Phillip Hammond has announced a review into the 70mph speed limit that applies on Motorways, with a view to increasing it to 80mph.
Speed limits have always been controversial and I am sure that you like us, know of many lower limits that exist across the country because certain people want them, rather than there being a real justification for them. Its never been any different and it’s “the squeaky wheel that gets the grease” makes the most noise that gets the attention, plays the ‘safety card’ and gets these limits put in place, whilst the rest of us “wheels” just get on with the job quietly and are forced to live with the situation.
It appears however that the quiet majority is going to get some grease at long last as Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond has announced a review into the 70mph speed limit that applies on Motorways, with a view to increasing it to 80mph.
You can already hear all the detractors of this move rising from their beds to tell the government the reasons why this shouldn’t happen and using every excuse in the book from Co2 emissions, increases in accidents and so on. Simply, they would still have a guy walking in front of every car with a red flag if they had their way. It is however time to wise up and drop all the anecdotal evidence and accept that this is a good move for anyone who uses our motorway network.
Let’s look at the 70mph limit.
The limit was introduced as a ‘temporary measure’ in 1965 (yep that’s right, almost 50 years ago) and was introduced “apparently” because there had been a spate of accidents in foggy / smoggy conditions, but others say it was because car companies like AC Cars were testing their cars on the motorways at speeds of up to 180mph (urban myth, I don’t know). Worst was to come, when “non-driver” Barbara Castle who was then Minister of Transport made it permanent in 1967. Making the limit permanent didn’t really cause any upsets or complaints from the public, for in reality most average family cars of that time couldn’t do much more than 70mph anyway. So the limit stuck.
How our near neighbours speed limits work is a good place to look when evaluating this and Germany which is somewhere where speed limits on Motorways have been very liberal is a good enough place to start. Figures from Germany showed there were 4477 deaths on German roads in 2008. Rural roads in Germany are restricted to 100 km/h (62mph) and they account for 9.5 deaths per billion km travelled and stunningly, that’s over four times higher than the same billion km when travelled on motorways (autobahns) where just 2.2 deaths per billion km travelled applies.
Put this into a different perspective, despite German Motorways account for 33% of German road travel, but just 11% of the road deaths or 495 fatalities are on motorways. So logically “I guess” if the other two thirds of travel could be done on motorways, the overall fatality figure in Germany would fall from 4477, to under 1500. Raising the speed limits in Denmark in 2004 from 110 km/h (68mph) to 130 km/h (81mph) had no negative impact on traffic safety. The number of accidental deaths even declined.
In 1965, our cars were like death traps compared to the cars we drive today. 50 years ago, a typical car had cable brakes, drum brakes, no ABS, no other electrical breaking and stability aids or traction control. Lousy lights and poor cross ply tyres all helped to make our cars even more unsafe. If you did have an accident, chances are you went through the screen which shattered into millions of pieces as you passed through it as there were no seatbelts to keep you in place and even if you didn’t actually go through the screen, you would find yourself slapped up against a “rigid” steering column, because they were not collapsible in those days and the cars metal horn ring would also do its best to damage you as much as it could and of course, there were no air-bags to prevent any of this. There were no crumple zones to absorb the energy and take the impact out of a crash, so your 60’s car was effectively a battering ram with you sitting on it, whilst the lack of rear seat belts enabled your rear seat passengers to join you up front at the scene of the crash. Even basic safety items such as headrests were not made mandatory until 1969.
So effectively, if we were considered pretty safe in the mid 60’s to do 70mph on a motorway in what we know now were desperately dangerous vehicles, surely 80mph is not an unreasonable or dangerous increase?
As drivers we all have a duty of care to the other people we share the roads with. We all want to get home ok to see our loved ones, so does everyone else but there is no doubt that loads of cars all bunched up makes things more dangerous as it encourages tailgating and drivers to weave about all over the place in an effort to get the driver in front to move over, so splitting things up, can only be good?
The key thing however and what will avoid the most accidents, is to drive at a safe speed for the conditions which means a lower speed is required in fog, heavy rain, or when it’s icy or slippery or where you don’t have a clear line of vision ahead. We all seem to have forgotten about precision and driving is an art form, its a talent and whilst I hate saying this, we need to be ‘computer game precise’ and stay between the lines on our part of the road and over roundabouts and simply aim to miss the other game players.
Probably the biggest problem we have is our approach to driving. Why are we so adversarial, why do we all seem to want to do the other bloke down, or prevent them from getting one car ahead of us? Why will we accelerate to avoid letting someone out of a junction? Why can’t we simply cool our heads and warm our hearts and live and let live? Don’t forget, if we all did that it stands to reason we would all benefit.
There is no real justification for failing to increase the limit from 70mph to 80mph and we feel the changes will be approved. Just imagine however being the driver who gets booked for doing 78mph on the motorway, the day before the limit changes to 80mph.