/ 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).

If we keep our braking distance with front of your car , we will see minimum accident but some people drive their car like race and bumper to bumper, and without giving indicator and keep lights off in dark and rainy days.This people causes many accident and gives their misery to the safe driver.Their licence to be taken away by DVLA as they breaking the highway code.We have seen that many new drivers ignoring highway code after passing their test. The dangerous disease spreading is not to give indicator. Everyone is driving above 70 mph so what is credibility of Highway code? Highway petrol car enjoys their above 70mph speed !…Stick with 70 mph, If you allow them to drive 80mph, they will drive 90mph. It will bring More accident,more misery, and more insurance claim .So stick to the limit

“Let’s face it, many of us don’t stick to 70mph”
Yes, but just because we all do it doesn’t mean it’s right, does it?

Spending a fair amount of my spare time in big white vehicles with blue flashing lights and sirens – and hanging out with people who drive them with the flashy lights & sirens going – you hear a lot about people who can’t handle their vehicles at the best of times. And the messes they get into.

Before we could even consider upping the speed limit we need to ensure people are better able to handle their vehicles at the current limit.

*gets off high horse*

It is time to change our HIGHWAY CODE before we threw out the 70mph speed limit.
1. Keep sufficient breaking distance.
2. Keep compulsory lights on during rainy and dark days.
3. Fine the driver for not giving indicators.
4. Those who drive more than 20 mph near roundabout should be fined.
We hope which team will start new topic about what people need new changes and suggestion for Highway code..

In theory we should not need any speed limits whether on motorways or not. Drivers should be able to ***** the road, the weather, the traffic and all the other variables and adopt a safe and sensible speed to fit them. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are few drivers capable or willing to drive like this and there is little chance of there being more whilst we have the current driving test system. We need a two stage system with the current test being the first stage, P plates and various restrictions for probationary drivers, then a second test, approaching the advanced driving test level, before we can drive whatever and wherever we want. It would also help if we were prevented from using the streets as car parks!

I couldn’t agree more, Geoff.

Gold Star

Sadly there are a great number of drivers that can easily pass an “advanced” driving test on the day – but do not use those skills on the road when not being supervised.

Sadly again there are no off road parking room in many cities but especially in London – so it is very wishful thinking – unless you ban most home owners from owning a car at all. It is far more realistic to put more speed bumps down and more restrictive speed limits.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
4 November 2010

I like driving fast, or should I say, used to. Now our motorways are far too congested at the best of times and driving at speed has just become more stressful and frustrating. I’m happy to cruise along at around the speed limit, often catching up with others (yes, Audi and BMW drivers – you know who you are!) at the next traffic queue whilst I’ve had a less stressful journey and consumed far less fuel.

However, I have driven all over France, on their relatively empty, but expensive, motorways. There, you can cruise along at the speed limit of 130kph/80mph (the best autoroute journey I’ve done is the A75 down to Montpellier and over the incredible Viaduc de Millau). Maybe motorway tolls, scrapping road tax and reducing duty on fuel is the way forward.

I’ve also learned that there are some useful things you can do at a slightly slower and stress-free pace: buy a set of language CDs and listen to them whilst driving is one. Learning all the words to albums by The Kings of Leon, The Script, Mumford and Sons, and Plan B so you can sing out loud and with confidence at their next live performance is another. Having a pleasant cabin, a DAB radio and a satnav connected to a RDS/TMC receiver certainly helps!

Also, over time, I feel I’ve developed a sixth sense with my driving that often allows me to get to my destination without breaking the speed limit or by annoying other road users or breaking the law just as quickly as others who do, simply by thinking a little laterally at times. I’ve stopped sharing these tips with people because they only work the fewer that people know them!

Stephen Hoare says:
5 November 2010

You can drive legally at 80mph (130km/h) on French autoroutes and that speed feels safe and comfortable. Most German autobahns, like our motorways, are so crowded for most of the time that it’s impossible to really put your foot down. On the occasions you can, I’ve felt comfortable up to about 100mph – until a big black BMW or Merc comes up behind at an enormous speed and you have to get out of the way. I think the French have the right balance – and I think the accident statistics on German autobahns suggest that their unlimited speed isn’t great for safety.

David Moore says:
5 November 2010

I remember the ‘temporary’ 70mph speed limit being introduced – partly as a fuel saving exercise, partly because of accidents in fog (it was introduced in December) and partly because some car manufacturers were using the M1 as a test track at speeds between 150 and 200mph. It is true that in 1965 few cars could sustain speeds in excess of 70mph, and that is probably why so few people objected at the time.

My own view is that 70mph is anachronistic. Cars have evolved, braking distances in particular have significantly reduced and the handling of vehicles under heavy braking has also improved. I would welcome variable limits, with a fine weather light traffic limit of 85mph reducing dependent on traffic conditions. Of course, that latter point depends on the ability of the police/highways agency to accurately monitor conditions in a timely fashion – not always easy. Who hasn’t driven past fog signs in clear sunlight (and vice versa)?

The caveat, of course, is whether drivers can drive safely at any speed. There is a need to leave adequate space to the car ahead, to take account of road conditions, not to drive with a mobile in hand, apply makeup, eat breakfast etc. etc.

I would welcome the variable speed limit idea but I think we all need regular re-training and perhaps a test every 5-10 years. I find it hard to reconcile the fact that we are spending £billions on building those extra lanes on our motorway system when it is acceptable behaviour for many drivers to get into the ‘fast lane’ as soon as they can (and therefore clog it up) instead of adopting the ‘overtaking where appropriate’ principles as stated in the Highway Code. I am saddened by this behaviour (and other dangerous stunts) as I enjoy driving, so long as it’s safe!

We need a wide ranging review of speed limits based on SLICE (Sensible Limits, Informed, Cautioned and Enforced).
The Sensible Limit for most motorways in good weather conditions is 80mph but this should be reduced during heavy rain and poor visibility. Then we need clear signs to show what the limit is (informed), warning signs to caution drivers who are exceeding the limit and consistent enforcement.
The M25 to M3(south) junction is limited to 50mph for no obvious reason – this is NOT sensible!
But when are we going to change the driver training and testing process so that new drivers can be taught how to drive on motorways? We need a system whereby “N”ew drivers are restricted for a period after passing their practical test and during this time they must successfully complete further professionally delivered training including driving on high speed, limited access roads and driving in the dark.

Paul Greenwood says:
5 November 2010

Higher speed limits would be fine in the dry as long as something is done about the increasing number of drivers who tail gate.Tailgating and driving inappropriate to the the conditions are the dangers, not speed in itself

CrozeH says:
5 November 2010

Speed limits – what speed limits? The only ones that (other) people seem to take any notice of are those managed with cameras, whether fixed or average speed

Speed limits should be enforced and any one exceeding them by a certain amount e.g. 100mph on a motorway should have an instant one year ban with no options or arguments. They say that speed does not cause accidents, but boy an accident at high speed is most likely to cause death or serious injury. Then the road is closed for a few hours for investigations, this causes serious delays and more pollution. If speeds were kept to a much narrower band and distances between vehicle maintained roads would move along better and with a lot less stress for all.

John says:
5 November 2010

I heard a few years ago that the formal guidance issued to courts (to ensure consistency between courts in different parts of the country) was that the court MUST impose a driving ban on anyone exceeding any speed limit by 30 mph or more. I can’t remember where it came from, but I’m sure it was a ‘respectable’ source.

There are so many things that are more likely to cause accidents than higher speeds on motorways (where appropriate). How about overtaking on the wrong side (lane dodging) – we have all seen it and know how stupid it is. How about enforcing the ban on hand-held mobiles? Stupid drivers moving into the space one driver has sensibly left behind the car in front – so that everyone else has to brake, and 5 minutes later the ripple effect brings everyone a few miles back to a standstill. Driving while tired. Hogging the outside lane while driving at 70mph because ‘that’s the limit and I’m a self-appointed limit enforcer’. The list is almost endless, but too many people blame speed which generally has nothing to do with it. A lot more courtesy all round, a lot more thought and consideration.