/ 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To me the survey also suggests that many of our speed limits are woefully out of date.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Do you think current speed limits are out of date?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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ARWits says:
9 September 2012

1. The motorway speed limit should be an ENFORCED 80 mph.
2. Local 20/30 mph limits should be ENFORCED.
Parents delivering their progeny to school by driving through residential areas, like Lewis Hamilton in Grand Prix, should be prosecuted for speed limit infringement, i.e. 20/30 mph.

How on earth is Lewis Hamilton relevant to this thread? To the best of my knowledge he lives in Monaco, not the UK, and prior to that lived in Switzerland. By all means criticise him for his unwillingness to pay UK taxes – I’ll be the first in line to support you.

ALL laws should be enforced. Sadly, the cost of manning our police services at suitable levels would be an unreasonable burden on the public purse. A decent compromise is to allow the police to use “reasonable discretion”. But we don’t seem to have the balance right at present.

Old Cynic says:
9 September 2012

Just how many Police do you think there are to “rigorously enforce” new speed limits – the reality is very few and reducing under government cuts. Enough people are killed on motorways with the 70mph limit so why raise it to 80mph. Cars may be advancing in safety but the human brain behind the wheel is still in the dark ages. Are we also saying that the price of fuel is far too low at the moment ? That seems to be your message, why travel faster and burn more otherwise. If the motorway speed limit was reduced to 60mph there would be a huge reduction in fuel consumption and green house gasses otherwise here’s to an ice free arctic.

This just goes back to the start of the Which? “conversation” – with the risk of recycling all the points already made:
1. If there is a scarcity of enforcement resource then all the more reason to concentrate this on cases where it really matters, rather than fritter away resources trying to prosecute motorists exceeding 70 mph in safe conditions.
2. Arguably 80 – 90 mph in given (not all) circumstances in today’s car and motorway conditions is as safe as 70 mph was when it was first introduced.
3. There is a risk of getting “safety” confused with “fuel conservation”. If fuel economy is the main issue then, as previously stated, start off rationally by banning all 4 x 4’s, Range Rovers and the like. Then, why reduce to just 60 mph, would there not be an even greater saving from 50 mph? Or 40 … What is the rationale, if any, supporting 70?

– If safety is the prime focus then similar questions apply: Why not bring back the men walking in front bearing red flags? 70 in some situations can be a lot more dangerous than 80 – 90 in others.

Like it or not, practical realities mean coming to terms with / arriving at a trade-off between competing priorities. Much of the tenor of this “blog” would seem to be at odds with opinions that can be deduced from the statistics from the Admiral survey quoted in the headlines of this page.

I live in France where the speed limit on motorways is 80mph (130kph) in the dry and 68mph (110kph) in the wet.

Interestingly, quite a number of drivers sit at 68mph. I believe this is to save fuel but, at least, they have the option of going faster if they wish.

I’m at a loss to understand why the UK doesn’t follow suit.

… le bon sens on the other side of the water!

I believe that speed limits on motorways were reduced to 60 mph to save fuel during the fuel crisis in the 1970’s. if my memory is correct, motorway speed limits were later increased to 70 but duel carriageways remained at 60 for some time until subsequently being increased to the same speed as motorways. I think 70 mph is completely out of date for most of todays motorways and vehicles and feel this could be increased during dry conditions to 90 mph with a 10% leeway. So absolute enforcement at 100 mph!. Duel carriageways should remain at 70 but the limits on all other roads be reduced from 60 to 50mph. Since returning from a long residence overseas I have been horrified at the speeds being driven on country roads with no allowance for farm vehicles or any other vehicle easing out on to the road.
There should be absolutely no parking allowed within a minimum of 440 yards outside schools between 8 and 9 am and 3 and 4.30 pm (Mums could and should walk from there) with a strictly enforced maximum speed limit of 20 mph within that zone during those times.

We still have a bit of a fuel crisis and the faster we use up the reserves of oil the faster fuel prices will rise. Driving at higher speeds wastes a lot of fuel.

“Today’s vehicles” are better than they were in the 1970s, no doubt about that.

But are “today’s motorways” better than the motorways we had in the 1970s? True, we now have better crash barriers – but crossover accidents were never that common. True, more sections are lit – but the lights are being turned off to save money. They’re certainly a LOT more congested – personally I feel happier on a quiet, unlit stretch than a congested, well-lit stretch.

But the really important question is – are “today’s drivers” better than the drivers we had in the 1970s?

Erik says:
13 January 2016

10% leeway might be too much, don’t you think 5% is more suitable? Although 90mph is a brilliant idea.

M. Kay says:
12 October 2012

There are many roads were speed limits could be raised, there is also a need to look at uping the speed limit on HGV’s! How many times have you been stuck behind a truck and some idiot trys to overtake were there is no room? As to policing I live in Lincolnshire and the only time you see the police is when they are going to an incident its all reactive policing not proactive, Between 25% to 40% of motorists are breaking the law at any time and its not just speeding.

John Morris says:
25 October 2012

Unfortunately it is socially accpetable in the UK to kill about 2000 a year our the roads. Worldwide the figure is in excess of 1,000,000 people a year. Yes cars have improved, but human reaction times and Newton’s laws of dynamics remain unchanged! Cambridgeshire’s retired Chief Constable, Julie Spence, couldn’t have put it more clearly when she said “Drivers consider speeding as acceptable until they lose a child in a road accident.” Need I say more?

Old Cynic says:
25 October 2012

Some very good comments in these posts. It’s good that people are thinking about and taking the trouble to put their views forward. I saw an interview with Damon Hill on the TV recently where he said that from his obervations drivers in the UK cannot safely control their cars above 60mph, I doubt whether any of those here advocating an increase in the speed limit can claim to have superior high spped driving knowledge than the former world champion ? I also go back to my previous post, why would you want to travel at 80mph when the extra air resistance means a huge reduction in fuel economy.

I once read an article written by a man who tragically killed a child whilst driving in a built up area. The child had run out from behind a parked vehicle and despite the drivers speedy reaction he was unable to stop and the child was hit and killed.This supports my earlier comments that no parking or even stopping, should be allowed near schools during certain periods.
When the police arrived and completed their skid mark measurements, they were able to prove conclusively that the driver was driving below the legal speed limit.The driver was devasted and will be for the rest of his life! However he stated that had he been exceeding the speed limit HE WOULD NEVER HAVE KNOWN IF HE COULD HAVE STOPPED OR NOT and would not have been able to live with himself.
Since reading that article I have NEVER exceeded the limit in a built up area.

A truly excellent point, Auspomm.

Had this happened to me, however, I would still have had difficulty living with myself knowing that I had killed a child by driving too fast. The speed limit is a maximum; the maximum was clearly set too high in this case.

I said the driver was driving BELOW the legal limit. If children run out from behind a parked car you have split seconds to stop and probably15mph could still be fatal. In fact the chances of a non collision are remote! How can YOU say that the limit was set too high or that the driver was driving too fast!.You weren’t there and we can only go by the Police facts.Do you want the red flag brought back?
Can we assume from your comments that you drive at 20 mph in a 30 mph zone and have never exceeded the limit?
.Unfortunately you have missed the whole point of the article and chosen to be sanctimonious and “nit pick” what could be a very beneficial reminder and save lives in many instances!

Oh dear, Auspomm, I seem to have touched a nerve here.

1. You will note from my opening sentence that I agreed with you.

2. My comment referred to my own, personal feelings. I would be devastated if I killed a child. I would be devastated regardless of the circumstances. I would be devastated regardless of the speed limit. I would be devastated if I were doing only 10mph. In my opinion, ‘not-killing-children’ is infinitely more important than obeying speed limits and traffic regulations.

3. It seems to me self-evident that if a child was killed the speed involved was too high for that road at that time (having ruled out other factors, such as the driver not paying attention, etc). And it is perfectly valid to comment on an issue without being present – I note you, yourself, did not witness this event yet feel free to comment on it.

4. No, I do not want the red flag brought back – a spectacularly stupid comment if I may say so. In case you haven’t grasped it from my comments so far, I am a firm believer that speed needs to be appropriate for the circumstances. On a winter’s afternoon with fading light and falling snow, driving past a school at 20mph just at the end of the school day might be reckless; conversely, driving that same road at 5am on a fine, summer morning at 40mph or perhaps even 50mph is unlikely to pose a significant risk.

5. My speed in a 30mph zone varies, sometimes as high as 35mph, but sometimes as low as walking pace. It depends on the circumstances! Sadly, real world practicalities mean that speed limits have to be a compromise and a maximum; but that does not give us carte blanche to drive at those speeds and be absolved of any blame should that speed prove too high.

6. I refute that I am ‘nit picking’. I am very strongly in favour of speed limits and believe that the majority are set about right. I advocate driving within the speed limit even though I am quite prepared to admit that I do exceed it on numerous occasions. But a competent driver will recognise situations that call for a lower speed than the limit.

[This comment has been edited to remove some offensive content. Thanks, mods]

Hi Auspomm and gradivus – while we encourage lively debate, please avoid getting too personal with others and keep our commenting guidelines in mind. Thanks.

gradivas, sorry if I upset you.
In my original comment I clearly stated that the child ran out from behind a parked car and that the driver was devastated and would be for the rest of his life– his words. .
He was completely exonerated by the Police! I’m not implying that makes it alright, he is still as devastated as anyone would be.However, he said that had he been speeding, he would never know if THAT had prevented him from stopping in time! Hopefully recalling this story will make drivers think twice (as it has me) when they start to exceed the speed limit in a built up area! This was the my sole reason for repeating this article, which I emphasised by using capital letters.


Apology accepted, and in turn I apologise for my harsh response – you touched a raw nerve with me.

I did read your post carefully and, as I have said, I do agree with you. It’s just that I would go even further and remind drivers that the “right speed” is often slower than the speed limit.

You both make a good point, though. Decades of driver response testing have shown that people generally get complacent if they don’t have some kind of scare or accident, and this, coupled with our known tendency to overestimate our own skill level, underestimate the hazards and believe we’re lucky, means that the majority of drivers are way too overconfident.

This isn’t a problem until the hazards pop up, especially when they’re complex. And driving in a narrow suburban street is hazardous, especially when there a lot of parked vehicles and pedestrians about. But this is such a commonplace set of hazards, that many drivers don’t prepare for trouble, say, at school kicking-out time; instead they trust in ‘good reactions’ when – too late – they begin to respond to the wild child.

So there are two lessons here. The first, and sad one, is that it’s impossible to allow for everything, and some kids will get injured and killed every year even when the only one at fault is the child. Decades ago, my dad killed a little boy who ran out of an entryway on a quite suburban street, between the row of parked cars and under his wheels. He was crushed before my dad could even react, although he was driving slowly. My dad never got over it, despite not being to blame at all.

The second lesson is about being prepared – not really possible for the first. A few years later, I was practising for my advanced driving test. My Observer had just commented on the 40mph zone (we’d just come into a village from the country) but I’d already slowed to below 30 because there was a stationary school bus ahead on the left. So when a little girl shot out in front of me from the front of the bus, I was able to stop in (we measured the rubber trail) 10 feet. Nevertheless, she hit the bonnet hard enough to dent it with her hand and was flung away in front of us. Thankfully, she was only bruised and scraped, and later that day her mother thanked me for ‘saving her’ – I was still shaking. The road was wide, there was no other traffic and no pedestrians about. She’d rushed off the bus to collect her forgotten gym gear, and the driver didn’t quite stop her, but witnessed it all, lucky for me. Most drivers, said the bus driver, pass this waiting bus at over 40mph. At this speed, she’d have been dead.

So here are two incidents which resonate with a lot of these 200+ comments. The real point is not speed limits; it’s safe behaviour. Outside some schools with a 20 limit, there will sometimes safe driving conditions at 60mph (rare, I know). But when all the kids come piling out, even the 20mph will be too fast – common sense will have to apply. The golden rule is ‘drive slowly enough so that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear’. This makes allowance for traffic, surface, weather and observation. And to it has to be added ‘make allowances for any reasonably expectable hazard’ – like that little girl. If we all did this, the death rate on the roads would be down to a few hundred a year – about the rate on the railways, if you allow for the vastly greater road traffic. Of course, the railways only employ highly-trained and regularly tested drivers, under far more regulated conditions. This would be intolerable imposition to most drivers, who even see travelling at 80mph on a wet motorway five car lengths behind another as no hazard at all!

Seems to me from reading the latest informed comments that it will be all but impossible to square the circle of having speed limit-s (local, urban, rural, motorway) that the majority of drivers consider realistic and practical (and will therefore observe more or less) on the one hand, and on the other that will have such a margin of safety built in that incidents such as just reported can always be excluded. Golden rules are one thing, the law / Highway Code is something else. Variable speed limits may not be feasible everywhere but these do strike me as the least worst option in many places (but more tuned in to events than the majority of the motorway amber message boards that I seem to pass warning of fog in a heatwave – I exaggerate).

You’ve got it, Peter! A majority of drivers consider themselves to be fair and reasonable while actually behaving in a mildly dangerous way without realizing it. Others knowingly take risks. Add any sudden hazard to this serial bad behaviour and an incident occurs.

As road safety engineers and psychologists know well, the only way around the impasse you describe is regulation backed up by penalties which can be seen to be rational and fair. The motorway variable compulsory speed limits (upper and lower) have proved to be very effective and well-regarded in the few trials that have been done (West M25 and east M42 especially).

The overhead boards now being rolled-out on rural motorways are coupled to speed sensors under the road surface, and will, when funds allow, provide such control everywhere when conditions require it. When the system’s sensors, controls and message boards are complete, it will all be linked in the future to computer systems already being tested. These will regulate traffic speed everywhere according to conditions, and especially to keep traffic to the optimum speed while avoiding ‘concertinaing’. It will also give very prompt reaction to sudden stops in the flow (which would usually indicate an accident) before even phone calls from witnesses could confirm an incident.

The inappropriate messages we sometimes see these days on the boards are because they are currently manually controlled and mistakes do happen.

John Paine says:
28 October 2012

I wonder how many other drivers think that the variable speed limits are well regarded –

>( The motorway variable compulsory speed limits (upper and lower) have proved to be very effective and well-regarded in the few trials that have been done (West M25 and east M42)

I ask this in all seriousness because on the occaisions I have been on the M25 or other roads with Illuminated Speed Warning Signs – during which I have usually been travelling at the permitted speed limit – When I slow down to observe the new Speed Limit – I think its fair to say that at least 99% of the traffic flow I was travelling in – just continue past me as if they hadn’t noticed the signs. I’ve also had some difficulty in seeing where the Speed Limits have been relaxed again – and its only after driving for quite some distance ( while being overtaken ) that I begin to suspect that it might be OK to speed up again.

John, we’re not talking here about advisory limits, but compulsory – with speed detection, fines and points. It’s only in a few places so far, usually lengths of a few tens of miles and with overhead gantry signs and a separate speed limit for each lane. What makes the difference (and that polled drivers like) is that ‘batching’ drivers at a speed results for them in a smooth drive, no stop-start or worse and clearly better fuel use. It’s also a lot less stressful.

I can see in future that this system now in limited trial will couple in future with on-board electronics, ABS + traction control and radar, so that trains of self-driving cars can be set up. This will give the best experience possible – and the safest – at the speed the driver chooses, which couples with fuel performance. So you can still choose either to be in a hurry or to save money, and keep the manual-control driving and nervous tension for smaller roads. Maybe in 10 years?

I did say “the least worst option” in practical terms. Any improvements? Surprisingly throughout all the corresp I can’t remember reading any ref to the dreaded SPECS which I myself regard as being very effective for very limited but not widespread applications (no substitute for a rethink over speed limits). Even with these also there are some folk who seem to be able to bomb through as if they weren’t there – I could never fathom out the secret other than by using stealth technology.

Peter, I see electronic (under-surface anonymous rather than SPECS) monitoring of speeds with compulsory control as the way forward on any crowded motorway (or major urban road). When it’s in use in the trials, drivers polled like it and it gets the most cars past any point in the shortest time, without incident or stress. Isn’t that a win-win situation, rather than a least worse scenario?

Of course, for some kinds of driver, the dream is of using police ‘blues and twos’ to bully your way past all other traffic, and some may be dreaming of Grand Theft Auto as they drive. My dream is never to come near any of them!

Just thought, Peter. As I’ve heard it, drivers who know the local SPECS system well can beat it by turning off before the second monitor, so they never get a speed check. So I guess locals who intend just this can race through the system and vanish into a side road. Luckily, there are other ways to catch them.

Miles Dexter says:
28 October 2012

What a clot gravidus is, enforcement too much for the public purse, get hold of companies like star bucks amazon etc who evade paying British taxes when they make million upon millions of pounds profit as all American companies do screwing the British via our light regulation trough for them to feed In, when people are slautered on a daily bais on our roads by sycophantic Jeremy clarkso wanna be’s, also another good starting point would be to end our military machine along with the yanks killing thousands in other countries, take away their war chest and spend it on persecuting these idiots (pre meditated killers) running riot on our roads wth absolute impunity because the police are not doing thier job, and just producing comforting sound bites with their media mates. Sometimes you have To have a perspective which goes beyond your garden fence!

Hello Miles, please stay away from making personal statements about other commenters. Have a read of our Commenting Guidelines for more info.

Reply to Peter: While my head says that SPECS or something electronically similar could be the totally rational way to control movements, my heart and I suspect many others’ would see this as too much like Big Brother if deployed other than in particular black spots. This is arguably at the root of the whole speed limit revision debate.
Passing thought: what use is a speed restriction of say 50 mph to me if I am stuck in a queue @ 20 mph?

No Safe Speed

When I read [FT mag – Why aren’t we doing the maths?- see ‘timharford.com’] that Doctors cannot do the maths and worse that 1 in 4 LMPs cannot give the probability of getting two heads when tossing a coin twice; it confirms to me that a humans head is generally unable to assess the risks involved when moving greater than at about 12 miles an hour [ running speed] especially given that it has not evolved to do so. [Ancestor homo erectus ran over 4 million years ago; but humans only domesticated the horse only around 4 thousand years ago. From bicycle to brash BMW has taken around four generations, less for most]

You might like to think about the risks being taken and test your heads reaction times for all the drivers here:


and here:


Not enough reaction time for any driver is there? Therefore they are all driving too fast i.e over 12 miles per hour!

Vehicles kill about 7 people a day on the roads in the UK from idiots at the wheel -all of us – to those on road crossings to cyclists on footways and mums with kids etc.

7 heads cease to function at all because 7 heads had not evolved to function and in any event probably could not do the maths and did not understand the risks.

Not heart, head; car insurance, emotions are controllable chemical reactions in the brains. All road users have a right to know the risk surely.

Humans may never overcome stupidity and carelessness [not least that of politicians], but universal knowledge would surely make a difference.

No Safe Speed; but dead slow is safer and better than dead moms and toddlers!

Dear ‘Which’,

Surely ‘Which’ has a duty to advise all consumers about the risks of using the road especially regarding the problem the human head has with the safe speed of moving vehicles; [after all ‘Which’ was born, so to speak, in a garage]. All road consumers have a legal human right to know
the risk. ‘Which’ has a duty to inform; surely you will agree. Does not ‘Which’ also have a duty to press media like the BBC to bring us proper news that warns of danger. Once jungle drums warned us if there was a lion about, now twenty million killers in our midst killing 8 a day
are virtually ignored; replaced by items like ‘what the queens daughter in law is wearing’ or ‘the american weather’.

I would appreciate it if you will answer my earlier post query from 2 September 2012 at 5:03 pm; reiterated by email 5 September.

Will you do your duty ‘Which’?



Sobering videos to watch, certainly. But both were caused by driver gross error. And luckily, such accidents are very rare, which is why they get on youtube. The one in the snow brought nasty memories back to me, as I was following a driver about 25 years ago who did exactly the same – tried to pull out to overtake, forgetting that slush gives no grip. That car spun into a ditch and overturned, and I was able to rescue the two reps in it. Lucky that the road was clear except for the three vehicles.

What this is telling us has been said again and again in these comments. Drivers tend to overestimate their own skills, capabilities and knowledge. The answer is further training, but the average driver, let alone crass idiots, is highly resistant to spending any time or money on this, quite apart from the ‘pride in skill’ that prevents them from admitting that they need any help at all.

The risks are always there, but people do seem to have difficulty grasping them – just as the chance of a lottery win is only dimly understood. Caution should be the watchword, but – as you say – emotion often overcomes it.

And Which? has always, right from the beginning, been in the forefront of making the risks better known. Thinking back three decades or so, who’d have known that so many drivers died in frontal crashes from a steering wheel hub stuck through the chest? It took Which? to make it public and campaign to have effective fixes on all cars. And so on. Thank you, Which?


Anyone who still thinks raising the motorway limit to 80 is a bright idea should watch this and the follow up:


Two of the BBCs correct but inadequate rare outings on the topic.

Clearly raising any speed limit will result in more deaths and serious injuries of Moms toddlers et al.

Six road fatalities near my home in three accidents this year in a population of under 100k – one a cyclist on the footpath killed by a car. Check out those by you – one fatal per 25k population per annum is about the norm. All because of one common factor – vehicles travelling too fast i. e. at killing speed.

Don’t forget, faster on motorways translates to faster on non motorways!

Surely any video of any fatal or serious accident should be very sobering !

Fatal accidents are not rare events by any standard!

There are well over million a year, every year! All related to vehicle speed, see:

Most car safety improvements and those to road safety came from Europe, America, the car industry and the Department of Transport / TRRL. I am not convinced other organisations like RoSPA and especially Brake RAC AA which have added anything much bar hot air.

Dear Which,

Can I now presume that you will not answer my earlier question. ‘Which’ clearly has a pro mad motorist agenda [indicated by dint of this pro higher speed survey, and pro best [killing]car promotion which is against all that humane reason should wish to put right]. And, that you do not concern yourself with or even believe the ‘accident holocaust’ for road consumers ? No offence but doesn’t that make ‘Which’ mistakenly surely, pro ‘protocols of’ – ‘HenryFord’ a father of this misery, and in any case anti road consumers safety?



I feel that PB’s “PROTOCOLS” makes a number of potentially simplistic assumptions and generalisations each of which would need to be tested, but which I will avoid listing now for fear of repeating what has already been discussed. There is a danger that the discussion has now “matured” to the point where little new can be added and with few exceptions the arguments just get recycled!