Should we speed up or slow down our roads?

Last summer we spent a few days in Enniskillen. We drove down from Belfast on a lovely clear summer morning. The roads we pretty empty and it was very easy to give in to the temptation to speed. Most drivers were driving over the limit, at one stage a police car passed me and even they were doing over 80.

It got me thinking about speed. In most of Europe, the limit is 74-80mph on a motorway. The Republic is 74, in France and Germany, it is 80.

There is a campaign to raise the UK limit to 80. Proponents point out that motorways are very safe, and in-car technology has also improved road safety.

The main opposition to any change is on environmental grounds. From a report by AllStar:

It’s not a simple proportionate rise; your engine is most fuel efficient at 56mph. Above that, consumption rises sharply. Government figures suggest the change from 70mph to 80mph could cause a 25% increase. Other more favourable studies have still shown increases in consumption above 10%. Would the reduction in journey time be worth that hike in costs?

In the wider world, the increased speed will be linked to greater environmental damage from emissions and noise, and potentially higher accident and casualty rates. The Transport Research Laboratory warns that the rise could cause 18 lost lives, 64 serious injuries and 363 slight injuries a year.

Research shows that most drivers drive above 70mph on motorways already and that a fifth drive above 80mph. So what would change? Would we all start cruising at 85 to 95mph instead?

The complex interplay of all these factors is likely to mean that any change will only follow a pilot study. The government are looking at the possibility of using one of the new ‘smart motorways’ with adaptable speed limits and lane usage for an 80mph trial run.

And there is one final argument to consider. The Dutch government raised speed limits to 80mph with great popular support. It was real vote-winner. But the cost of changing all the signs and additional safety features was 150m Euros, while drivers noticed hardly any real change from the speed they were driving before. Within six months the vast majority of Dutch drivers thought the speed change was a waste of money.

Personally, I find driving fast very tiring, you need to concentrate and focus more at high speed. It is obviously true that you get there faster but I find I am knackered after the drive, negating any benefits of the faster journey time.

I have opted for an easy life. My new car has adaptive cruise control and it is class. The car even slows down if the car in front slows. When I get on the motorway I just hit the cruise control and chill. I actually find the cruise control very handy around the city, it takes away the temptation to go over 30.

My personal view is the limits are probably fine where they are but I would reduce the speed limit to 20 in residential streets to reduce potential accidents.

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