/ 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To me the survey also suggests that many of our speed limits are woefully out of date.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Do you think current speed limits are out of date?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

Loading ... Loading ...
phil270 says:
1 September 2012

well this is the first time that i have put my views online so here go’s….
most of you seem to think that it is ok to travel above the LEGAL speed it is a crme and should be treated as such. If you dont like the pain dont do the crime. I think that the vast majority of law breakers are ignorant of what they are doing and seem to think they are above the law WRONG they should be punished acordingly
Yes increase the limit when dry and clear do you reduce it when it is wet and dark?
Driving within your capelitys and the road conditions is the best way to drive or suffer the results of your actions….

Lastly duelcarraige are the most dangours roads of all look at what you havto contend with!! Agriculture traffic mopeds cycles right turning traffic L drvers and traffic crossing all at the same speed as on the M way crazey

Welcome to Which? Convo and commenting online! Don’t make it your last 🙂

Rev Ken says:
1 September 2012

I think my safety, and that of other road users is the most important factor when driving, not obeying the law to the letter. Remember the last but one edition of the Highway Code made it mandatory to stop in your lane on the motorway if there was a red light above the lane. It was suicidal and thankfully I never saw anybody try and of course it was amended in the next edition. Then you are breaking the law if you don’t treat every mini roundabout as a ‘proper’ roundabout (with the only exception being long vehicles). If you tried to do that on many around the country you could endanger traffic on your left, and there are many where it is literally impossible to keep to the left of the ‘white spot’ unless you have the turning circle of a London taxi or a Bond Minicar. When it comes to exceeding speed limits where the National Speed limit is applied, if the vehicle you are overtaking accelerates, and you are not in a position to drop back, it is safer to accelerate out of trouble instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to wipe you out while ‘obeying’ the law. With respect to the possibility pf fitting governors on cars it isn’t the same as fitting them to HGVs as they are running out of acceleration at the governed speed. This is not the case for most cars and to suddenly find your ability to speed up in a given situation, not necessarily of your own making, is potentially dangerous. However young drivers are already being given the option of having ‘black boxes’ fitted to their cars that show how they are driving to help them get a lower insurance premium, subject to vetting their record. Perhaps that is a better compromise as it would show how often the driver was speeding, cornering at high speed, and braking harshly. Governors – no – a record of driving – possibly, but then we will have cries of personal freedom etc.

With reference to my ‘name’ I am a Rev and I do rev – but responsibly!


I certainly don’t want to live in a police state. But there are millions of us drivers who will (and I need to add the phrase “pretty-much” here) stick to the speed limits. Talk of a “police state” is something of a red herring.

You say “I regard the present limit as unrealistic” yet you provide no evidence whatsoever justify increasing (or reducing?) the speed limits on our roads. I’ve noted the comments you made earlier today but even these are not really arguments to support increasing the limits.

I’ve tried to provide evidence to support my view that speed limits should be decreased or left alone. I’ve done my best to make these factual; objective not subjective. On a purely personal note – my heart certainly says that motorway limits should be increased somewhat, but my head says NO.

To the six points I’ve made you can add two more arguments against raising the limit – reduced motorway capacity (again backed by scientific research) and more ‘accordions’ (or ‘bunching’ or ‘phantom traffic jams’, again backed by scientific research). For the record I have studied queuing theory at HE level.

I haven’t read every comment on this conversation, but as far as I can see NO-ONE has presented a single argument to justify raising the limits. Every comment begins “I think…” or “I believe…”, etc.

So where are the justifications?

Perhaps we should discuss Range Rovers, Stuart. I have a sneaky feeling we’d be pretty much in total agreement!

Two distinct points:

1. My “neutral” prediction: Decreasing the legal limit will not bring about a measurable decrease in the actual average speed – regardless of whether you/we regard this as justifiable or desirable or not.

2. My “value judgement” (subjective viewpoint): Present day conditions allow for a reasonable increase in the overall legal limit subject to sensible conditions. You hold an opposite view. So be it. The present limit is unrealistic in the sense that it is widely disregarded. You condemn this, I regard it as reality. In a “perfect” world we would all be “justified” in driving behind a man with a red flag.

I am regrettably not acquainted with the bunching or accordion studies so cannot comment for or against. I suspect that to form a balanced judgement you would have to know all the parameters, conditions etc which I certainly don’t. What I can accept “blind” is that restricting the speed on certain sections in certain conditions may make for better traffic flow – though Newcastle’s 50 mph Western Bypass hardly provides a convincing proof to the layman commuter! With your qualifications a brilliant future awaits you up here …


We’ve reached a point where I think we should just politely ‘agree to disagree’.

Very briefly, the ‘seed’ to create an accordion is when a driver slows and following drivers over-react. As you say there are many parameters but speed is certainly the most important, followed by the distance between vehicles.

I live in the northern outskirts of Newcastle and worked in Washington (my employer’s choice, not mine!) for several years. I too fail to see any benefit whatsoever from the 50 mph speed limit on the Western Bypass and I find it intensely frustrating. And as far as I am aware it was introduced purely for traffic flow, not safety, reasons.

Sadly, I do not have a brilliant future, up here or anywhere. I am retired, a little early due to ill health. All I can hope for is to pass on my knowledge and experience through discussions such as this.


Peter Hulse says:
3 September 2012

As I understasnd it, the accordion effect is the result, not so much of speed, as of driving too close to the car in front, and thus having to brake more often, thus panicking any driver behind you who is also driving too close. (Americans drive very close to each other, but largely get away with it because of widespread use of cruise control. And their death rate is ten times ours for a population five times as large.)

@ Peter Hulse. The accordion effect is a product of the following environmental factors:
1. Over reaction to a perceived hazard ahead. This could be a consequence of driving too close the vehicle in front, inappropriate lane changing, even someone changing a tyre at the sight of the motorway is a good enough reason.
2. Number of vehicles on the road. It’s only a factor where a certain threshold of vehicles are present on the road. The threshold needed for the accordion effect is pretty much the prevailing condition on British motorways.
3. Speed. The faster the moving traffic the greater the over reaction & the more likely it is to happen, & the greater frequency of events. Speed also lowers the vehicle density threshold needed to trigger the accordion effect.
4. Adverse weather, which has a similar dynamic to speed but can be more dangerous because of the increased risk of tail end collisions.

Many posts have argued that better motorway discipline will cancel the accordion effect. We I think it could reduce it but as long as you have drivers of mixed ability on the roads it will always be a factor. The other question I would pose is with the reduction of budget available for law & order, how do you achieve this better road discipline?

Denis Conway says:
2 September 2012

Speed limits on roads which are unreasonable in certain places and are empty mostly at night should be variable and reasonable. Maybe a safety margin could be set, as some roads in built up areas with 20 mph to 40 mph could have a leeway of 5 to 10 mph where there is no danger to any one. The road speed signs could show something like 20 – 25 mph, 30 – 35 mph, 70 – 80 mph on wide straight roads and on narrow and sharp bend road adhere to strict speed limits. There will always be reckless drivers no matter what the speed limit is and they should be reported. Some common sense is needed here and if drivers were to follow the Golden Rule of safe driving most accidents could be avoided. “Never drive so fast that you cannot pull up within the distance you can see to be clear” no matter what the speed limit happens to be.

I agree. As long as the argument is about a “blanket” speed limit applied regardless of conditions, folk will be arguing at cross purposes for ever. What is appropriate for a lightly loaded motorway (this could be increased) does not make sense for a congested dual carriageway (this could be reduced). Today’s motoring is a trade-off between convenience / journey time, boredom factor, safety, fuel consumption (cost, climate) and so on. The solution has to be an intelligent, differentiated, “smart” revision of the rules that were designed when conditions were quite different from today.

Andrew Rolfe says:
2 September 2012

I think that there should be a different speed limit on each lane of the motorway, say 65mph in the slow lane, 70mph in the middle lane and 75mph in the fast lane (for a three lane motorway) to avoid so many cars etc switching lanes when there is not much/enough space between cars. I actually quite like the new variable speed limit sections when the road is busy, as cars etc do behave better with the radar speed trap so frequent. This should be extended to more sections of motorway. The other frustration is slow lorries overtaking each other on two lane dual carraigeway roads. There should be a requirement to be able to go at least 5mph faster when overtaking.

Kevin says:
2 September 2012

Speed limits should be variable. We have the technology for major roads, not sure if rules could be devised for minor roads, if not leave them. Lower limits can be right as M25 has shown, other times/places a much higher limit is ok. I regularly drive to Scotland, M6/M/74 etc. sometimes with empty roads and v good conditions. Raise the limit depending on conditions then rigorously enforce it. Does use a lot.more fuel though!

Many people cannot manage to comply with a simple system. As you say, raising the speed limit would use a lot more fuel and that is a good enough reason not to increase it.

Sorry wavechange, disagree (again!) if the majority of people exceed the speed limit then there will be no increase in consumption since people are already travelling at those speeds.

In creasing the limit will not make a blind bit of difference IMHO.

Kevin says:
2 September 2012

Just wonder how many people who comment on reduced limits actually do much driving. When you’ve 300 miles to go and part of the journey is on empty roads then why not drive faster. There are all the questions of competence, vehicle capability, conditions etc but above all judgement. Is no one considered competent to exercise that and if so where does that leave us? Just sometimes it’s safe and not irresponsible to exceed the current prescribed limit. So it uses more fuel? Some of us have to drive, to live our lives and, yes, to do what we chose to do. Particularly if we live in the country. And yes, we know the dangers of speeding on country roads, ever gone around a corner to find a combine harvester coming towards you? I believe speed limits should reflect circumstances, no more no less, and that means they should change.

I suggest that you study the fuel consumption meter in your car, if you have one. I’ve been looking at the effect of speed on fuel consumption for more than ten years. Others will agree.

Let’s focus on not breaking the law for a start.


Miles driven is always very difficult to estimate but my estimate (based on half my life driving a little above average and half somewhat above average) is that I have driven in the region of 700,000 miles in life. And do you know what, Kevin? For every mile I drive, for every extra mile of experience, I realise that little bit more how important speed limits are.

You say – competence, vehicle capability, conditions, judgement. So very, very true. But sadly we have to share the roads with drivers of different competencies, with vehicles of vastly different capabilities and with drivers with differing judgement abilities. Do you know, Kevin, that there are some drivers on UK roads who haven’t had any form of driver training whatsoever since they passed their basic driving test years ago?

And “some of us have to drive”. Really? Of my four grandparents two never learnt to drive, one never even rode in a car as a passenger, and for one even seeing a motor vehicle was a bit of a treat. Yet they all lived their lives for the traditional Three-Score-Years-and-Ten and seemed very happy. Perhaps there’s a lesson there? Oh, and they too chose to live in the country.

And, yes, I have come round a corner to find a combine harvester coming towards me. Several times. And yes, I always managed to stop. I should have thought this was an argument FOR speed limits?

I agree wholeheartedly that in a perfect world we could all use our judgement as to what speed is safe. But have you seen some of the numpties on UK roads, Kevin? Some of the ‘boy-racers’ who don’t even know which way round their hat goes? Would you want to trust YOUR life and your family’s life to THEIR judgment?

So let’s keep speed limits as they are until some suitably qualified experts asses them and recommend we change them.

Kevin says:
2 September 2012

I have a car that monitors fuel consumption for every tank of fuel and for any period I select, which I do monthly. It will also show me current consumption. Please don’t presume to advise me on such matters, I would not do the same to you. Laws should be obeyed, they are there to serve the people, not the other way round. There are few absolutes, even though shalt not kill, it seems, they can be changed

Kevin says:
2 September 2012

Gradivus. I agree 100% with your observations but do you really think that a speed limit makes any difference to the people you describe? I live close to “the most dangerous road in England”. Most if the deaths are bikers, exceeding the previous 60 mph limit no doubt. Let’s see how many suddenly conform now it’s 50, to the general frustration of most of the local users. It’s excessive, inappropriate speed and as you say awful drivers that’s the problem. Speed limits are nor irrelevant, they have a part to play and particularly in highly populated areas. A bit of judgement needed and don’t let anyone tell me we are not capable of exercising it, I do not want to be prescribed to the lowest common denominator.


Sorry for not making it clear that my comment was in response to David Ramsay, but you got in first.

Comment on Wavechange’s comment on Kevin’s comment ..:

Logical and intuitive as your statement comes across, when you say “a lot more fuel” this makes several assumptions which really ought to be tested. In addition to the points already covered in the corresp think of HGV’s (governors), rush hour grid locked traffic, the cost of fuel (in real terms), enforcement … there are probably several more which all speak against just assuming a significant relationship between the (overall maximum?) speed limit and overall fuel consumption.
PS the hi-tec fuel consumption meter on my car bears no resemblance to reality – if I relied on it I would be stranded before every tank refill!

Kevin – this comment is to you.

If the roads are shared by people with different driving abilities then obviously we have to do our best to make them safe for the lowest common denominator. Even the best drivers are unlikely to have been good when they were inexperienced.

@wavechange, you seem to ‘assume’ that I exceed the limit, which I do not. Assumption make an ‘ass of u and me’!

I travel via dual carriageway and motorway at normally 8 to10 mph below the speed limit to get to work.

I know that driving 10mph faster will make little difference to my arrival but it will make a difference to my fuel consumption. I monitor it weekly on my routine fill, I get about 7.5m to the pound, about 30 years ago I was getting 18 to the pound.

What I said was that as ‘most’ people admit to exceeding the limit then raising or lowering will make little or no difference to fuel consumption, perhaps I should add all fuel consumption in the uk over a year.

Kevin says:
2 September 2012

Guess we’re all going to have to agree to differ. My final comment (honestly) is I have never subscribed to the philosophy that we should view setting standards to the lowest common denominator as a desirable objective. Think that is what killed education in the UK. Enough.

I agree that fuel consumption meters are not accurate devices, but with every car I have driven (one for ten years and a good assortment of hire cars) the fuel consumption has increased markedly above 50 mph. I cannot comment about HGVs with governors, but I know that I can invariably achieve better economy if I don’t use cruise control on a car. Accurate measurement of fuel consumption can be done but would be prohibitively expensive for use in vehicles. It would certainly be interested to see the result of fuel consumption studies for modern vehicles under different road conditions.

Sorry, I did not appreciate what you were saying. I try to avoid busy dual carriageways and motorways at busy times if I can. I prefer to travel about 65 mph on motorways if I can, but sometimes I will stick in the nearside lane at whatever speed this is going and sometimes go at 70 mph to try to keep other drivers happy. By sticking at 65 mph and keeping to other speed limits I can manage to achieve about 65 mpg on reasonably long runs in the current warm weather. My father used to coast down hills in neutral to save fuel, and I often do this. I believe that this is still regarded as almost criminal by driving experts but it has never got me into trouble in over 40 years of driving.

I agree we should agree to differ. 🙂
I also agree with you about your comment about education. Here I have had experience working in higher education for many years. It would have been wonderful to have taught just those who were highly motivated and had reasonable aptitude. In the current system, their abilities are not even stretched.

IDIOTS! People just do not understand.


If eight people a day in our country were being eaten by lions with dozens losing limbs and worse something would be done immediately! So why not when killer cars are out there? Because peoples brains are not hard wired to see cars as a threat so they endear themselves to them and witter on about such things as ‘classic cars’ or ‘IAM’ the greatest driver etc. or speed limits as if they understand speed.

This New Scientist article could be a starting point for you to understand this:


Now, will you accept road carriageway is the most dangerous environment that most of us will ever spend much time in?

Around one in two hundred of people will actually be road kill and or a road killer [Goverment statistics].

Everthing I have stated [here and post at 1 September 2012 at 12:59 am] is supported by facts! Oh yes ‘Nigelh’ here’s another fact; overconfident drivers are just as bad drivers as underconfident ones, [racing drivers are as bad as nervous old men and women].

To all I repeat – ‘Motorways are a comparatively unsafe form of transport and no safer than other roads.’ You just have to understand the science and be able to interpret the accident statistics correctly.

Do people really want to kill and maim their own Moms, as it were, as they do ? There simply is no case in terms of humane road safety for allowing any road vehicle with a human driver to be on the roads at all, but slower is better and we are where we are – killing and maiming thousands every year just in the UK!

Dear Which,

Thanks for giving me a chance to put some of the ‘facts’ forward. Given that they are pretty indisputable please would you answer this question:

Given that the ‘right to life’ is enshrined in UK law; does ‘Which’ have a legal duty [or just a duty as a responsible quasi public body], to lobby the UK Government, on behalf of the legal rights of your 1 in about 200 of members and consumer public who are denied this right on our roads, to attend to its govermental duties to impose such restrictions as are necessary protect their legal rights to life on the public highway?




You don’t help the debate by being so overly dramatic. It’s a fact of life that people get hurt and killed in all of life’s activities. For instance, more people get hurt in the ir homes than on the roads, typically when doing DIY. Should we ban people from doing that? Truth is that life is risky and it remains optimal that we do all we can to educate people and make them more aware of the risks they face in every activity that they do, but we also have to accept that nothing, particularly the human being, is perfect and so accidents will happen, whatever we do – even if we all wrap ourselves in cotton wool and stay home doing nothing. If we do that, though, then our society will quickly stagnate and we’ll all die out anyway.

The simple fact is that for us to move around is an intrinsic part of our economy. Activity is key to progress and economic wealth creation. Those are forces that no-one can realistically stop, and nor should they. Implicit in that is the fact that people understandably will often need to move around as speedily and efficiently as is safe to do. And before you ,or anyone, tries again to claim that going at a steady, slower speed will “get you there just as quickly”, why then, in an emergency, do the police, fire and ambulance drivers break speed limits when dealing with an emergency? (The answer is, it DOES get you there quicker!)

To respond to some of your specifics:

“Now, will you accept road carriageway is the most dangerous environment that most of us will ever spend much time in?”

Sorry, but no – that would be the home (according to official government statistics on recorded causes of deaths and injuries). Maybe we should ban houses?

“Everthing I have stated [here and post at 1 September 2012 at 12:59 am] is supported by facts! Oh yes ‘Nigelh’ here’s another fact; overconfident drivers are just as bad drivers as underconfident ones, [racing drivers are as bad as nervous old men and women].”

I can’t tell if that’s a fact or not, it’s so vague and ill-defined. What exactly do you mean by “bad” and how would you define “over-confident”. Expressing opinions on such matters is one thing, but if you’re going to claim “FACT”, then you have to be precise and definitive! Can’t claim that science supports your contentions and then be so unscientific in your pronouncements.

“To all I repeat – ‘Motorways are a comparatively unsafe form of transport and no safer than other roads.’ You just have to understand the science and be able to interpret the accident statistics correctly.”

OK, so now you thin that the mere act of repeating the same thing will make it more ‘factual’? It doesn’t. If you want to maintain that “motorways are no safer than other roads”, then come up with appropriate references to the relevant facts and figures. Which statistics are you interpreting correctly, whilst the rest of us are not? Do feel free to reference your sources and whatever “science” it is to which you’re referring!


I’ve made my points already on this conversation and have been trying to opt out, but let’s get some context here…

Injuries in the home. (i) I have no reason to doubt the official statistics but I’d be prepared to wager 10p that if you looked at SERIOUS injuries (and deaths) the roads will be far, far more dangerous than the home. (ii) to compare them fairly you also need to adjust the raw numbers to the number of man-hours spent in the home vs the number of man-hours spent on the roads, and (iii) If you carry out some DIY and do it too fast (or too incompetently) and you cut your finger off – well, your choice, c’est la vie. However if YOU drive too fast and kill or injure one of MY children…

Driving fast does get you there quicker. Such is self evident from the very definition of speed. But, for example, when an ambulance is rushing to save a patient every second saved by driving fast and jumping red lights might well be vital to the survival of the patient. This simply isn’t so for the rest of us in the real world. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, driving 100 miles at 80 mph on the motorway saves you less than 11 minutes compared to driving at 70 mph. Are you really in that much of a hurry? You really should take stock of your life if you’re so ‘living-on-the-edge’. And, of course, if everyone drives at 80 mph, there’ll be more accordions, more holdups due to accidents, etc. (scientifically proven). On top of the traffic jams and delays we currently know and love. The overall time saving IN MOST CASES will be negligible. Incidentally, I’m not certain but I think there are statistics that show emergency vehicles operating under blues-and-twos have a significantly higher than average number of accidents – but most of us accept this as a fair trade-off.

I have no evidence on over/under-confident drivers but, subjectively, I’d rather encounter an under-confident driver than an over-confident one.

I’m pretty certain that there is evidence to show that motorways are safer than other roads when measured on a miles-travelled basis.

@gradivus, yes I agree. Another important point to make between injuries in the home and those in the road is one is incurred in private space whilst the other is in public space. When you take risks on the road, you don’t just risk yourself, you are taking a risk on behalf of everyone else unwittingly sharing the same space.
Cars have often been compared to rifles because many are not so much driven as aimed, and often with the same deadly effect.


Comparison of accidents on the road with those in the home is not useful. If I cause an accident in the home, you are not put at risk and vice versa. Any one of us could cause a serious accident or even a motorway pile-up. Drivers have a duty of care for others and the government has a responsibility to ensure roads are as safe as practicable.

Please can comparisons be useful.

Jaytee says:
4 September 2012


Although I agree with your argument, you seem to be forgetting that according to our government, we’re all in ‘that much of a hurry’ . The construction of ‘high-speed’ rail links springs to mind.

Rather than investing in a high speed rail link it would be better to invest in measures to help people live near where they work. Our roads could be quieter and safer, and we could save a vast amount of fuel by cutting down commuting. Some will say that it cannot be done, but we managed well before we had cars and public transport.

Living close to where I work has always been a high priority for me. Large cities were out of the question because pollution caused by vehicles caused me breathing difficulties, since I’m an asthmatic.

Hi again,

Most people do not seem to understand speed at all, so how can they understand speed limits?
People just do not seem to understand the laws of physics. Is that why there is carnage on the roads! Do people understand lions better than cars?

If eight people a day in our country were being eaten by lions with dozens losing limbs and worse, something would be done immediately! So why not when killer cars are out there taking around eight lives a day?

Is it because peoples brains are not hard wired to see cars as dangerous bone crushing killing threat so they endear themselves to them and witter on about such things as ‘classic cars’ or ‘IAM’ the greatest driver etc. or speed limits as if they understand speed [the relative velocity of a body].

This New Scientist article could be a starting point for people to understand :


Now, would they accept that the road carriageway is the most dangerous environment that most of us will ever spend much time in?

Around one in two hundred of people will actually be road kill and or a road killer [Goverment statistics].

Everthing I have stated [here and post at 1 September 2012 at 12:59 am] is supported by facts! Oh yes ‘Nigelh’, here’s another fact; overconfident drivers are just as bad drivers as underconfident ones, [racing drivers are as bad as the highly nervous or inexperienced].

To all I repeat – ‘Motorways are a comparatively unsafe form of transport and no safer than other roads.’ You just have to understand the science and be able to interpret the accident statistics correctly.

Do people really want to kill and maim their own Moms, as it were, as they do ? There simply is no case in terms of humane road safety for allowing any road vehicle with a human driver to be on the roads at all, but slower is better and we are where we are – killing and maiming thousands every year just in the UK!

Dear Which,

Thanks for giving me a chance to put some of the ‘facts’ forward. Given that they are pretty indisputable please would you answer this question:

Given that the ‘right to life’ is enshrined in UK law; does ‘Which’ have a legal duty [or just a duty as a responsible quasi public body], to lobby the UK Government, on behalf of the legal rights of your 1 in about 200 of members and consumer public who are denied this right on our roads, to attend to its govermental duties to impose such restrictions as are necessary protect their legal rights to life on the public highway?



Correction for the sake of accuracy to what I said above:

Whilst the BMW onboard fuel/mileage computer seems incapable of performing basic division, the actual fuel consumption needle appears to be alive and kicking. Significantly it goes into the red zone during acceleration, but on long fast journeys moves back to its most economical level. To achieve any real reduction in consumption requires slowing to well below 50 mph and obeying all the obvious rules about gentle driving. Food for thought.

Just a few additional comments. As the car goes faster, wind resistance increases and the engine works harder to keep the momentum. This drag gets progressively worse for smaller increments in speed as momentum climbs. Inclines need more effort to climb them faster. It is a matter of opinion at which point it is deemed wasteful to go any faster. It is also a matter of opinion as to whether this has any bearing on speed limits being set on our roads. Both I and my wallet believe it has, but many don’t.

Currently we have a seventy limit on motorways. Many have expressed their annoyance at being thus restricted. They are entitled to do so, but disregarding the limit is wrong. By all means twist governmental arms and get the limits changed, but what’s there is there until they are changed. We may be frustrated at our lack of influence in this matter but we can’t choose which laws to obey and which not, we can only make our views known.

The faster one goes, the harder the car is working. A newish car gets on with it, older cars get thrashed and are nearer the limit when something can go wrong. How far up this threshold is it safe to drive? Would a speed increase mean more unsafe projectiles on the motorways?

Many have commented on inadequate driving standards. Should the government worry about this and set speed limits to cater for our ‘average’ driving skills?

How difficult would it be to clothe the entire motorway network in variable speed indicators? Would they always be set on the low side, just in case, or could we have an occasional ‘burn’ on a clear straight road just to clear the pipes? Some do this, at night on the M4, already, in the most unlikely vehicles!

I have sympathy for travellers who have to drive for appointments on tight schedules and get held up by inconsiderate drivers, I’m not quite so sure about ‘white van man’ who comes sailing past me in a rocking transit, foot firmly planted to the floor.

It is probably the opaque nature of speed limit setting that seems to be most frustrating. They appear in the newspaper and then on the road. I suppose if the motorist had a say, then there would be the same arguments that have appeared in all the comments in this ‘conversation’ and the limit setters would be none the wiser at the end of the consultation.

I’d love to stretch the car on a straight road, legally, when the mood takes me, and I’d probably drive everywhere at eighty if the limit was raised on the motorway, but I’m not sure there’s a clear case for doing it. It’s fun to drive faster but is it really necessary?

John Paine says:
2 September 2012

Regarding fuel economy – while it can not be denied that wind resistance and other factors control the amount of power required to propel a vehicle at various speeds – It must still be true that the most efficient condition for a car engine is at the RPM which coincides with Maximum Torque.

I’ll leave it to others to calculate at what road speeds this occurs in various gears.

Maximum torque has little to do with fuel economy. It’s important to racing drivers, who are not noted for economical driving.

Steve says:
3 September 2012

The de facto speed limit on motorways is already 80. As I understand it, hardly anyone, or no-one at all, gets done under 80. My Ford Focus diesel gives me in the mid-50s to the gallon at 80 on the clock on the motorway (which is probably, according to my satnav, more like 76), which is pretty economical. The main problem on motorways is the reluctance of people to use all the lanes properly. So many people appear to be neurotic about getting into the left lane, presumably because they’re scared of “getting boxed in.” They seem to think that “doing 70” in the middle lane qualifies them to sit in it for as long as they like. Not so. They are in breach of the Highway Code just as much as speeders are. Such folks may take the self-righteous view that anyone passing them is acting illegally, and technically they may be right. But what they are doing – causing frustration and congestion – is far worse, and, in many respects, taking human nature into account, far more dangerous. Pull over, you idiots!

Your car will be more economical if you drive legally.

John Paine says:
3 September 2012

You say that Maximum Torque has little to do with fuel economy ?

A definition of the maximum torque condition is when the fuel in the engine is being most efficiently burnt to provide motive power. Therefore it must be a contributary factor to the overall Fuel Economy even though other factors like Drag might be more significant at higher speeds.

The torque argument is a distraction. I’ll repeat what I mentioned in a previous post. You require more energy to get to 80mph than you need to get to 70mph. You also need more energy to maintain the higher speed. To illustrate my point I’ll as a simple question. Do you lift you foot off the accelerator to get from 70mph to 80mph or do push it down? If you push it down, guess what? You are using more fuel.

You may argue that journey reduction time compensates for the extra fuel needed for the speed but even if this was true under ideal laboratory conditions (and I doubt it is) its not true in the real world. The additional speed just gets you to the back of the next queue of cars quicker with no measurable benefit to journey duration.

Do you achieve greatest fuel economy at an engine speed that corresponds to maximum torque, John?


Several of us seem to have hijacked this Conversation by discussing fuel economy. Perhaps this could be the focus of a future discussion.

True, the original context of the article (in part anyway) appears to be safety and the pressure that is imposed on those obeying the speed limit by those who don’t.
Leaving aside the arguments fuel consumption etc, I’m not convinced that increasing the speed limit would improve safety and I’m fairly certain that any study into this would support my scepticism. Either way, its a decision that should be based on a proper evaluation of the evidence rather than public opinion.

Driving slow builds up frustration in us because we all (or at least the majority of us) feel intuitively that driving fast will get us to our destination quicker. Its more complex than that and anyone who has driven in Britain for any length of time will know that speed usually only gets you to the back of the next queue of cars or traffic light quicker. Education and change in perception is important.

I believe that the debate should focus not on speed, but what can be done to reduce journey duration. Reduction of traffic jams and stoppages is more important than increasing speed limits because these impact on journey duration more than speed. In fact speed can counter intuitively have a negative impact on journey duration in certain circumstances.


I agree that decisions need to be done by evaluation of the evidence, but that needs to be done by experts and not those who think they understand the issue or have a good understanding of a particular aspect. Statistics can produce some highly misleading information and the way that some studies are conducted helps to ensure that they will generate the desired results.

I agree about the importance of avoiding traffic jams and holdups and there are many ways in which this can be achieved. I wish that education was the answer, but I don’t think education will work. People break speed limits, use their phones while driving. It’s not just driving, since cyclists cycle on the pavement and ride without lights, others fiddle their tax, and so on. Thanks to the Internet, we have many people openly admitting breaking the law and defending their actions, and thinking they know best about everything – like overgrown teenagers. 🙂

I am sure it can be proven that, under given circs, driving at say 85 will consume more fuel than at 70. I am equally prepared to believe the the link is not a simple straight line relationship (optimum torque apart, what happens if you reduce speed to the point that you change down a gear, or two?) and the relationship will vary hugely depending on conditions (HGV’s, Range Rovers, Micras, aerodynamic sports cars, head winds, tail winds ….). And compensate by hard acceleration …?

The more I think about it the less I am convinced that raising the maximum permitted legal speed will translate into any significant or measurable effect on the nation’s actual overall fuel consumption. Individually drivers have as much “respect” for the cost of filling up their tanks as for whether there is a laser waiting for them round the next bend. There may well be other factors dictating for or against revising the overall speed limit, my view is that in the grand scheme of things fuel consumption is a bit of a side issue.

Fuel consumption may be a side-issue to you but the more demand there is for fuel, the more prices will rise. There is probably no better argument for keeping our current motorway speed limits.

Brian says:
3 September 2012

fuel cosumption is a side issue, even a heated one. I see the main aim is to save some lives and, coincidently, to achieve optimal traffic flow on our strained network. The flow rate and the safety factor would be adversly affected by a rise in the limit. Policing should not be a problem. The camera network can read number plates and calculate average speed over short and long journeys. Speed does use more fuel but it also increases tyre,disc pads and road surfaces ( they are deteriorating anyway.

Sorry if you’ve missed my point: Motorway speed limit adjustments will in the final analysis have a negligible affect on the national demand for fuel. My view, you are of course free to disagree.

If the motorway speed limit is raised to 80mph it is possible that a large number of drivers will continue to travel at 60-65mph because that is what they [and their cars and their passengers] are comfortable with. Obviously they would be well advised to stay out of the outside lane as a rule but I’m not sure that it is in the overall interests of highway safety to have such a wide spread of speeds without a lot more discipline and compliance than currently exists.

John Ward,

Very good point.

Also, to reinforce your point, some vehicles are subject (and often limited) to lower speed limits, e.g. HGVs and vehicles towing trailers are restricted to 60 mph because of their stopping abilities.

HGV limits on dual carriageway and single carriageway roads are 50 mph and 40 mph respectively…..

.. which reinforces the point that HGV traffic is irrelevant as far as the overall 70 mph limit is concerned (which is not to say that there may not be a sub-agenda to consider the specific limits that apply to these vehicles separately). Just as the 70 mph limit for an empty motorway should be considered separately from what applies to less safe areas. I am all for precision in formulating arguments!

“which reinforces the point that HGV traffic is irrelevant as far as the overall 70 mph limit is concerned”. It is relevant if we are debating an increased speed limit.
The biggest factor that makes motorways safer than other roads is that all the vehicles move in the same direction. What increases risk is when there is are big differences in speed between the moving traffic. The worst casualties on motorways are caused by collisions where the speed difference has been estimated to exceeded 15mph.
If certain classes of HGV’s are limited to 60mph and you raise the speed limit to 80mph for other traffic you are creating a dangerous scenario.
I actually agree with one of the other posters who wrote that a minimum speed limit (on motorways) should be enforced.

Strange discussion this. With many of the posters I AGREE with some of what you say but DISAGREE with other points. Two things however…

I think the idea of VARIABLE SPEED LIMITS to cope with varying situations is excellent. Except… have you any idea of the cost? Perhaps someone would be kind enough to go away and research the installation and running costs of the variable speed limits on the M25 (and M6(?) near Birmingham), then extrapolate this to cover large stretches of the UK motorway network? I suspect we could all think of at least 101 ways to better spend the money. Also, motoring considerations aside, would you really want that exceptionally beautiful stretch of the M6 north of Lancaster ruined with concrete and steel variable speed gantries? Let’s get a grip on reality here, folks.

And, whilst I have argued elsewhere on this discussion that laws should be based on what is right, the very thought of enforcing a minimum speed limit on congested, slow moving motorways is completely ludicrous. Again I say, let’s get a grip on reality.

[> skeptictan]
In the context of safety and lane discipline, which is no doubt how you interpreted it, I take your point. In the context of “the other, fuel conservation, forum”, I stand by my comments. Get myself all tied up in knots in the end.
I agree also with your feelings about minimum speeds – but have avoided raising the issue for fear of getting others all steamed up. Slightly less contentious might be the autobahn LKW-Überholverbot where long stretches are barred from overtaking as far as HGV’s are concerned. That and education in tune with the Germans’ much better lane discipline and actual use of rear view mirrors!

The theory that the relative speed difference between vehicles is small on motorways is great and the barrier between carriageways must have saved many lives.

Unfortunately, there is sometimes a holdup and I have lost count how many times the traffic has stopped on a motorway during my driving career. I don’t know of anything more frightening than the screech of brakes of a fast approaching car.

Increasing the speed limit on motorways would make the horrific results of a pile-up even worse. Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the speed, so that a 10 mph increase in the speed limit would increase the amount of energy to be dissipated in crumpling crumple zones and mangling bodies would increase by around 30%. Increasing the speed limit to 100 mph, as some doubtless advocate, would double the kinetic energy. I wonder if the police and paramedics who have to deal with pile-ups think about increasing speed limits.


Cars are killers, travel by bus and train to save lives!

Drive in bare feet and be sensitive to your throttle. Every ounce of pressure costs you and the environment. Small light aerodynamic cars will get their best mpg at around 50mph. Bigger, heavier, less aerodynamic vehicles will get their best mpg at 25 -30mph’ . Mpg decreases rapidly for vehicles at speeds above 50 mph mainly due to drag. Google ‘fuel efficiency speed car’ for lots of links that prove this.

On motorways, if a car crashes at 80mph, fatalities are likely whereas at 40mph they are not —– simple reason is here 4x energy dissipated for same mass vehicle; That is: E = m x speed x speed. Hence on humanitarian grounds there is no case for travelling above 50 mph on motorways [or 20mph on other roads where there are cyclists or pedestrians].

Death on the A444 last weekend. My daughters flatmate knew the dead lad well apparently. That’s hopefully as close as it gets and why Dunbars number means death on the road is not real for most of us!

Driving at 80mph requires greater concentration [probably twice that compared with 60mph] with higher chances of mistakes and/or tiredness leading to more accidents.

Why do people want to travel faster than 50mph? Is it just adrenaline addiction, a disease like alcoholism? {well yes it is from what I understand from neuroscience}

A high percentage of car journeys are unnecessary at any speed.

People think car driving is ‘useful doing’ [as in – ‘look at me I’m doing something useful’] but if so then so is watching television. Both are secondary / unreal experiences – life through a screen.

Average journey speeds do not increase effectively above 55mph on motorways. You can check this on the AA route planner by comparing similar distance routes mainly on motorways where you travel at say 75mph mostly to A roads routes where you are mostlly stuck at around 50 or less.

Thanks nigelh and all, for responses which I have only just read. I will respond to points soon.


Jaytee says:
4 September 2012


Although it won’t make any difference to your argument, as kinetic energy is proportional to the square of a moving object’s velocity, to be correct, kinetic energy = one half x mass x velocity squared (E = 1/2 x m x speed x speed).

As regards more ”MORE TRUTHS”, I am not in full agreement.

“Cars are killers”. I imagine you mean that cars driven badly are killers. You may just as well say “Cars save lives” because their manufacture, use and servicing generates huge amount on wealth which the country uses to fund doctors, hospitals etc. It would be nice to have the luxury of time to travel by bus or train. Where I live, buses and trains are a distant memory.

“Drive in bare feet.” This is not good advice. It is illegal in some countries to drive in bare feet or inappropriate foot wear. This is so you can put your foot firmly on the brake when necessary. Good drivers do not need to go footless to be sensitive to the throttle. Bad drivers need all the help they can get in making sure they use the brake properly.

The number of accidents and fatalities on motorways is not directly related to speed in the way you imply. Germans have fewer accidents than the French or Americans who drive more slowly. The Germans are simply better drivers and I suspect their traffic police are also better. I used to live in Sweden when they reduced, under green pressure, to reduce the speed limit from 110 kph to 90 kph. The number of accidents shot up as there is a tendency not to concentrate as much. They put the limit back up and the number of accidents dropped again. Motorways in the UK are the safestroads in this country in terms of no. of passenger miles driven. Reducing the speed limit will make things worse.

I want to travel faster than 50 mph, like most people, as my time is precious, both for work and when I am not working. I pay a huge amounts of income tax, and car related taxes for a road network which is not in place, and for a police service which is no longer there making sure bad drivers are penalised.

“A high percentage of car journeys are unnecessary” – a high percentage of almost all mankind’s pursuits are unnecessary, but so what? If I want to do them, do them legally and safely, and pay for them, then this is no concern of anyone else. Itis my right to libertyand the pursuit of happiness. It is up to me to decide what is necessary, though I am sure the EU will soon find a way to define it for me.

The effective journey time obviously decreases as velocity increases if nothing else is affecting one’s progress. The issue is the things that hinder the smooth and efficient flow of traffic. Is this your argument for making 50mph the speed limit everywhere?

A comment which I suspect will be shared by most of the “almost 4 in 5 motorists” referred to at the top of the page. I confess to being one of the sinners with such views.

Motorways are the most dangerous roads – Proof

‘Accidents per million vehicle miles’ is the basic statistic used by all and sundry which hides the fact that fatalities and injuries are usually much higher and worse in motorway accidents. Therefore it is accident costs per road mile which is the determining factor

If you care to look at this report:
Saving Lives, Saving Money The costs and benefits of achieving safe roads from the RAC Foundation website:


I believe figure 3 page 27 and figure 7a page 33 sum up the evidence for the proof.

Hence motorways are the least safe per road mile, by quite a margin.

Mind you the RAC still state publicly that M’ways are safest roads [per vehicle presumeably] which hides the true risk; why is that I wonder.

Accidents are random multi factor events. There are hundreds of types of factors that can relate to an accident in groups of things such as the state of : the road or the weather, the vehicles, the drivers etc. The two most critical factors are the vehicle speed [no vehicle speed no accident and the slower the impact speed the less severe the accident] and drivers brains which were designed [Deism rules!] over a million years of evolution to play with controls in a box with a screen – the game being to get from A to B as if they were being chased by lions!

There is no solution to this madness – if humanity means anything – until something better comes along, bar a rigidly enforced blanket 20mph in urban areas with 30mph elswhere. Oh yes, or, all car bodies to be made from very thick polystyrene, that would slow them down and give them something to think about.

Has anyone read this:

Speed Limits A review of evidence – by the RAC Foundation.


I just came across it but have not yet had a chance to absorb yet properly but it seems pretty informative albeit not universally well informed on first impression and I wish I and you all had had the benefit of it prior to putting pen to paper.