80mph motorway speed limit plan criticised

Motorway traffic There is conflicting evidence as to whether a higher speed limit leads to faster journeys on motorways

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Climate change and road safety campaigners have criticised plans to increase the speed limit on English and Welsh motorways from 70mph to 80mph.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the current limit, introduced in 1965, was out of date due to "huge advances in safety and motoring technology".

But the Green Party said the plan would increase carbon emissions.

Stephen Joseph, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said it would lead to more accidents and casualties.

He said in practice if you increase the limit to 80 then most people will drive at 90.

The consultation begins this year with a view to raising the limit in 2013.

Road safety charity Brake's chief executive Mary Williams said: "This is a selfish move that will achieve nothing other than carnage and is pandering to an uninformed few.

"What is far more legitimate is the grief of families bereaved on Britain's motorways in horrendous pile-ups at high speed, and the rights of all UK citizens to have slower, not faster, speeds on roads to enable drivers to avoid collisions."

She pointed to evidence that raising the limit would lead to more deaths.

The Department for Transport says advances in technology have made cars much safer, contributing to a drop of more than 75% in the number of people killed on British roads since the 70mph limit was introduced.

Motorway speed limits compared

Country Current limit

*depends on state, vehicle and location. Source: European Commission, country governments


55mph-80mph* (89-129km/h)


70mph (113km/h)


75mph (120km/h)


75mph (120km/h)


81mph (130km/h); 68mph in rain


No limit unless shown - 81mph (130km/h) advised

As a result, it says it is time to look again at whether the current limit is "still appropriate".

A Scottish Government spokesperson said of the proposal covering England and Wales: "We will consider the implications for Scotland.

"The current UK Government Scotland Bill would devolve responsibility to set some aspects of speed limits - including motorways - probably some time next year."

Green Party spokesperson Jenny Jones said: "This is a mad idea just at the time we should be worrying about fuel economy and emissions. Putting the speed limit up will be worse for both. So much for the 'greenest government ever'."

The Green Party's chief scientist said there was a 20% increase in fuel consumption and emissions between driving at 70 and 80.

Brian Mooney, of the Association of British Drivers, said: "If you are able to do an extra 10 miles an hour it might mean a faster journey time and less accidents due to tiredness as well."

But Mr Joseph said: "The evidence is that it will lead to more bunching on motorways and more stop-start driving and that people get to your destination faster if you drive steadily and slower."

The 70mph speed limit was introduced temporarily in 1965 after a series of accidents in fog and two years later it was made permanent by then Transport Secretary Barbara Castle.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    if useful rescrictions were to be imposed consider the posers with thier dazzling bright multi- rainbow headlights,very pretty but not very practical & in some weather conditions lethal,the whole object of road safety is to keep death off the roads not put it back on the roads as a politicaly motivated & accepted 'extra'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    For thos who think that it was >70 was OK in the past so should be OK now - WRONG. No limit was imposed initially because there were far fewer cars on the road and many not capable of 70mph and rail took freight. This meant large gaps between cars, not the 5cm left by some nowadays.
    When deaths and injuries increase who is going to pay the cost - the minister or those who pay insurance? Guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    This is foolish, think about the amount of accidents occuring on our motorways at the moment - now think of the damage that can be caused if you increase the speed limit. If you want to cut down on accidents, stop HGVs from using the middle lane, and take away the variable speed limits like 30mph or 40mph, which just cause congestion (m25 the biggest car park in the world right?).

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    For those comparing UK speed limits to other countries some questions-
    how does the UK death and injury rate compare with those countries? How do the number of users and HGVs per mile of motorway compare to the UK? Do they have any other restrictions (e.g. France reduces it in rain)? How many police/100,000 drivers are in traffic enforcement? How may of the drivers are unlicenced????

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    I can just see the scene at the insurance offices, just after friday lunch at the pub.....

    "Higher speed limits? More risk? Hey, I've an idea - higher premiums, luvvly jubbly. Anyone for bubbly?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    In Australia you are fined for sitting in lanes other than the inside lane. You use the other two to overtake only. It would be a good way to get rid of the middle lane hoggers in the UK if this approach were adopted. There is nothing more infuriating than having to go from inside to outside lane just to go around some berk in the middle lane. I bet it would also help reduce accidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Foreign HGV drivers are among the worst drivers on the road, and cause the majority of accidents where HGVs are involved, certainly in the SE.
    And that's not just me saying this, but the view of many in the police force.
    UK HGV drivers are excellent, compared to yer average BMW/4x4 trou le derriere
    263. JonDM got it right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    It may appear safer now but that's because it was simply unsafe then. Not so many crowded roads then and not so many self-important idiots as there is now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    You are pretty much in the way if you are travelling at 70 in the outer lane these days.
    80 is considered acceptable so if the official limit moves to that, 90 will be the ambient speed.
    The faster you are going the more serious any accident will be.
    Just leave it where it is. The more you relax things the more the turnip heads will take advantage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    I'll never understand how a person earning the minium wage could waste their hard earned cash by needlesly bombing down a motorway at 80-90 MPH.
    Save yourselves a bit of money, poodle along at 60-70, less stressful as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    How to reduce congestion:

    1. Ban vehicles over 7tons from leaving lane 1 on m-ways and dual c-ways.

    2. Ban artics from movement during the morning and evening rush hours.

    3. Remove traffic lights from m-way junctions.

    4. Raise m-way speed limit to 80mph.

    Do these, in this order of preference, and m-way congestion will become history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    The headline on this story is "80mph motorway speed limit criticised". Who chose that? Surely not someone in the BBC who gets to the office by chauffeur or tube (and how many of us have a tube station just for us right outside where we work, as in White City?) and doesn't own a car, I hope.
    How about "millions of drivers applaud 80mph proposal" instead?
    Just another day in the BBC's 'PC' world

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    ""242. Dave Nicholls

    So they don't pull out into non existent gaps by bullying other road users with their size? They don't tailgate to intimidate? - do me a favour.
    Who's this we discussing.. Audi / BMW saloon drivers?"

    True enough - but at least they do it quickly and don't hold you up for the next 5 miles!

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    17 Minutes ago
    "242. Dave Nicholls

    So they don't pull out into non existent gaps by bullying other road users with their size? They don't tailgate to intimidate? - do me a favour.
    Who's this we discussing.. Audi / BMW saloon drivers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Hey, another thought; why not simply introduce an compulsory IQ test along with the driving test? Anyone who fails either, doesn't get a licence.

    If we could just get rid of the small percentage of selfish morons that infest our roads - not to mention pavements, cycle lanes, public transport, etc., then we could all drive at 120mph if we wanted to, without any accidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    #245: You're right that drivers in the US are generally more courteous. However, law enforcement also takes speeding much more seriously so those who infringe are more likely to get caught. Loss of license = loss of job = loss of health insurance is a pretty good motivation for staying within the speed limit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    #242 In actual fact, HGVs usually pull out to "overtake" other HGVs going about 1mph slower than them, which then takes them about 5 minutes, holding up everyone behind. This lorry leapfrogging is one of the biggest problems on our motorways and dual carriageways. Many HGV drivers are sensible and considerate; some aren't. And given the size of their vehicles this creates problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    My sister was killed in a car accident, leaving a family of four young children. Having endured the pain of that event, I cannot accept an increase in the speed limit, knowing that it will cause more deaths on the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Most of us posting on here will know people who have been killed, disabled or bereaved on the roads. I knew 4 people who were killed and 2 who have been seriously disabled. If speed limits were reduced and enforced we all know, if we are honest, that this terrible toll would reduce dramatically. Why are we so disgustingly irresponsible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Not a driver myself, but I can see the sense in this argument.

    If it was safe to drive at 70mph over 50 years ago, before airbags, ABS, compulsary seatbelts, TCS, modern super-grip tyres, etc., then it must logically, given the massive advances in technology over the past half-century, be *safer* to drive at 80mph right now.

    And we're talking about motorways, not residential streets, here.


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