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Modernise our Speed Limits

Comment 29th January 2015

Speed Limits, a uniquely British invention.

As for road speed limits, they are there to facilitate 3 primary objectives.

1 – improve road safety (drivers, passengers and pedestrians)

2 – save fuel (economic reasons)

3 – environmental protection (noise, vibration, fumes / emissions)


Whilst I think many people would agree that residential speed limits are primarily in place to satisfy the first objective, above, other limits are implemented because they 'tick a box', without being properly thought through. An example of this is a road I pass on my way to work each day where it shows the National Speed Limit sign above a No Through Road sign. It's a short dead-end lane that ends along a riverbank. Like I said, not well thought out.


On the other hand, modern cars can achieve speeds well outside of the National Speed LImit and modern safety features are very much in excess of those on cars built 10 years ago, let alone the 50 or 60 years since our road speed limits were set.


We have variable speed limit technology on some motorways. Rolling out this technology across the entire motorway network, with a Motorway Speed Limit being set at 'variable' in law, would make it the purpose of traffic monitoring centres to set a reasonable limit in each zone. If there was no need to set a limit, in that there is not enough traffic around to justify limiting speed, then the speed limit woud be 'un-set' meaning that no limit was in force.


As cars become more fuel efficient, quieter and even, with the advent of electric vehicles, virtually silent, then the environmental issues are addressed. Most cars have advanced trip computers, letting us know how much fuel we're using, and so in that respect, most respectable drivers will self-regulate the speed in relation to the fuel consumption, so dealing with the economical consideration.


So, residential should remain at 30mph with 20mph around schools

All other roads should be set with individual merit

Motorways and (M) class dual carriageways: variable, with a default of no-limit set.




Why does this matter?

As drivers, we are constantly aware of the road, or at least, we should be. We are told that it is our responsibility to know the speed limit, so having variable limits, as long it was sensibly imposed, would be no different to driving now, but it would provide for higher speeds on motorways in circumstances that allow.

As technology improves, we may well have automatic cars that can travel bumper to bumper at 100mph, or faster. Let us begin changing the laws now, to future proof our transportation network for the future.

It would mean having traffic monitoring centres being more attentive, and ensuring signs were turned off / on / updated promptly, but I think this is more an attitude change than it is impossible to achieve. Air Traffic control can be attentive – so Road Traffic Control can be too.

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