/ Motoring

Should we speed towards a new 80mph speed limit?

So the government wants to increase the speed limit on motorways to 80mph and thinks it will ‘boost the economy’. Maybe, but how will the change affect road safety and the environment?

It seems to me this raises plenty of issues – positive and negative, so let the debate begin.

When I heard about this the cynic in me thought it must be a publicity stunt, aimed at positioning the government as ‘one of the boys’ in true Top Gear-esque fashion. Then I thought maybe they have something else they want to distract our attention from. I scanned the news but couldn’t find what it might be.

I later found out this is a full-on consultation and began considering the issues for real.

Safety standards have changed

I agree a review is probably long overdue. It’s more than 40 years since the current motorway maximum limit was introduced, and at that time most cars would have struggled to exceed it by much, if at all.

The first thing that occurred to me was the potential for this to increase the risk of crashes. Accident and injury rates have steadily declined over recent years. This is primarily due, in my view, to improvements in car technology, especially in braking systems and traction control as well as the more obvious changes to car primary and secondary safety specification.

The combination of all this means cars are better equipped to avoid crashes, and if they do have them, the occupants are better protected than they ever used to be.

Will this really be much of a change?

The second thing that struck me was that, on many motorways, there are lots of people already flouting the existing rules by travelling at speeds in excess of 70mph. They don’t all have good lane discipline, but that’s another issue!

So actually, this move just legitimises what already happens. Presumably it would thus free up police resources to focus on other illegal activities (such as poor lane discipline perhaps?).

Then there’s that all too tricky ‘green’ issue. Some may claim that speeding all the cars up will lead to more pollution. But if the cars can get there faster, they’re on the road for less time, and they’ll be pumping out noxious gases for less time.

And compare the fumes produced by cars cruising comfortably along at 80mph, with what happens if you have a similar volume of traffic, all stuck in a slow-moving queue, or worse still, at idle, pumping out gases while they wait to progress.

I’m sure there’ll be claims and counter-claims on this one and I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the truth. What I do know is that outside the offices here on Marylebone Road in London, the traffic moves very slowly and the local air pollution is among the worst in Europe.

A bitter boost for business

Finally, I thought about the arguments surrounding the time saved by people making faster journeys. This is another ‘benefit’ that’s less than easy to quantify. But I bet there are businesses out there checking how much more they can get out of an employee’s working day if they can reduce work-time journey times.

But the whole calculation could be skewed by the fact that shorter journey times will mean increased demand (more people will be prepared to travel further in the course of their business). And this might in itself contribute to additional pollution and increased road maintenance costs as ever larger traffic volumes choke the network.

Would you be happy to see the motorway limit increased? Will it really boost or economy or do you have worries about safety and the environment?


What is the basis of the assumption that the uplifting of the speed limit to 80mph would MERELY rectify a current situation and “legalise” the actions of those who currently break the law? Furthermore, how long would it take before the situation repeats itself and the next (“coalition” ? or Tory ?) government is persuaded to uplift the speed limit on motorways to 90mph?

I wonder how many of those moaing about the extra CO2 emissions go on holidays abroad. I for one don’t so feel completely happy if I can drive at 80 with extra emissions as my carbon footprint will still be less than the majority (even if they still only drive at 70).

Hugh Pritchard says:
10 October 2011

Having held a Full Driving Licence since the Tests commenced in 1935 I am of the opinion that the limit should be raised to 80 mph on Motorways BUT lane discipline should be enforced

Having driven daily for over 64 years and never had a speeding ticket – crash – or any other traffic offence – I think we should keep the speed limit at 70 mph

From what I’ve read on this forum – I really think we need more frequent tests – and CCTV or similar monitor in every car and lorry.

Roger says:
10 October 2011

Sorry chaps, you can’t legislate for common-sense, some road users would remain lethal if the man with the red flag was still required to walk in front of them.

Jo3936 says:
10 October 2011

We never drive above 70 mph and are constantly overtaken at tremendous speeds. Raising the speed limit to 80 means the law breakers will just travel at even higher speeds. Even discussing the subject is a waste of time, money and if it goes ahead a waste of good lives.

Jo3936 says:
10 October 2011

I also forgot to mention the much higher levels of pollution, both air and noise

So it seems that speed kills, except when we’re not using enough petrol and lining the coffers of the treasury.

The hypocrisy is staggering whenever there is £££££ involved

Of course the limit should not be increased and, as the writer of the article said, it is just a pathetic attempt by the Government to pander to the motoring lobby. This is of course absolutely in line with the Government’s current policy on speeding: Speed cameras and mobile camera vans painted in high vis, police with speed guns in high-vis vests; our local paper even publishes every week a list of the locations of next week’s mobile camera locations! Would you hang a big dayglow notice on your house to assist potential house breakers, “Look everybody, I am on holiday”. Why do we do this for those who are intent on breaking speeding laws?
I might change my view on the current limits if I thought no one would actaully drive at more than 80 if that were to be the limit. However, until we get serious about enforcing speed limits between the camera locations (and outlaw in-car radar dectectors as they do in France) then, no thanks – leave things as they are.

I suggest that anyone in favour of increasing the speed limit read the publication, ” In praise of Slow”!

I'm Patience says:
10 October 2011

This was a pathetically transparent attempt to gain favour with Tory activists at the party conference. Of course the speed limit shouldn’t be raised. I drive on the A1, usually at or below the speed limit (as enforced by heavy traffic). I’m frequently followed far too close behind by some eejit in a BMW or white van with an apparent wish to join me in the back seat of my car. At 80mph, that eejit’s stopping distance would be even longer. Anyone who thinks this woulnd’t harm road safety needs their head examined.

The increase to an 80 MPH limit is long overdue.
Vehicle safety and general design is so much improved since this lower than European average limit was imposed ( the 70 MPH limit was introduced due to road testing of Aston Martins and Jaguars etc and not the average speed of general traffic or accident statistics).
As an example of improved performance stopping distances for average family cars are now about half the distance of the 1970’s average.The Highway Code is very out of date.
It would however be an excellent idea to follow the French system and introduce a lower limit say 65 MPH when there it rains.

Raising the speed limit would be crazy. Yes, the cars on the roads today have better performance and braking speeds than cars built ten years ago … but that doesn’t justify raising the speed limit. Today’s drivers have not been upgraded and improved, and possibly one of the reasons why young drivers are killed on our roads each year is because they are too reliant on modern technology. Please, please, please, leave things the way they are … 70mph is fast enough.

Totally agree with Piet

From my daily journeys it is clear that drivers have not improved

Also hate to point out to Jon that French Drivers are worse than UK ones – British Roads are safer than either France or Germany – Let’s keep it that way – 70 mph is fast enough.

Increasing the motorway speed limit will just mean that those now travelling at 80 to 90 mph (who never seem to get stopped) will travel at 90 to 100 mph. I don’t believe that the time saved would really make much difference economically.
If the government really wants to make a financial difference they need to do something about roadworks on minor roads as well as motorways and the time they take to complete. These waste far more time than the current motorway speed limit. In most other countries I visit they complete roadworks far more quickly than here and I have never been to another country where they close off road completely as they now do in this country, sometimes for weeks or months. There ought to be severe financial penalties for anyone restricting road access for any length of time.

I agree with your assumption that the decrease in injuries and accidents has mostly been through improvements in car technology. What I remember of the sixties when I first started to drive were cars with slack steering response and feedback, spongy brakes that faded and often pulled to one side, poor visibility (screen washers and heated rear screens were not standard), (pre-Halogen) incandescent lights and terrible handling usually on cross-ply tyres.

Safety-wise, modern cars are transformed. Crumple zones, side safety bars, great lights, quick clear windscreens, headlight washers, ABS, ESP, etc. There just isn’t any comparison.

Even the green brigade have much to shout about.I It doesn’t seem all that long ago that you kept your distance from the car in front to stop being poisoned by all the smelly pollutants being sucked in through your heating system.

So we should be relaxed about the proposed 80 mph speed limit. It is only on motorways and delimited dual carriageways. It will probably make little difference to journey times or pollution anyway.

If it will probably make little difference to journey times or pollution (?), then why bother to increase it to 80mph? Increasing it plays into the hands of the current lawbreakers, who will then become the future lawbreakers.

People should drive at a speed suitable for the prevailing conditions. So in the middle of the night when there are few vehicles on motorways, what is unsafe about driving at 80 mph? Currently the only danger is a bored copper picking you up for speeding.

DaveG says:
11 October 2011

80 mph might be alright on 3 lane motorways,but never on 2 lane,due to the lorry situation,Its bad enough to have a lorry pull out to pass another whilst you are doing 70 mph,but at 80 you would need to ensure no passing by lorries taking about 5 miles to overtake.More banning of lorries overtaking as per parts of A1 near Durham which works very well.Also taking some action against the centre lane drivers who never go into the inside lane,usually young women.

If we are going to start stereotyping the centre lane drivers (although it may not contribute much to a sensible debate about speed limits), I can’t say that I’ve noticed many white vans being driven by young women.

Spoiled a fairly reasonable argument there, DaveG, by making a very silly, incorrect judgement about who centre-lane offenders usually are!

Oh! Dear DaveG, the facts are that men and women have strengths and weaknesses in their driving skills in equal measure. Yes, some women do drive in the centre lane, but there are men who do the same. To say that it is usually women who are the biggest offenders is unfair and incorrect.
While car technology has improved over the years, unfortunately, driving skills across the board has gone down … it’s 70mph for me.

As I replied in another post, you should drive at a speed that is safe for the conditions. If there are lorries filling the inner lane, then driving too fast in the outer lane is wrong.

If there are few lorries in the inner lane, then driving faster in the outer lane is safe.

PS Middle lane hogs and tail-gaters come in all shapes, sizes and sex.

Sorry Dave

Statistically women drivers are safer – that’s why the EU decided to ban discrimination against the appalling men drivers by maki9ng it illegal for women to have preferential insurance rates.

Temuco says:
11 October 2011

1. Motorways were designed for a maximum speed of 70 m.p.h.
2. The government is building many wind turbines and encouraging photo-voltaic installations to reduce pollution. A journey at 80 m.p.h. uses more fuel, and so produces more pollution, than the same journey at 70 m.p.h. Would 80 m.p.h.be sensible or is it just vote catching ?
3. In busy times, lower speed limits on the M25 produce a greater flow of traffic. Presumably traffic art 80 m.p.h.would reduce the traffic flow at busy times.

1. Not true. Motorways were around some years before the 70 mph speed limit. The M1 was opened in 1959 and a TEMPORARY 70 mph limit was introduced in 1965. One possible reason given for introducing the speed limit was that AC were rumoured to be testing their Cobras during the night at speeds in excess of 180 mph. (See http://www.speedlimit.org.uk/faq.html#SEVENTY)

2. It will have minimal impact of pollution: those that want to do 80 mph already do so. Additional drivers wanting to do 80 mph that don’t already do so are minimal and the number of occasions to be able to do 80 mph will not be increased (only motorways and unrestricted dual carriageways, small percentage of our roads).

3. Although Londoners don’t realise it, there are more motorways than just the M25 orbital nightmare.

Phil says:
12 October 2011

The design speed for British motorways has always been 70 mph.


As already pointed out, at the time it was the best most cars could do.

So unless the MOT Spec has been increased, they are still only designed for 70mph and it is game, set and match in favour of the 70mph brigade?

I don’t see how that is the case. Firstly, the early motorways were built and opened with no enforced speed limit. Capable vehicles drove significantly faster than 70 mph (and many still do). Gull Wing Roadsters and Ferraris were often clocked at twice the fictitious 70 mph design speed and more. There’s no comparison between cars in the sixties and cars of now. The argument that motorways were designed for 70 mph is unsupported. The design of motorways was much more to reduce accidents than to get traffic flowing faster. Hence no pedestrians, cyclists, learner drivers, etc., larger sign posts and new design of intersections.

I disagree that it will simply legitimise what happens currently, i think a majority of those who drive at 80 today will move up to 90. Also it is true that technology has made cars inherently safer for a given set of circumstances, but there has been no change in driver’s reaction times.

I think your original observation was spot on; the Government want to us to feel that they are right on the money and that “Top Gearing” is the way forward.

Ronald S says:
13 October 2011

On the face of it, this suggestion seems a good idea, the 70MPH limit coming from a time when vehicles were much less safe and capable. However, unless the speed limits imposed on other motorway users are increased in line, then speed difference, which I believe is the most important factor in motorway safety, will increase.

In the USA, interstate speed limits are higher than in the UK, but it is not a real issue as the heavy trucks are permitted to travel at about the same speed as other road users.

This we can’t do in the UK, as our speed limits are effectively set by Brussels.

I disagree. Everyone travelling at the same speed causes bunching. In the States, everyone keeping to the limit results all lanes being filled with traffic moving at identical speed with not an inch to manoeuvre. It’s horrible. I’ve been there and done that.

Not only speed limits but maximum loads were set by Brussels too, to the extent that hundreds of our roads and bridges were not capable of withstanding the new “juggernaut” lorries. Why not just “put the foot down” on this unsafe proposal. The country has benefited from the improved safety features introduced into vehicles so lets keep the benefits rolling in … !

Sceptical says:
13 October 2011

This is just a political gimick. There can be no doubt that accidents will be more probable than now and will on average be more severe – it might not be by much but the trend must be in this direction. Differences in speed between vehicles on the motorway will increase. Speeders will still speed – probably by the same increment over the limit as now. Fuel consumption and pollution will definitely increase – it is not the journey time that determines the amount of CO2 emitted, but the journey distance and the rate of CO2 per km, and the emissions of almost every vehicle will be higher at 80mph than at 70mph. Also, fewer vehicles can be accommodated safely on a given stretch of road at 80mph than at 70mph because the safe distance between vehicles is increased – not that many motorists keep to the safe distance. And the pollution due to the time spent in traffic jams will increase because motorists will reach the traffic jam more quickly and so be jammed for longer. On the other hand, the government will raise more money in fuel taxes as fuel consumption per journey will increase, so it may help decrease the budget deficit!

Phil says:
13 October 2011

It isn’t unsupported neither is it fictitious. The link I provided contains the design specification (click on it and scroll down), just because a handful of rare cars were able to exceed this limit proves nothing.