Cars, bikes, vans and lorries are all safer now than they’ve ever been. So is it time to change the UK national speed limit?... Is it time to change the UK national speed limit?

Cars, bikes, vans and lorries are all safer now than they’ve ever been. So is it time to change the UK national speed limit?

Before 1965, when the government introduced the 70mph speed limit on motorways, you could drive as fast as you liked on them. Although not many people did, because most cars in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s didn’t go very fast. Some did though, and there were some accidents, so on the 22nd December 1965, the 70mph speed limit was introduced as a temporary experiment.

A few years later, in 1967, they decided to implement the 70mph limit on motorways, as well as the 60mph national speed limit on single carriageways.

60mph and 70mph limits were probably fairly appropriate in the ’60s. In fact, 60mph in a car back then would probably have felt quite dangerous, never mind 70mph. You didn’t have air bags or crumple zones, you were probably on old drum brakes and unlikely to have been wearing a seatbelt (the seatbelt law didn’t come in until 1983). So it’s no surprise that plenty of people, according to a recent poll, would prefer to see the speed limit increased. And to be honest, I think I’m one of them.

NCAP

Everything about vehicles, roads and drivers is a lot safer now than it was 35 years ago. Let’s consider a typical car now, compared to one from the ‘60s. Whilst a modern car ought to be capable of going faster, you can’t really say that makes it any more dangerous, as we’re only allowed to drive them at 70mph anyway. But they’re not only faster, they’re far better handling, with brakes that are much more likely to work adequately in an emergency. And with tyres that are much more likely to grip in that emergency.

So you’re less likely to have a crash in the first place. But if you are to have a crash, you’re in a much safer place than you would have been 35 years ago. You’ll be in a box that’s gone through rigorous safety testing, with a seatbelt, umpteen airbags, crumple zones and all of the other safety features that modern vehicles come with.

And then there are the drivers. In the ‘60s, by all accounts the driving test was a bit of a joke; all you had to do was prove that you could drive, not that you could drive safely. So you would have had people on the road that weren’t very safe drivers, doing 70mph in cars that weren’t safe either.

Whilst there will still be a hangover of poor drivers whom passed their test way back when, at least by now they have the benefit of experience.

Booze

It’s a completely different story for new drivers, as anyone who’s passed their test in the last 20 years can attest to. Since 1996 all new drivers have had to pass a theory test, and since 2002 had to pass a hazard perception test as well, before they can even sit their practical driving test. And it’s not that easy. For quite a few years now, the average UK pass rate has hovered around 50%. Now, more than ever, as the UK driving test gets more and more difficult, you have to prove that you are at a reasonable standard of driving before you’re allowed on the road alone. And exactly the same could be said for the UK motorcycle license.

I suppose some could argue that 21st century drivers do have more distractions like mobile phones etc. But at the same time, drink driving isn’t as prevalent as it was; in 1979, 26% of road deaths in the UK were drink-induced, whereas the figures are in the low teens today. Anyway, I digress..

As far as the roads themselves go, whilst I’ll admit that there are a lot more vehicles on them these days, a lot more of them are motorways; one of the safest types of road. Motorways are stretches of tarmac that everyone’s traveling in the same direction on. You never have to deal with oncoming traffic, there are never any tight corners, and there are dozens of signs and arrows at every junction, telling you where you need to be.

So if roads, vehicles and drivers are all much safer now than they were 35 years ago, why can’t the speed limit be increased accordingly?

Autobahn

Well, I don’t think the issue is safety any more, it’s the environment. The faster you drive your vehicle, the more fuel you burn and the more pollutants it kicks out. That’s one of the major reasons that loads of cities and towns are introducing 20mph zones in vast swathes; it’s about more than safety, it’s as much an environmental thing as it is anything else. And with tens of thousands of deaths every year being associated with air pollution (that’s in the UK alone), with global warming running riot and the polar ice caps melting, we maybe should think twice before we make any rash moves where the speed limit’s concerned.

The air-pollution-related-deaths numbers coming out of Germany, where every day, vehicles travel at 100mph+, are quite scary. They’re almost double the UK numbers. That said, there could be many other factors involved and, as we’ve learnt from the Covid pandemic, different countries do tend to count deaths, and the reasons for those deaths, in very different ways.

But when I consider how much more fuel efficient all of our road vehicles are these days, and how little they pollute the air, compared to vehicles of yesteryear, I still think I’d like to see an increase in the speed limit. Even if it’s only 10mph or so. Let us do 80mph on motorways, and 70mph on single carriageways. Cars, bikes, lorries and vans are much, much cleaner than they ever have been. And they are much, much safer than they ever have been; especially compared to 35 years ago. So come on, let’s have another 10mph or so.

Of course there is a slight elephant in the room when it comes to speed limits. Increasing the legal limits would almost certainly reduce the amount of people getting nicked for speeding. And that, of course, would reduce the amount of revenue the government receives from speeding fines. According to the AA, British motorists are spending £600,000 a day on speeding fines. £600,000 a day. That’s one seriously fat cash cow that that I can’t see the government being overly keen on slaughtering.

So whether it’s because they’re trying to save the planet, or safeguard a massive source of income (or a little bit of both), I can’t imagine there will be any speed limit increases in the near future. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to lower them.

Boothy

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S Hicks
S Hicks
5 months ago

Why are you peddling this fantasy nonsense?
With speed limiters coming and the gradual banning of fossil fuel personal transport, the last thing the government is going to do is increase speed limits.
There are more 20mph and 50mph limits and cameras growing every week.
“Smart” vehicles will also be monitorable remotely, so a (speeding) offence can simply be detected and punished by a geek at a PC.
All this apart from the number of untrained/uninsured/unlicensed incompetent drivers on the roads…
Everyone drives at 80mph on motorways now anyway, so effectively increasing the limit will mean limit + 10mph.
Seriously?

Phil Knight
Phil Knight
5 months ago

Good article, thanks. Down here in New Zealand there is a strong cam,ping to reduce speed limits to “make them safer” because “ the lower the speed, the lower the risk”. Never mind our roads being in such poor state because we allow heavy vehicles to use them to the extent they are refining the roads that were never built to carry such loads, and our local and central Government can’t afford to improve or maintain them to a good standard because everyone seems to have their hand out for a handout but not wanting to pay tax. And little is done to train road users, just enforce some rules (seemingly not so worried now about drunk or drugged drivers, or use of cell phones). It’s making this 59 year old think of bailing from his R1M and getting a….? Tesla model 3 performance? Keep up the good work team.

Alex
Alex
6 months ago

Got to agree it’s not just cars and bikes being safer it’s the drivers are at times just plain stupid.
I’d also worry for people on the engineless bikes. I haven’t been on my road bike since the highway code changes just my re650, I think most of us on two wheels acted the same way before it just wasn’t in a book like that. It only takes one idiot deciding he’s not going to slow down and clip a cyclist to really put you off it, 60 Vs 80mph is a big difference for a single lane country road.
The other worry I’d have is honestly my own ego. Out today on some twisties stuck behind some drivers doing 30 in a 60 because it has curves. If it was 80 I’m not sure if I’d push too much and end up in a hedge. Duals and motorways are boring so I try and avoid them anyway.

Benediktas
Benediktas
6 months ago

Never forget, that cars became more safer, but human didn’t evolve enough to withstand more G force. What I mean is:
Car is safer at 70mph, but its still more than enough to kill yourself. Increase speed, safer car won’t even matter. Its biology not technology.

Patrick
Patrick
6 months ago

‘Everything is safer “…
Drivers aren’t .
Motorcyclists aren’t.

Bob
Bob
6 months ago

Try living in New Zealand ! We are a maximum of 100KPH on a dual carriageway and they enforce it vigorously ! They want to drop it, with a lot of our country roads now going down to 60KPH from 80 or to 80KPH where it was 100KPH ! They say they are trying for a zero fatality road toll !! Really .. how about a guy walking in front with a red flag waving they should get the job done !

Rainey
Rainey
6 months ago

I’d love to say let’s up it to 90mph on the motorways, or at least 80 (and we’ll all do 90 without a ticket etc) but the issue isn’t the safety of the cars, nor the state of the roads, but moreso the fact that people seemingly can’t see past the end of their bonnet, even if they can, there is a phone in front of them looking at there latest grindr, bimble, bumble apps.

Far to many near misses as it is, and it’s one of the reasons so many of us love heading out to Germany etc as not only are the roads tipity top, but the number of dickheads not paying attention is vastly reduced.

Loving the work as always guys, keep it coming as I’m needing my 44t fix more and more.

Much love xx

Last edited 6 months ago by Rainey
Cam
Cam
6 months ago
Reply to  Rainey

I’d have to disagree, at 70moh, a motorway journey is incredibly monotonous, I get bored. When driving at different speeds I pay far More attention, react earlier, and cater to other drivers moves before they do them. Like slowing down, or changing lanes if someone in the left is approaching a slower vehicle in front of them. They can move out without me being a hazard.