/ 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 topic for debate and we have changed the title to a question to better reflect that. Rob is not necessarily saying we need a minimum speed limit, as he writes about problems with introducing such a law:

“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.”


Yet another “speed kills advocate”……

Actually, having slow moving traffic (40 – 50 mph) on a motorway is less safe than forcing them to keep a decent speed. They are mobile chicanes and congestion causers because everyone has to slow down to their speed, causing more concertina effects similarly caused by cruise controllers.

There are so many people on the motorway who really shouldn’t be there, if you want to dawdle along at 40 – 50 mph, use the A road and NOT the motorway. If you are too scared to go any faster then you shouldn’t be on the motorway in the first place.

Why should roads be modified to support the lowest common denominator? 40 – 50 is just too slow and causes more problems than it solves. Besides, if you enter the motorway knowing that you could run out of petrol, that is actually an offence.

And if you are going to be pedantic, at least learn to understand what the writer is saying.
ie. 1. There is no such thing as a “fast lane” on any British motorway. – this is a common colloquialism and used as short-hand
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. – actually the writer was referring to the slow driver in the left hand lane, forcing the lorry to move into the middle lane, and forcing everyone else into the fast lane (or the outside lane for the pedants)

So it’s best to actually understand what is being said before responding so piously….

Phil says:
14 October 2011

1. There is no such thing as a “fast lane” on any British motorway. – this is a common colloquialism … and also wrong.

“..actually the writer was referring to the slow driver in the left hand lane, forcing the lorry to move into the middle lane, and forcing everyone else into the fast lane (or the outside lane for the pedants)” He writes of being stuck behind a 20 car long queue behind a lorry overtaking. The clear inference is that the lorry is in the outside lane; where it has no business to be. I see no reference to vehicles being “forced” out of other lanes.

We aren’t just talking about motorways.

Rob:- I don’t think I ever have seen an HGV in the outside lane of a motorway, dual carriageways yes but then if they’re prepared to break that law will they not also ignore a minimum speed limit? The only minimum speed limit I can remember was imposed on the M4 near Heathrow to discourage plane spotters. It was 30 mph but I it was removed some years ago.

I agree with Phil’s very sensible comments.

Omahn says:
14 October 2011

If a driver doesn’t feel confident driving at the speed limit on a well maintained road in good conditions then they shouldn’t be driving at all.

The snag is that far far too many drivers FEEL confident but do not have the driving skills to support that confidence.- the reason for many crashes.

Any form of driving test only tests the driving ability on that particular day.- far too many “qualified” drivers do not drive to the standard they exhibited during their test.- they are irresponsible and reckless.

We should have an annual driving test – and – an on-board video monitoring system in each vehicle – just like they have in aircraft. This should inhibit bad driving the cause of many crashes.

But considering we have over one million illegal drivers – driving without insurance – I won’t hold my breath.

John says:
21 October 2011

You do understand that it is called a “speed limit” right?
That means its the maximum speed that you are legally allowed to go on that stretch of road and in no way a minimum speed.

I do kind of see your point, but I think you’ve explained it badly…

Omahn’s post takes no account of road conditions that may make it unsafe to drive at the speed limit: bends and other hazards, some of which may be unexpected.

You should always drive at a speed that is safe.

I agree with John.

A common sight, when we had a construction industry, was that of the JCB-3C etc driving along a dual carriageway between 6:30 and 8:00 AM obviously heading off to his / her next job. During BST this is not too much of a problem but during winter time it can cause serious problems. In peak hours that type of traffic ought to be using A-roads.
In Thailand the expressways are off limits to slow-moving vehicles of any kind until after 9:00AM, thereby allowing faster (!) commuter traffic to get to its destination quickly and relatively safely.
I’d support any similar moves in the UK.

Robert says:
14 October 2011

As Rob says there are too many reasons why traffic will have to legitimately drive slower than any minimum limit. It may even be dangerous on our congested roads. Most drivers already drive too close to the car in front, and in heavy traffic would be inclined to try to keep up to the minimum at the expense of safety.

My point above about truck limits is that this is a major cause of traffic queues. Speed up trucks and all three lanes will move faster. Yes, there will always be some slow moving traffic, but much less of it!

Another reason to review lorry speed limits is the problem on 2 lane dual carriageways (such as A14 and much of the A1) where there is no third lane. Lorries pull out to overtake another lorry (or sometimes several others) at a very small differential speed. Everything is slowed up behind the overtaking truck for however long it takes for him to get past at 0.5mph speed difference, which can be several miles, especially if the incline changes and the overtaken truck has a different speed limiter characteristic.

By the way Rob, the policeman who finally pulled the granny over by running alongside her was able to do so because police cars had boxed her in and slowed her to almost walking pace, but she still would not stop. Although she had been driving at about 40 mph on a dual carriageway, apparently their main reason to stop her was that she had gone the wrong way off a roundabout into the opposing carriageway.

David says:
14 October 2011

It is an everyday scenario on single carriageway A roads, even when conditions are clear with good visibilty ahead, of convoys of traffic driving at typically 40-50mph because the vehicle in front is not driving at the permitted speed of 60mph. There are many reasons for this including vehicles which have a lower speed limit than that of the road. There are, however, many car drivers who seemingly please themselves. This causes delays and extended journey times to all following motorists and leads to frustration and high risk overtaking.

Rule 169 in the Highway Code stipulates that drivers of slow-moving vehicles must not hold up traffic, check mirrors frequently and pull in where it is safe to let traffic pass. Alas no definition is given ‘slow-moving’ and I reckon many slow drivers are unaware of this rule or believe that it only applies to farm tractors! Hence something much stronger than Rule 169 is needed to encourage drivers, whenever it is safe to do so, and when there is following traffic, to drive as close as possible to the permitted road speed.

Beresford Catkins says:
14 October 2011

A minimum speed limit would be impossible to enforce.

All drivers should be capable of driving safely at the speed limit on a given road notwithstanding mitigating factors such as, road condition, weather, running with a spacesaver spare etc. But that doesn’t mean they have to be driving at the speed limit all the time. Driving a car isn’t always about getting to your destination as quickly as possible, sometimes you want to enjoy the journey. However all drivers have a duty of care to themselves, their passengers and other road users. So if someone is driving significantly below the speed limit and a faster driver comes up behind they should make every attempt to facilitate the safe passing of the faster car.
Legislation won’t change driving behaviour, making the driving test pass standard that of the advanced test will.

Jimmyloon says:
14 October 2011

As I recall , a minimum speed limit is nothing new.When I passed my test in 1970 it was 40mph or 30 mph on motorways dependant upon the signs.For example a 30mph sign similer to max speed limit sign but in blue with white lettering meant you must not drive less than 30mph and they were placed at or near the 70mph signs as you entered the motorway. There was often also a plate informing anything with a max design speed of 30mph ie tractors , mopeds etc. they must not use the motorway. Whatever happend to the minumum speed signs and can anybody tell me if there is still the minmum speed limit on motorways ?

Robert says:
14 October 2011

The full highway code is available on line at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_070202 . There is indeed a minimum speed limit sign (white figures on a blue circular background) in the code. There is not, and never has been, any minimum generally in place on motorways or any other roads – hence the discussion started by Rob Hull. There may be some localised places where they do not want people to go slowly for some specific reason and a minimum speed limit is in place. Maybe a more informed reader can enlighten us on that.

Robert says:
14 October 2011

PS In response to my own question about localised use of minimum speed limits for specific reasons, I’ve just seen that Phil above told us that the M4 near Heathrow had a minimum speed limit at one time, but not now. I thought I remembered a minimum in force somewhere specific! There may be a few others.

jim hassett says:
14 October 2011

I have lived in Cyprus (Part of the E.U.) for over 20 years & they have a min & max speed limit on motorways!
The signs have 100 KPH on the top half, & 60 KPH on the bottom! Simple.

Absolutely NOT

It will then be an offence to stop or slow down for any reason – Total rubbish

I’m fairly sure that keeping a safe distance (and other safety reasons) would be allowed to override the requirement for a minimum speed in such circumstances. Just as it is not illegal today to stop on a double yellow if you’ve got a flat tyre.

The issue is not about excessive or insufficient speed as such but about *impatience*. Before we even think about increasing any speed limit, more must be done to re-install the much more mature driving *culture* that characterised British motoring just a few decades ago. The increasing infantilisation that has come to taitn so much of the ‘great’ British public’s everyday behaviour in so many contexts is what needs addressing first. In Germany, where cars may drive at much higher speeds than are legal here, most motorists do so much more safely, with much more self-control, and with much more tolerance of and ability to adjust to other people’s behaviour. In the USA where motorway speed limits may be considerably lower than here in the UK, most people accept and comply with maturity to be expected of grown men and women. The facile and infantile thinking of too many UK legislators and members of the public at the current time is shameful.

I blame the three stooges of Top Gear. ^_^

I don’t think it’s their fault. I see Top Gear as a themed comedy show, and the presenters excel at that. The problem is that too many people take them seriously and literally.

I travel on motorways quite a lot and I’ve seen at least three incidents where an HGV has gone into the far right lane. Every one had EU registrations too, but that’s for another thread to debate. I’d like to highlight that nowhere in the highway code that I can see does it say one can NOT pass a slower vehicle on the left “if the right lanes are blocked, or congested, and it is safe to do so.” I find more annoying the person doing under 70 in the middle, or far right lane when the left lane is mostly clear and hardly anyone is on the far right in front of them as everyone else is tail backed behind them, then when I pass them they flash there lights at me like I’m doing something wrong.

Phil says:
20 October 2011

Rule 268:-

“Do not overtake on the left or move to a lane on your left to overtake. In congested conditions, where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds, traffic in left-hand lanes may sometimes be moving faster than traffic to the right. In these conditions you may keep up with the traffic in your lane even if this means passing traffic in the lane to your right. Do not weave in and out of lanes to overtake.”

Keith says:
21 October 2011

On A roads with slight bends I am amused at the number of times drivers brake when at speeds of around 40/45mph. They must go through brake pads quite quickly! I keep myself occupied as to the number of times they break to mine. The best score so far is 20-0. Can anyone beat that?

As a car driver I would agree..but I have just recently started riding motorcycles. It may be a confidence thing for some, but you are taught to slow before corners…go in like a mouse and out like a lion..else if you go in like a lion , you will come out like a mouse..no protective cage around the rider 🙂 I am on a 125cc at present (Learner) and even on A and B roads the inconsideration of others road users beggars belief.

I don’t think a minimum speed limit is practical on any road other than motorways, but educating people about the problems of driving excessively slowly should be part of training. I support ten-yearly compulsory assessment and training. I tell my wife I hope that when I’m an old and slow driver I’ll have sufficient consideration for other road users to pull over frequently on single carriageway roads to let people past.

Robert says:
22 October 2011

Pulling over to let faster drivers past is common in Oz and NZ, It would be great if it were done here. Again I say, lorry speed limits need increasing – 40 mph on single carriageway roads guarantees queues and frustration – and I have never, ever, seen a lorry pull over to let the queue past. Have any of you?

Other countries can provide some good ideas.
In Washington (state) it can be illegal on certain roads (and people do get “pulled over” for it) to back up a queue of traffic with more than 5 vehicles when you have a gap in front.
Even on a two lane highway you have to pull into the next available pull off to allow them to pass.

If driving in a right hand lane with a queue of traffic were considered careless – and police were advised to take action by either stopping and giving advice or taking registration and posting advice, the issue would soon go away.

Why should someone be forced to drive faster than is safe? Particularly on a two-lane highway, what is the problem? Traffic can overtake.