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Government warned that proposed 80mph motorway speed limit will put lives at risk

Environmental groups join road safety campaigners in opposing planned change

Road safety campaigners and environmental pressure groups have been united in condemning government plans to increase the speed limit on Britain’s motorways, with concerns including that it will lead to an increase in the number of people killed on Britain's roads.

Secretary for State for Transport Philip Hammond had been due to announce the plans next week at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester next week.
However, the minister revealed his intentions last night after the proposals had been leaked.

It is envisaged that the new speed limit will come into force in 2013, following a period of consultation, while in a concession to road safety campaigners, there is likely to be an increase in the number of 20mph zones in urban areas.

Earlier this week, motoring journalist and TV presenter said in his preface to the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2011 that “the sense of abandonment felt by UK motorists has never been as acute as it is today.”

However, according to the Guardian, one of the reasons behind the proposed change is a conscious attempt by the current government, unlike its predecessors, to be seen to be on the side of the motorist.

The sense of entitlement that is bound to provoke in some motorists will be of concern to those looking to promote alternative forms of transport such as walking and cycling, which have vulnerable user groups in the first place.

"Britain's roads should be the arteries of a healthy economy and cars are a vital lifeline for many," said Mr Hammond, quoted in the Guardian, adding that the former Labour goverments’s "shortsighted and misguided war on the motorist" had resulted in drivers being penalised.

Mr Hammond outlined pro-motorist measures that the government had already implemented, saying that it had done away with the M4 bus lane and reduced funding for “money-making speed cameras” – a move that was followed by a 50% increase in deaths on the county’s roads after cameras were switched off in Oxfordshire.

He added that it had also “announced new measures to crack down on boy racers and reckless drivers while standing up for the decent majority.

"Now it is time to put Britain back in the fast lane of global economies and look again at the motorway speed limit which is nearly 50 years old, and out of date thanks to huge advances in safety and motoring technology,” he continued.

"Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times. So we will consult later this year on raising the limit to get Britain moving."

According to the government, around one in two drivers – 49 per cent – currently break the 70mph speed limit on motorways, which coupled with what it says are improvements in road safety justifies increasing the limit to 80mph.

With the RAC Report on Motoring having found that the cost of fuel is one of the biggest problems drivers perceive at the moment, less fuel efficiency at higher speeds means that the proposed new speed limit may lead to some drivers facing increased costs, however.

Emma Gibson, senior transport campaigner at Greenpeace, told the Guardian: "The Saudi oil minister will rub his hands with glee when he learns of Philip Hammond's decision.

"At a time when North Sea oil production is going down and we are ever more reliant upon unstable regimes and fragile environments to fuel our cars, the transport secretary's decision will raise oil consumption and carbon emissions when we need to cut both."

The Guardian reports that the proposed increase in the speed limit was approved after opposition from climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, who believes it will see a increase in fuel consumption and pollution, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, whose department fears a rise in casualties on the roads.

That latter point was echoed by Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, who said: "There are good reasons for making 80 the new 70, and good reasons not to.

“Drivers travelling that 10mph quicker might reach their destination sooner, but will use about 20% more fuel and emit 20% more CO2.

"There is also likely to be a slight increase in road casualties."

Amy Aeron-Thomas of the road safety charity RoadPeace was more forthright in her condemnation of the proposals, telling the Mirror: “We are extremely disappointed by Philip Hammond’s decision to increase the limit.

“Last year 1,857 people died on UK roads and this figure will only increase if the Government’s proposals are accepted.

“I don’t think anyone believes that changing the speed limit to 80mph will make themotorways any safer.

“It may save a few ­motorists some time – but it may also cost them their lives.”


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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don_don | 12 years ago

I found Hammond's comment about more strict enforcement of the limits laughable. There is practically no speed enforcement anywhere these days, on or off the motorway. I believe any new 20 limits will be flouted as blatantly as the M-way limit is.

You only matter if you are in a car. That's what Hammond says to me.

Paul M | 12 years ago

I really couldn't care less about 80mph on motorways - I'll continue to limit myself to 60 as that is as fast as I feel comfortable doing anyway.

And I can't ride a bike on them anyway.

The argument about fuel consumption is baloney - there is a far bigger impact from people driving thistier models of car, or making unneccessary journeys, than from the relatively small proportion of mileage where they can actually get to 70 in the first place. What is needed is more aggressive action to discourage larger cars and 4x4s, through higher VED for higher band cars, supplementary parking charges, more duty on fuel etc.

If this gets us the political will to put through more extensive 20 zones, eg making them easier for local authorities to implement, then that seems a fair trade to me.

hairyairey | 12 years ago

Without sounding too much of a petrol head the argument on fuel efficiency is lost for any speed above about 50mph (depending on gear box ratios).

I would be happy to see 80mph on the UK motorways to bring us in line with the rest of Europe however I like the idea of reducing it when the road is wet (I think the French reduce it when it is raining however a wet road is more dangerous than one that is being rained on and most drivers don't realise this)

I would like to see a mandatory 20mph speed limit on all housing estates, ie off any through road.

I would like to see cars driving with headlights on all the time. There are plenty of tree branch covered roads along which it is hard to see cars coming.

I would like to see cars using fog lights when it is foggy or likely to be foggy, eg when it is misty or weather conditions dictate. Note to drivers who overtake me when I have my fog light on and flash their fog lights (or worse the ones who try to blind me with their headlights from behind) - it is on for a reason because when you need it to be on and it isn't it'll be too late and the car behind will merge with your car.

Yesterday morning driving down the A1(M) in patchy fog I saw numerous cars without lights on and only two other vehicles with the sense to put their fog lights on. One was a white van! There used to be a public information film about not having fog lights on in daylight however this was due to drivers not seeing your brake lights (and quite frankly you shouldn't be relying on that to decide your braking anyway you should be aware of everything else that's happening). Now that cars are fitted with single fog lights and "CHMSL"s this isn't an issue.

I would also like to see everyone retested every five years (including myself) with a particular emphasis on sight (I am convinced that most of the hesitation you see at roundabouts is because drivers cannot see).

My soapbox has just collapsed under the strain...

37monkey | 12 years ago

Just thought I'd add 2p toward the driving test bit, I'm doing my motorbike test in November, I currently ride with L plates on a cbt (compulsory basic training) the test I have coming up is in two stages both of which I do on my current 125cc bike, the first part is riding around cones in a carpark and the second part is on the road. Once I pass both parts I'll be able to do three things differently, first - be able to ride a bigger bike, second - carry a pillion passenger, third - ride on a motorway. have you guessed how many of those things are in the test? yep none  7

fwiw I was also surprised to see this on rcc, I'm not really bothered about the speed on motorways I drive at a speed appropriate to conditions (yes sometimes over the limit) and I agree that there should be no them and us mentality - it's not a helpful attitude.

rbx | 12 years ago

As a cyclist, I don't see how this affects me - motorways are anyway no-go areas for me.

Other than the 'motorist is enemy of cyclist, so anything bad for them is good for us' criteria, I don't know if we should even be covering this on a cycling website.

Actually, I'd even welcome the proposal to increase the legal speed-limits on motorways if it is brought in conjunction with a similar reduction in speed limits in urban areas by 10mph.

I'd call THAT win-win-win: motorists get higher speeds on motorways, cyclists get safer urban roads, government finally gets to some unbiased approval from both sides.

Unfortunately, don't think Mr. Hammond (or his party) will give two hoots about the second party there - us  22

OldRidgeback replied to rbx | 12 years ago

Motorways are actually Britain's safest roads and since so many drive at 80mph, making legal the speed that so many already drive at won't make a hoot of difference. The EU is proposing the 30km/h and 20mph limits be imposed in key urban areas, which will be of major benefit.

Other than the 'motorist is enemy of cyclist, so anything bad for them is good for us' criteria, I don't know if we should even be covering this on a cycling website.

Most cyclists are car drivers also. I don't quite get the cyclists who are hugely anti car, I can't think how I'd haul two sons and their race bikes and my race bike to a track that's some distance from a railway station and would in any case require two or three changes and a ride to the track on not quite street legal race bikes to get there otherwise.

Greybeard | 12 years ago

I'm amazed to see so much support for this proposal on this website! I had to double check I wasn't on the Daily Mail or some petrolhead forum.

I was surprised to see the article on this site at all, but given it is, I don't see anything particularly surprising in the comments.

Personally I don't think a 14% increase in the speed limit on motorways will increase the number of accidents but I don't think I would use it very often myself, these days I look at the consumption gauge more than the speedo when I am driving on the open road  3

I'm certainly not against the proposal but wonder if it's a missed opportunity. Whilst it would be more expensive to implement I think the majority of stretches of motorway in the UK would benefit from variable speed limits. There are driving conditions which would allow travelling at speed to be very safe and conditions where the present limit is too fast.

The same could be said for urban areas (although even more expensive as there are rarely electronic signs used) to reduce the speed limit to 20mph at times when children are travelling to and from school, and higher when there are likely to be few or no pedestrians and cyclists.

Admittedly all the necessary electronics and management of the systems when they are put in might make this an unrealistic aim for built up areas, but surely not motorways?

horizontal dropout | 12 years ago

I'm amazed to see so much support for this proposal on this website! I had to double check I wasn't on the Daily Mail or some petrolhead forum.

I disagree with it on the basis of pollution and CO2 emissions both directly and because of the message it conveys about those issues. I think those effects are much more significant than the possible increase in road casualties.

I also disagree with it because of the implicit permission to go faster which will affect all roads particularly ones carrying traffic that's come off the motorway. That will directly affect safety of other road users including cyclists.

Sure vehicles are "safer" in certain respects (more to do with protecting occupants than other road users) than they were 50 years ago when this speed limit was introduced. But 50 years ago we didn't understand the effect of pollution and CO2 as well as we do now. If anything the speed limit should be reduced not increased.

I also don't agree that it should be accepted just because 20mph urban speed limits are included in the same legislation, though I do agree with 20mph.

The reasons for it are simply vote catching by a government that is too weak to properly address the issues of road safety and car culture, and climate change.

Chuffy replied to horizontal dropout | 12 years ago
horizontal dropout wrote:

I'm amazed to see so much support for this proposal on this website! I had to double check I wasn't on the Daily Mail or some petrolhead forum.

You and me both.  13

DevonChap | 12 years ago

I go for the 80mph speed limits on Motorways. There aren't any cyclists or pedestrians on them. Why should I as a cyclist worry about the speed cars travel on something I'm not allowed on. I might as well worry about the speed cars travel around Silverstone race track at. Motorways are by far and away the safest pieces of road in the country by cars use per mile.

As far as I can see there are two responses to this, either we say 'okay, as long as we get more 20mph zone in towns', which will save quite a few lives, or we say 'selfish Top Gear Bastards' and then we cyclists get treated as moralising odd-bods. Remember we are the minority whilst car drivers are the majority. We don't get to impose our views on them.

Chuffy replied to DevonChap | 12 years ago
DevonChap wrote:

Remember we are the minority whilst car drivers are the majority. We don't get to impose our views on them.

Most of us are both. There is no we and them.

WolfieSmith | 12 years ago

I agree with much of the approve. Maybe the 80mph speed limit is an opportunity to gain in other areas? I've ranted on previously on this site about speed limits and how I feel that a 20mph in urban areas is unrealistic.

Councils can now set their own speed restrictions as of this year. I still favour a 25/50mph campaign. If it's made 25mph then people will do 30mph - which is what they should be doing now. 60 mph on country lanes is too fast and a hangover from 50 years ago when there was less on the roads and cars were lucky to sustain 60mph without seizing. Make small B roads and lanes 50mph.

I'll chuck in 80mph on motorways as a swap.

I'm approaching my MP about the 25mph scheme as we live in a suburb excluded from main through roads and it's a fantastic opportunity to see if it can work. Sefton Council are not interested but they soon will be!

Power to the Pedals.

Chuffy | 12 years ago

Plenty of people (the 49% who admit it and a whole load more who are simply lying) already break the 70 limit. So where are these time savings to come from if it's what people are already doing?

This has f*ck all to do with economic benefits and everything to do with pandering to the kind of selfish libertarianism espoused by Top Gear.


spen | 12 years ago

""Now it is time to put Britain back in the fast lane of global economies and look again at the motorway speed limit which is nearly 50 years old, and out of date thanks to huge advances in safety and motoring technology,” he continued."

Unfortunately the weak link in the system, the standard of driving in this country, has not kept pace  2

thereverent | 12 years ago

I'm happy for the speed limit to be raised, as long as it is only for motorways.
If people want to pay the extra fuel costs then that is their choice.

A bigger safety factor is that our driving test is too easy and bad driving is not dealt with properley by the police and courts.

I'm more interested in all 20mph zones in residential areas.

cat1commuter | 12 years ago

Isn't this proposed legislation bundled with 20 mph limits in residential areas? 80 mph limits on motorways is a price I might be happy to pay for that.

slow-cyclo | 12 years ago

Having had to go on an *ahem* awareness course recently I can offer a little more insight in to those 1857 people killed. Approximately half of those were inside a car rather than cyclists / pedestrian. Of the 835 people killed in a car, roughly a 1/3rd were not wearing a seatbelt. These figures are also the lowest incidence of death on the UK's roads ever which considering more cars, more people and more roads than ever is some sort of an improvement when you think about it. I also learned that the motorway network has the least fatalities / accidents of the differing types of road (vs urban / country lanes etc). Apparently (after a quick root around the DoT figures it was 118 deaths on the motorways.

I'm unsure about the speed limit on motorways being changed, certainly it would align us with other countries and as a cyclist it may not make much difference to me (whereas the proposed sop to safety campaigners of a 20mph urban limit might). Of more concern to me is what else I found rooting around in the DoT stats about cyclist fatalities being on the way up, by 7%

JonMack | 12 years ago

Also, what puts people more at risk is the fact that there's no compulsory training for motorway driving. I passed my test a couple of years ago, I could have driven from the test centre out to the motorway and driven to the other side of the country, as I would be well within my rights to as I had passed my test, but I would have never driven on the motorway before.

As it turned out I ended up driving on the motorway 4 days after I passed my test, and as I'm not a total moron and had been used to travelling on the motorway with friends/family, I was able to comfortably drive home without any issues what so ever.

The increase in speed limit is a minor issue when you take into account the pathetic excuse for a driving test, which you can technically pass without ever taking a car above 30mph, but that's beyond the point.

JonMack | 12 years ago

They stated in the article that drivers are already breaking the current 70mph speedlimit, so the stats about the increase in fuel economy, CO2 and accidents seem fairly nullified to me, as people are already driving that speed.

There's not going to be any legislation to say that you MUST drive at 80mph, if you want to drive at 50, 60 or 70mph then by all means go ahead, just pick the lane that is travelling at that speed, which is what people already do.

@sporran, I used to commute from Weston-super-Mare to Bath on the motorway every day for about 18 months, and I spent most of my time at 80-90mph, yet I still had people overtaking me, coming up behind me flashing their lights because they wanted to go faster. I'm of the opinion that on the motorway people should be able to regulate their own speed, the way that the autobahn works in Germany, but the attitude that people have over there is completely different to drivers attitudes here, so it definitely wouldn't work.

sporran | 12 years ago

I think this is not a bad idea to be honest, but they'll have to enforce it effectively so people aren't driving at 90

drheaton | 12 years ago

Of the 1857 people who died on Britains roads last year how many of those were on Motorways and how many were a result of people going way over 80mph anyway?

The vast majority of those deaths will be a result of collisions in built up urban areas (where there are pedestrians) and on country roads. Those deaths which do occur on motorways are less about speed and more about poor driving. I doubt increasing the national speed limit on motorways will have much effect to be honest. Most people drive at 70-80mph already because it's a comfortable speed and most of those wouldn't then think 'right, I can now go at 80-90mph instead'. Likewise most journeys are affected by congestion at some point reducing average speed so I doubt it'll cut journey times either. It's just a case of legalising what's already happening across the country every day.

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