Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has announced his intention to consult on raising the national speed limit on motorways from 70 to 80 miles per hour. The government plans to launch a full public consultation on the issue later this year with a view to implementing any change in early 2013.
Vehicles have changed dramatically since the current national speed limit was set in 1965. Technological advances mean that cars are significantly safer then they were - contributing to a fall of more than 75% in the number of people killed on British roads since 1965. That is why the government feels it is now time to look again at whether the speed limit set in 1965 is still appropriate.
Road safety is a top priority for the government and action is being taken to tackle uninsured driving and help police enforce against drink and drug driving. However, the government believes safety cannot be the only consideration when setting speed limits. Previous analysis shows that raising the motorway speed limit would generate significant economic benefits, worth hundreds of millions of pounds per year from savings of travel time.
Initial work by the department suggests that setting the motorway speed limit at 80 mph is likely to represent the best balance of costs and benefits and it is similar to the motorway speed limit in other EU countries.
As many as 49% of drivers currently break the 70mph limit. Ministers believe that raising the limit to 80mph would mean that millions of otherwise law-abiding motorists would be brought back inside the boundary, restoring the moral legitimacy of the system.
Philip Hammond said:
I want to make sure that our motorway speed limit reflects the reality of modern vehicles and driving conditions, not those of 50 years ago.
While we must ensure that our roads remain among the safest in the world, we must also consider the huge economic benefits that can be created by shortening journey times.
Increasing the speed limit on motorways from 70 to 80 miles per hour for cars, light vans and motorcycles could provide hundreds of millions of pounds of benefits for the economy and I will put forward formal proposals for making these changes later this year.
An increase to the national motorway speed limit would apply to England and Wales. Responsibilities are devolved in Northern Ireland and are planned to be devolved in Scotland.
Increased motorway speed limits would apply to cars and motorcycles. Lorries on motorways are subject to lower speed limits and we have no proposals to increase them. The consultation is however likely to seek views about the position related to vans/light goods vehicles on motorways.
A thorough impact assessment which takes account of the full environmental, social and economic costs and benefits is being progressed.
Some stretches of motorway would be likely to retain a 70 mph limit because of their engineering and environment.
We are also considering the case related to increasing the speed limit on other high standard, near-motorway dual carriageways. Changes would be implemented case by case and we are not proposing to consult about raising the default national speed limit of 70 mph for all purpose dual carriageways.