/ Motoring

It’s about time we threw out the 70mph speed limit

UK motorway

What do you consider to be a normal and safe speed on the motorway? Let’s face it, many of us don’t stick to 70mph – so why are we stuck with a limit that’s out-of-touch with reality?

Have you ever tried to drive along a busy motorway at the legal limit? If you have, you’ve no doubt felt intimidated by the hordes of other drivers thrashing past. All within a few inches of your car’s bodywork, over- and undertaking – in an effort to complete their journey without being held up.

Time to update our speed limits

A quick straw poll of drivers in our office demonstrated that 80mph is considered the ‘normal’, safe speed on the motorway. Ok, it’s hardly the robust research Which? is renowned for, but it does show that the legal limit of 70mph is archaic to many.

After all, this limit was introduced more than 40 years ago when most vehicles would hardly have been able to exceed it anyway. Modern cars are more than capable of cruising quietly and safely at 80-90mph and above. And most smaller-engined motors can exceed 120mph, while larger ones often have their limit capped at 155mph.

So why – when the road and weather conditions are right – shouldn’t we be allowed to make use of this performance? I’m not advocating that we all drive at 150mph all the time, but surely 80-90mph is perfectly acceptable on uncrowded motorways in good weather.

Europe is leading the way

Having driven fairly frequently in mainland Europe over the past few years, I wonder why we don’t adopt a more sensible approach, such as that taken by Germany.

There, the limit ranges from none to below 80kmh depending on the prevalent weather and traffic conditions – and when a limit is in place it’s rigorously enforced. This means you’re free to put your foot down on open stretches, but must keep to a sensible pace when it’s necessary for safety.

This seems the sensible solution to me. Well-considered speed limits – higher and lower than 70mph – would produce a big improvement in road safety. If you’ve ever been driving in torrential rain and been overtaken by some manic doing 100mph who can’t possibly see where they’re going, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.

It brings to mind a very sound comment once made to me by an advanced driving instructor: ‘It’s not speed that kills, it’s inappropriate speed.’

Do you think we should change the 70mph motorway limit?

There should be varied limits according to conditions (41%, 331 Votes)

Yes, it should be higher (39%, 319 Votes)

No, it's right as it is (20%, 164 Votes)

Total Voters: 814

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It does not matter what speed you do – there’s always some fool prepared to roar past you in their (often company) Audi or BMW to gain 30 metres of space and it always seem to be those drivers!

Anon says:
2 November 2010

I disagree, 70mph and below is a perfectly adequate speed as the majority of cars are built with doing 70mph in mind; even 6 speed cars.

You’re forgetting the cause of accidents, it’s not speed, it’s speed differential. If you up the limit to 90mph; lorries, busses and slow moving vehicles that are uncomfortable above 60 or 70 mph will now be travelling up to 30mph slower than those doing the new speed limit. This closing speed is what causes accidents.

I rarely drive above 70mph and I rarely ever see other cars ‘thrashing past’ or ‘inches from my body work’. You do get the odd speed demon but I quite regularly find myself in the middle lane overtaking a lot of other vehicles whilst maintaing 70mph on cruise control.

Martin says:
2 November 2010

Surely our priority is to reduce CO2 emissions. See what your fuel consumption does above 60, let alone 70. If we could maintain a better average speed; in other words speed up the slower bits of our journey, we would use less fuel still and get to our destination quicker than if we raised the 70mph limit.


Never mind CO2 emissions, since there is plenty of dispute over their significance. What is clear is that we are going to run out of oil and that the price of fuel will continue to rise.

Anyone with a fuel consumption indicator will be able to confirm what you say about the effect of speed, Martin.


I still thing we should stick to 70mph, for our own safety and our children safety also. If we didn’t had any law, we will be leaving in a jungle.

Steve says:
2 November 2010

Speeding is an anti-social criminal activity. The law is the law and should be obeyed; personally I would like to see habitual speeders given ASBO’s. Whatever the current speed limit, there will always be idiots who try to push it, so raising it to 80mph wouldn’t help much – pretty soon these selfish drivers would be saying the same thing they said about 70mph: modern cars can do 100 with no problems, so why not raise it? The speed limit is there for several reasons, including: to help reduce the consequences of accidents at speed and to keep down fuel consumption a bit. The speed limit is always going to be a compromise: too low and journeys would take too long; too high and more people would die.

It amazes me that a deputy editor of a respected organisation that pushes for more safety in the roads should put forward the idea that increasing the speed limit would be a good thing because we all exceed it anyway. That’s sheep mentality, not the research-based approach that I would expect from Which? It’s not even true – we don’t all do it.

Nick says:
5 December 2010

Did you know that only 5.6% of accidents (UK Government figures) occur in excess of the speed limit?

Focus on speeding will never address road safety issues. Its about driver skills, awareness and lack of distraction.

Until people understand this they will keep pressurising for lower speed limits and more cameras whilst people get killed unnecessarily.

Train people to drive
Re-test driving skills
Enforce driving standards (not the same as speeding)
Take unsafe drivers off the road

Phil says:
2 November 2010

I think Claire has answered her own question, it’s not the capability of the cars that matters but the capability of the drivers and many aren’t safe at 50 mph let alone 80. Raise speed limits on motorways and the speeds will increase to a bit more. Limits are best left where they are especially whilst cars have to share motorways with slow moving lorries (56 mph) and coaches (62 mph).