Saturday, 1 October 2011

Motorway madness or sense?

I have always said that when the Tory-lead government gets something right I will say so.

So in that respect I say well done to Transport Secretary Philip Hammond for launching a consultation on raising motorway speed limits from to 70mph to 80mph.

I'm really pleased the government have decided to look at this issue after all how many of us have not driven safely at 80mph on a motorway, although I'm not sure how sensible it really is.

There are strong arguments that increased speed limits will improve the economy through reduced journey times.

Incidentally it is also probably true that increased speed limits will swell government coffers through increased tax revenue brought about by poorer fuel economy (you tend to get less miles per gallon at 80 mph than 70 mph).

On the other hand, safety has to be a major consideration.

Yes, I know speed limits are higher in France and even the US but from plenty of personal experience driving abroad there is a big difference. Motorways in those countries (outside of approaches to cities) are far less congested.

The simple fact is France and the US are just much bigger than Britain.

How many of us have come back from a holiday driving through France and commented 'it was a pleasure to drive'? We never say that in Britain because of already congested roads (and more roadworks).

We have to consider that increasing the speed limit may well cause more serious accidents, more deaths and probably (although not so importantly) more congestion.

I am sure most of us have driven over the speed limit, I know I have. Most of us have never got tickets for doing 80mph on the motorway because I have always been lead to believe it is seen as 'acceptable speeding' by pretty much everyone.

The question is what if the speed limit is increased to 80mph? Does 90mph become the new 80mph?

It could quite validly be argued that it would make sense to increase the limit to 80mph but enforce speed limits much more vigilantly. How socially acceptable will it be to get a ticket for only a couple of miles over the limit?

Now I must confess that these days I don't tend to go above 70mph. I like to conserve fuel and more pertinently with young children I am much more conscious about safety.

Not least we don't live in a big country like France - it is pretty difficult to take such a long journey in Britain that going at 80mph will have a major difference.

In the motoring equation going on in my head the benefits of travelling at 70mph always seem to make more sense than saving what is only likely to be a couple of minutes journey time.

Now I appreciate that this is only my view and many will disagree.

In fact I would suspect that raising speed limits would be very popular. But being popular doesn't necessarily make good law.

So my suggestion would be this.

Why not keep speed limits at 70mph but increase them on a variable basis to 80mph when road conditions allow?

Variable speed limits are now commonplace but when we encounter them mentally we tend to veer more towards the 'standard' limit, in other words we tend to go a bit over the variable limit. So why not keep the standard limit in place but let drivers know when it is safe to go faster?

Just a thought...

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