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Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the current limit, introduced in 1965, was out of date due to "huge advances in safety and motoring technology".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 314.

    This morning I drove along a local road that has a changed speedlimit. Instead of being unrestricted it is now 40. I duly went at 40mph and got cut up badly as drivers went past me. Why is it now 40? No idea but it is a lot more dangerous than it used to be!

    If a speedlimit is reasonable drivers obey, it it is not, they won't. 80 rather than 70? I doubt if it will make that much difference.

  • 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 224.

    Keep the limit at 70mph. It works just fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    The French motorway speed limits have always seemed the most sensible to me - by having a variable speed limit it encourages drivers to respond to differing road conditions. In my experience of French motorways a surprisingly high number of motorists obey the rules. Some do drive way to close but that is a different education issue.
    If the rules were changed in this manner I would support it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It's totally the wrong way to go. Reduce it to 65mph. Fuel consumption increases exponentially with speed. Anyone who drives over optimal speed can't complain about the price of fuel. Reducing motorway speed from 80 to 60 effectively reduces the cost of a litre of petrol to back under a quid I thought we were trying to save the planet not deplete our oil reserves as quickly as possible.


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