Institute of Advanced Motorists Calls for Pilot of 80mph Speed Limit on Motorways
In September the government announced that the motorway speed limit could be raised to 80mph.
The IAM is calling for the government to pilot an 80 mph speed limit on a controlled and managed motorway to assess its practicality and safety, and road users’ reaction to it.
The IAM wants to see 80mph trialled initially on “Controlled Motorways” and “Managed Motorways” where variable speed limit technology is used. These have already been implemented successfully on the M25 orbital motorway in Surrey and the M42 in the West Midlands.
Following the terrible accident on the M5 motorway recently, it might seem like the wrong time to be calling into more investigation into the possibility of increasing the motorway speed limits to 80mph. That said, perhaps it’s the right time as it would be very easy to over react to the recent accident and simply maintain the status quo and perhaps that wouldn’t be correct either.
We would all love to get where we are going more quickly and there is nothing wrong with that but we would also like to do so as safely as possible yet have to accept there is a risk every time we get in a vehicle. So its achieving that balance between safety and reducing the time of a journey by travelling faster that’s the real trick and statistically, our motorways are already the safest roads in our country.
There have always been accidents as long as we have moved around on wheels. In 1771 a steam powered vehicle crashed into a wall in France and this is widely considered to be the first ever automobile accident. The first road death was recorded in Ireland in 1869, when a car passenger fell from the vehicle and under its wheels. In 1896 in London, a pedestrian died as a result of being hit by an automobile, whilst the first death of an automobile driver happened in 1899.
Coach and bus transport have undoubtedly accounted for more multiple fatalities around the world (mainly because there are more people travelling in one vehicle) and in 1951 the nation was shocked as a bus hit a company of fifty-two young members of the Royal Marines Volunteer Cadet Corps, aged between ten and thirteen years and 24 cadets were killed with 18 injured; at the time it was the greatest loss of life of any road accident in British history. Worldwide, bus crashes have seen incidents where in many cases, over 70 people were killed all at one time.
Vehicles leaving the road have also accounted for large numbers of fatalities, with probably the worst being in 1978 in Spain when a tank truck containing 45 m³ of liquefied propylene left the road and veers into the Los Alfaques camping site after colliding with a building. The resulting fire ball was more than 100 meters in diameter and killed at least 215 people (some sources say the death toll could have been as high as 270), with a further 200 people sustaining injures.
Motorways are statistically the safest roads we travel on and figures from across Europe prove that. However, because of the volume of traffic on a motorway, when an incident happens, it can literally take on the meaning of the words ‘pile up’ and the UK saw one of its worst in 1991 when on the M4 near Hungerford in foggy conditions, when a 45 vehicle crash caused 10 fatalities.
Fortunately and possibly to your surprise, multi vehicle accidents involving large numbers of vehicles are pretty rare and when you consider the number of vehicles that use our motorway routes, it has to be said, this is amazing, but only this only serves to support the statistic that our motorways are our safest roads.
The AIM say that on uncongested motorways more than half of car drivers exceed the 70mph speed limit, and around a fifth exceed 80 mph, and that it’s rare for the police to prosecute drivers travelling between 70 and 80mph. The IAM highlights the need for a full risk assessment and believes that any increase in the speed limit should also be accompanied by strict enforcement to ensure greater compliance with the limit, for example driving at 82mph in an 80mph limit should risk a speeding ticket.
Road safety groups have raised a concern that legalising today’s tolerated, yet unofficial, 80 mph speed limit would simply create an unofficial 90 mph limit. If this happened average traffic speeds would increase overall and it’s claimed that so would accidents and that they would be more severe resulting in more people being killed or seriously injured.
Fact is that this is all conjecture, as nobody really knows and of course, whilst it would be logical to assume that if cars travel faster, well there is a greater chance of accidents and maybe that’s true, but we have all seen the effect that the blanket 56mph speed limit for trucks has had as it has been responsible for long lines of trucks all travelling at virtually the same speed effectively becoming rolling road blocks. These lines of trucks cause congestion and frustration among motorists, which can lead to dangerous overtaking manoeuvres resulting in further accidents, so in this case, it highlights that slowing things down is not necessarily the right answer. It would therefore be nice to think that a higher speed limit might actually spread the traffic a little more as drivers chose perhaps (even for fuel reasons) not to drive at the revised 80mph limit which would avoiding traffic bunching up and keep vehicles as far apart from each other as possible.
In the last few months, I have been made aware of a number of accidents that have happened in areas where a variable ‘lower’ speed limit, supported by speed cameras has been in place and there was no doubt that these accidents happened because everyone was bunched up in a group, travelling closely together, all at the same speed. The vehicles were travelling more slowly and on paper, more safely, but it hasn’t prevented accidents happening, so does that mean slowing traffic down does not work?
So rather than be a reason not to look at these changes in speed limits in light of the awful events of 4th November, its probably best we do so and that we take on board the lessons we can learn from such situations to make sure we are doing all we can to prevent accidents like this happening again in the future.
Our hearts go out to those affected as a result of the awful situation on the M4 and condolences to those who lost loved ones.