should be a universal 30 mph speed limit and doubtless a resulting decrease in accidents. Accidents would be eliminated if we all drove behind a man holding a red flag. Where do you draw the line? There has to be a trade-off. 70 as a limit is largely based on dogma.
5. More imagination and less rigidity should be applied when deciding on what limits are safe for what roads – apart from the overall absolute maximum limit itself.
Please add my name to those asking for more realistic yet responsible speed limits to take account of present day conditions.

AJones says:
31 August 2012

Stuart – at last, someone with a sensible view, but will anyone listen? I doubt it!

I disagree, Stuart. Because most drivers wildly overestimate their ability to cope with hazards, we need to follow expert (no, not political) advice when setting speed limits. And the experts take driver ability into account, along with the causes of real accidents. I think we should look for better enforcement against speeding and tailgating (90% of drivers are too close to the vehicle in front to react properly to hard braking) . I could go, on, but that would be boring, especially to the 90% who won’t listen and won’t learn better driving either, because they KNOW that they’re competent: it was the other driver’s fault!

@David, yes most drivers are deluded on their ability. Various studies (Svenson 1981 and others) show that most drivers rate themselves as better than average. This regardless of how you measure driving competence this is mathematically impossible.

Motorways are the safest place to drive because all the cars are moving in the same direction. If there is any case for increasing limits its here. Given the increase in fuel consumption and resultant effect on climate change, that would result I think this would be irresponsible and incredibly selfish to our children.

Interestingly everyone has debated speed and no-one has considered journey duration or the impact that increasing the speed limit would have on it. Without the accordion effect on motorway the difference that the additional 10mph on the speed limit makes is minimal because a 10mph increase in the limit doesn’t translate to an additional 10mph average. In ideal conditions the increased speed limit makes very little difference to journey duration. What is certain is that on busy motorways an increased speed limit would result in more stoppages due to accordion effect. The stoppages increase tail end collisions on motorways and would decrease moving average speed.

Increasing the speed would be irrational because there will be no demonstrable advantages, The disadvantage would be increased accident rate and fuel consumption.

Re David’s comments: Again, it is not a black and white:

1. The overall 70 mph speed limit is no doubt a predominantly political and therefore dogma-driven decision. By contrast local interpretation and implementation on individual roads is arguably determined more by the expertise and by the influence of “experts”. The results speak for themselves – sometimes they get it right!

2. The effect of increasing the maximum – legal – speed limit by 10 – 15 – 20 mph on climate change would, I suspect, be almost impossible to quantify. Much more rational would be to outlaw Range Rovers!

3. Accordions. I bow to the knowledge of the experts. Once upon a time I read up a little on queuing theory, pity I did not pursue it. It would be interesting to study the evidence.

4. Tailgating (definition?) is a bit of a side issue here. It has no effect on fully paid-up outside lane road hogs. On the other hand when applied gradually it is frequently a more gentle alternative to flashing or, even worse sounding the horn, at those who are “miles away” in their thoughts in the outside lane but who have no intention of hogging. I have been in both situations myself!

70 mph was and still is an arbitrary figure!

Just spotted your comment, Stuart, nearly a year later – this thread goes on and on!

Take a motorway situation where a driver in the third lane takes fright that someone will pull out and hit him. He jumps on the brakes (for no reason that drivers around can see), engaging ABS and getting maximum speed reduction at, say, 70mph. Let’s define a tailgater as the driver who hits that car, precipitating maybe a big death crash, because he’s too close to begin to brake before he’s hit the braking car (usually called ‘reaction time’.)

The usual driver manuals cover this scenario well and give tables of the gap needed to avoid being a tailgater. It does depend on surface, weather and driver’s alertness, of course. The horrible fact is that at least 90% of drivers will hit the car in front if its driver jumps on the brakes – and not just on motorways. This is tailgating, but they’ll always blame the other driver for ‘braking too hard’ – in other words, they’re driving as though such an emergency ought not to happen; maybe they see it as ‘unfair’?

When the police begin taking witness statements after a pile-up, one of the commonest excuses they get is ‘I just didn’t have time to react – it came out of the blue.’ This is actually an admission of guilt and a surviving driver will be charged with careless driving at the least. This scenario is common, and just as valid in a motorway lane-change crash, a fog bank (‘it came out of nowhere’!) or a pileup at a pedestrian crossing when the lead driver had to brake hard.

Most people tailgate; I’d like to call it unwittingly dangerous behaviour, but maybe that would better be called criminal ignorance – by MOST drivers. It’s the biggest argument for reducing, not raising, motorway speed limits, and this argument will hold until most drivers agree to improve their observation and behaviour – ie, get training (rather than just experience, which is also valuable) beyond the basic level needed to pass the beginners’ test.

70 mph an arbitrary figure?
Of course it is – it’s a compromise, because there will always be a tension between risk/convenience and safety. Although it’s been fiddled with over the decades, it was introduced for safety reasons as a compromise; many safety engineers argued for a lower limit for very good reason, while there was outrage from many with powerful cars at being set ANY restriction. I can still recall being pulled up as a youth by the police for driving at 105mph on an empty 3-lane A5 in Staffordshire – but simply being cautioned informally because I was neither breaking the law, nor behaving dangerously (as I thought). After advanced training, I look back on that with horror – I didn’t realize how stupid I was being; I hadn’t had enough training to be aware of the risk. The police did – and I was warned that they’d have their eyes open for my Armstrong-Sidderley in future!

The point is, that this 60mph + 70mph compromise was set by the politicians as an acceptable rein on those (like me, then) who couldn’t see the risks they were taking. Almost all the arguments still hold today, despite most cars now being able to exceed the limits easily and brake far better than then (the late ’60s, was it?) The limit isn’t road, vehicle, weather nor traffic density; it’s driver performance and ignorance. And those haven’t changed at all!

Jaytee says:
22 July 2013

I agree, but for one point.

Just to lighten the conversation: I’m sure it was an Armstrong-Siddeley in my day!

Paul says:
31 August 2012

I know a local road which, until recently, was subject to the national speed limit of 60mph. It is safe to travel at 70mph on the straight parts.
At one bend, there was an advisory maximum speed of 40mph. At all bends, the maximum safe speed is determined by visibility, not by legal limits.
The speed limit has now been dropped to 50mph all along the road. We have to drive frustratingly slowly to remain legal. The 40mph advisory limit has been removed, so we are advised to go faster around a dagerous bend.

I often hear the argument that roads are designed for a certain speed. I know a roman road where the legal limit is 60mph, while the maximum safe speed is 80mph on the straight and 40mph on the hill/bend/junction ( where there is a 60mph camera ). What is the design speed for a roman road?

AJones says:
31 August 2012

As a qualified motorcycle trainer, I see most of the problems with people not only driving too slowly, but thinking too slowly!
But there is a very easy answer – just make a law that says you can only use a motorised vehicle providing a man waving a red flag walks in front of you. It once was law here in the UK. Perhaps that will satisfy all the drivers out in overtaking lanes who drive too slow for safety.