19 JANUARY 2015


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Article from BTNews 19 JANUARY 2015

COMMENT: The 80mph speed limit

On the 22 December 1965 a four-month trial of a 70mph speed limit on 100,000 miles of previously unrestricted roads and motorways was introduced in the United Kingdom.  The result was inconclusive but the Minister of Transport at the time, Barbara Castle, who did not drive herself, deemed it a success, and it has remained the maximum speed one can legally drive ever since.

In 1965 you needed the wind behind you, and perhaps a slight downhill run, for an 850 Mini (Austin or Morris) to top 70mph.  The soon to be introduced Ford Escort was slightly quicker than the British Motor Corporation (BMC) car, also having drum brakes all round.  Its handling, particularly in the wet, was at the best indifferent.  Who had ever heard of seat belts?

Drive a mass produced 1960s car today and you will find that it takes for ages to pick up speed, feels unstable flat out, and does not stop very quickly.

The cars of the 21st century are much safer, quicker, and have far better controlled deceleration.  All round they are greatly superior with air bags, electronic stability, impact protection, four-wheel disc brakes and much improved all-weather tyres.

Only one thing has not changed – the 70mph maximum speed allowed on motorways and unrestricted dual carriageway roads.

Business Travel News believes that the UK speed restrictions need revising.  Keep the 70mph for dual carriageways (and 60mph for single carriageway roads deemed safe at that speed) and up the maximum to 80mph on motorways.  Perhaps whether they are unlit or not should be taken into consideration, a major safety factor.

Banned on motorways are learner drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.  There are no traffic lights, roundabouts, nor slow moving loads. 

You will meet all these dangers on unrestricted single carriageways plus other drivers pulling out of side roads and laybys.

But for both types of roads the top speed is the same as 1965.

Regular motorway drivers will know that driving at 70mph is slow.  The police look the other way at speeds up to 10% over the limit, plus 2mph, making 80mph the norm.

Times are changing.  The law is now being enforced on motorways.

Within two years a third of all motorway miles travelled will be on ‘smart stretches’ policed by new advanced cameras that do not need the white lines to gauge one’s speed.  Out will go the yellow Gatsos that give warning to drivers and in come new, bi-directional “stealth cameras”. In the past 10 weeks more than 500 motorists in Britain have received an unwelcome letter notifying them that they have been caught by a motorway speed camera.  Up to 80mph you might be offered the (excellent) speed awareness course instead of prosecution and a blot on your licence. 

Already, 211 miles of roads have been designated as “smart” because they have electronic message signs to vary the speed limit – and speed cameras to enforce them.  

In 2012 the then Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond indicated that the national speed limit might be raised to 80mph.  This now seems to have been forgotten.

The government should publicly reconsider the whole issue.  Business Travel News  would support an 80mph limit for motorways only and advanced technology as a means of catching those that ignore that figure by any amount.  The 1965 cars have largely been forgotten.  The driving test is now totally different. 

The government should look into the maximum speed rules, urgently.

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