/ Motoring

Do we need a minimum speed limit on our roads?

Cartoon of a snail on wheels

There’s been a lot of talk about raising the speed limit on the motorway to 80mph, but I’m more interested in your thoughts on raising the limit from the bottom instead of the top. Time for a minimum speed limit?

It emerged a couple of weeks ago that the government plans to radically overhaul Britain’s road regulations, expanding the number of 20mph zones in cities and towns, but also increasing the motorway speed limit from 70 to 80mph.

It’s certainly a subject that has got you talking here on Which? Conversation, but it was a more recent headline grabber that got me thinking about the opposite end of the spectrum.

Excessively slow travelling vehicles can be a hazard

Last Friday I read the report about Caroline Turner, a 76-year old Great Grandmother from Romford who led police on a 27-mile “chase” at 10mph through Essex.

The pensioner, who had reportedly driven the wrong way round a roundabout, was finally stopped by a police officer on the A12 who was RUNNING alongside her car, on a dual carriageway!

This is clearly an extreme case, but there’s no doubt that excessively slow travelling vehicles can be a hazard on the road.

Substantially slower-travelling cars disrupt the flow of traffic on motorways, creating long tailbacks as freight vehicles attempt to overtake, and easily catching drivers out who don’t expect to emerge behind another car travelling 20 or 30mph slower than the maximum limit.

And slow-moving motors become even more dangerous away from the motorway, on open roads that have the national speed limit of 60mph.

There’s no question that being stuck behind someone on a clear piece of road travelling at 30 or 40mph is frustrating (in fact, driving too slowly currently has 7% of the votes in our poll of biggest pet hates about other drivers), but this can sometimes lead to drivers attempting dangerous overtakes as their patience wears thin.

Could a minimum speed limit be policed?

The fundamental problem with the idea is that policing a minimum speed limit would be difficult. There are always going to be exemptions to the rule of travelling at a minimum speed: car issues, like slow punctures and activated limp modes; onboard issues, like a passenger feeling sick or a pet onboard; and condition issues, like driving slower due to fog or ice.

There’s also a case for motorists to drive at a speed that they feel comfortable and safe at, and it’s fair to say that not all drivers share the same confidence levels.

But sometimes, especially when sat in the fast lane of a motorway behind a 20-car long queue all stranded behind a lorry overtaking a family hatchback, I do wonder if there needs to be more emphasis on the importance of driving at a respectable speed, especially as it can be a case of road safety for the slow driver and their passengers and other road users around them.

Does slow moving traffic grate on you? And do you think there should be increased education about travelling at adequate and safe speeds?


Absolutely not! When will we recognise that legislation and street furniture are not substitutes for a lack of proper driver training or even the downright inability to operate a motor vehicle to a high standard of safety?

Slow, danger, speed limit, bend ahead … and now speed up? These are irrelevances to anyone who has taken and passed advanced driver training. We understand the importance of reading the road, driving at a speed commensurate with the CURRENT road and weather conditions. We are also taught to make progress, so as not to impede other road users. We do this irrespective of whether the highway authority has decided to erect yet another sign or paint more road markings.

Just as the current debate about keeping/increasing the motorway speed limit results in some idiot thinking they can ALWAYS drive at 70/80mph, so a minimum speed limit will cause even more driving-by-numbers collisions.

Drivers always need to be on the look out for hazards – the broken down vehicle, the stray animal or child. So better driver education and higher test standards, yes. But a minimum speed limit protects no one.

Keith says:
14 October 2011

what about all the nice people in the outside lane on the motorway when the first two lanes are empty dont you just love them NOT


I often notice people drive at 45-50 mph on a road with a maximum of 60mph. They then come to a change where the limit is 30mph, —- and continue at their previous speed.

Colin says:
14 October 2011

I can certainly agree with this. It is extremely annoying in a 40mph zone when other users drive at 30mph and like you I have even seen them speed up to what must have been 40mph when we reached the 30mph zone.

I can’t see the point in even trying to police this as you can’t control bad driving.

Irishregulus says:
7 February 2015

Ahhh…mate, this really bugs me too…as one would initially think that their slow driving on the highway was due to being careful..but his proves their simple inconsideration for everyone else on the road. They’ve got their “speed” and to the seven hells with the rest of us. I’m often stuck behind one of these forcing me to contsatnly shift between 4th and 5th, no doubt using more fuel, trying to anticipate when they’ll slow down next, cos it’s sometimes so random..then they acceralte on the only stretch of road you could pass on…lol…Then there’s a big old hardshoulder and 10 cars behind them…you’d think they’d get the hint and move over…I’ve done it on ocassion when I really had to drive slowly…think it proves how oblivious some folks are on the road..don’t want to point fingers (but I will) I think it’s mainly old folk…and THAT does worry me, as I think they’re more dangerous on the roads than any boy racer – the latter often suffers from very poor judgement BUT very good driving skills.

Robert says:
14 October 2011

Before we increase the motorway limit for cars to 80moh we need to review HGV speed limits. The limit of 40 mph on single carriageway roads and 56mph on dual carriageways was set when truck safety standards were much lower than today. Many HGVs ignore the 40 limit on single carriageways, but those that do observe it invariably have a long tail of frustrated drivers behind them. Increasing the limit for HGVs would also increase productivity of our road transport system with shorter journey times.


Agreed, we surely have the technology now to figure out when a truck is on a motorway. Realistically a truck can do 56mph in a 30mph limit with this outdated technology.

Work with TomTom or someone similar to provide road information to the limiter and adjust accordingly.

Phil says:
14 October 2011

“…when sat in the fast lane of a motorway behind a 20-car long queue all stranded behind a lorry overtaking a family hatchback..”

1. There is no such thing as a “fast lane” on any British motorway.

2. There is an outside lane but speed restricted vehicles or those over 3.5 tonnes are not permitted to use it so your scenario is already illegal.

As someone paid to write about motoring I’d expect you to know this. As for a minimum speed are you really being serious? I can’t think of many things more dangerous than forcing somebody to drive at a speed faster than that at which they feel safe or competent. As you say there are a many reasons why a driver would choose or be forced to drive slowly (you left out running low on petrol or having the space saver fitted) and it’s not they who are dangerous but the impatient drivers who overtake where they shouldn’t.


Hi Phil, just a note – as with other Conversations, this is just a to