December 22 marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of an ‘‘experimental’’ national speed limit of 70mph.
After extensions to the initial three-month trial, the limit was made permanent in 1967.
The limit was introduced as a reaction to a series of multiple accidents on motorways in fog.
That such accidents occurred and continue to occur is not surprising according to the Alliance of British Drivers which claims drivers have never been offered effective training in judging speed and distance within the unique visual environment of a motorway.
A 70mph speed limit imposed in good conditions cannot prevent accidents in poor visibility according to a spokesman for the organisation.
Substantial improvements have been made in vehicle and highway engineering in the last half-century prompting the Alliance to call for a rethink on the national speed limit which, it claims should now be increased to 80mph.
Today’s widespread lack of compliance with the 70mph speed limit is an indication of its irrelevance to modern conditions and is detrimental to respect for speed limits in general.
Other adverse effects are tailgating, poor lane discipline, ‘undertaking’ and lack of driver concentration.
It is also preventing the full economic benefits being achieved from the nation’s investment in a high-standard motorway network.
Former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond indicated his support for raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph but the proposal appears to have been shelved by his successors.
Most other EU countries have motorway speed limits higher than 70mph with 130km/h (81mph) being the most common.
It is time the UK’s motorway limit (and that of high standard dual carriageways) was brought up to date.
This would bring economic benefits, improve traffic flow, and end the needless prosecution of safe drivers.
ABD director Ian Taylor commented: “Fifty years after it was introduced, the 70mph speed limit has long lost the respect of the majority of drivers.
‘‘The Government should increase the limit to 80mph without further delay, to bring it into line with modern safety standards and most other EU countries.
‘‘This should be followed with a thorough review of speed limit policy, reinstating the 85th percentile as the basis of setting local speed limits, to encourage the greatest compliance, lowest spread of speeds and minimum accident risk.”