/ 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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Enforce speed limits like mad!! Everywhere!! Would cut down that awful CO2 some people think is a pollutant.

It is strange but when there are average speed cameras operating the traffic seems to flow quite nicely usually. But there are always idiots who don’t care about other people or the law.

And in Germany half the autobahns have a speed limit of 130k and the police used to hand out huge fines to those who exceeded the speed limit excessively.


Quote: “Modern cars are more than capable of cruising quietly and safely at 80-90mph and above.”

Very true. Cars have improved enormously in the last 40 years. Sadly, drivers haven’t.

Vision, reflexes, ability to concentrate for long periods of time, etc. are exactly the same as 40 years ago, and 40 years before that. And remember it isn’t only YOUR reflexes that matter.

Traffic has increased enormously, and (anecdotally) distractions, frustration, aggressiveness and impatience have all increased.

I’ve driven high powered BMWs and Volvos on unrestricted German roads at speeds up to 140mph. Believe me, it’s absolutely terrifying and I don’t think any sane person would argue that it’s safe. Oh, and you wouldn’t believe what it does to your fuel consumption.


Cars might have got safer and more capable, but humans haven’t. The law is now 70 and most people think 80-90 is acceptable. Make it 80 and people will be justifying 100 mph.

Higher speeds are bad for road safety, its bad for those that those that don’t want to drive at high speeds being ‘bullied along’ by speed freaks, its bad for the environment and it raises stress in the driver.

70 mph is the MAXIMUM speed in perfect conditions, that means daylight, dry, low levels of traffic, adequate stopping distances and a car in perfect condition, correctly maintained with properly inflated tyres.

Yet when its heavy rain, poor visibility, night time etc people still drive like too fast, too close and wrongly anticipate what others are going to do.

Very few drivers lift their vision to look far enough ahead to properly ‘read the road’ and make good decisions to keep things flowing smoothly. This is why we get sudden tailbacks, because a bad driver has read the road wrong, suddenly had to break hard and caused a knock on affect. This doesn’t happen in places where the speed limit is lower. Actually lowering the speed limit to 60 mph creates a smoother, more consistent drive and a lot less stressful journey.

What happens on the M25 with variable and mostly lower speed limits from 40 mph, to create this smoothing effect should be used more often country wide.

Keep 70 the maximum and enforce it better.

Pops68 says:
6 November 2010

I think the time has come to actually lower the speed limit to 60, both to reduce the environmental impact and also to keep a better flow of traffic. But I also feel it’s right to increase the minimum speed from 40 to 50.

However, I also believe in stricter enforcement of traffic regulations, and stopping people cruising in the middle and outside lanes would help the general flow, and also improve road safety.


I know we all want to get from A to B as quickly as possible. However we also want to get to our destination safely and with as little stress as possible.
The inside lane is the least stressful but you must be prepared to keep your speed to 56mph along with the HGVs.
Going up a stress level increase your speed to 70mph. Unless you are a middle lane hogger you have to read well ahead to safely move from the inside lane to overtake the HGVs . Contrary to an earlier comment, moving at the legal limit I find 80% of the traffic still overtakes me.
The top stress level is driving over 70mph. Not only are you increasing your own danger but everyone else’s as well. You considerably increase your mpg and have to keep a wary eye on speed cops and cameras on motorway bridges.
Keep the 70mph limit.


Well said

Gold star

Paul says:
8 November 2010

While our cars have become more capable at speed since the 70mph limit was introduced, our roads have become much more congested and we have become more concerned about the environment. I think these factors have about cancelled each other out and 70mph still seems about right. Our roads are amongst the safest in the world, and certainly much safer than German or French roads. Perhaps the 70mph limit has something to do with this. I would be very surprised if increasing the limit did not increase fatalities, and there is no doubt at all that it would increase CO2 emissions. Currently all cars can cruise at 70mph, so speed differentials are minimal but would definitely increase if the limit were to rise substantially. It’s not the 70mph limit that is to blame for excessive and unpredictable journey times – it’s the congestion. Tackle that.

Malcolm M says:
9 November 2010

Although the 70 mph speed limit was introduced when most cars would barely get above this speed, there were also many fewer cars on the roads. On two lane motorways there would be too high a speed difference between the lanes for safety if the upper speed was increased.
If there was a Minimum as well as a Maximum speed limit on each lane this would perhaps reduce the speed difference and have the benefit of geting the “middle lane regardless of speed” drivers over to the appropriate lane.
Does 50 to 70 for the nearside lane, 60 to 80 for the second lane and 80 to 100 only if there is a third lane, sound appropriate?