By on March 1, 2011

The Daily Mail reports

Motorway speed limits could rise to 80 mph to shorten journey times and boost the economy under a radical review of road safety, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond signalled today.

He is concerned that anti-car campaigners have for too long used ‘road safety’ as a convenient excuse to both stymie raising speed the limit on motorways from the current 70mph, and to push for more 20mph zones in urban areas – even when they are inappropriate.

Britain has some of the safest roads in Europe, and within that motorways are by far the safest.

In future, Mr Hammond will demand that safety alone cannot be the sole determining factor when changing limits and that a thorough cost-benefit analysis which takes into account the economic impact must also be carried out when deciding such matters.

Now, imagine that lede in the US media. Tough, innit?

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49 Comments on “UK Contemplates 80 MPH Speed Limit...”

  • avatar

    The thing that most peopel don’t realize is that a value can be placed on a human life, and it makes perfect sense to do so.  Is it right to adversely impact the living standards of millions in order to theoretically eliminate 7 cancer deaths each year?  Throwing billions at a problem that might affect 25 to 30 people is not a good use of that money when it could be used in other areas to positively impact a much larger number of people.  The government recognizes this (at least the scientists that work for the government, not so much the elected officials), and sets standards based on cost:benefit analysis.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Gosh that picture would be perfect if the top number said “85.”  Put that sign on all U.S. Interstate highways and I’d never break the law.

  • avatar

    I’m extremely concerned about this – the signage and drivers are all on the wrong sides, or has Britain finally changed? Lame joke, I know, I know, but had to say it.

  • avatar

    Our highways are 100 KPH = 62mph. The few cops, we have won’t bother you up to 120 =75. Most people are doing 120-125. For the most part,it works pretty good. The exception is the guy doing 90 kph or the guy wanting to do 160.

    • 0 avatar

      Works well till it gets busy, then all the old guys are doing 90-100kph in the left lane, and the right and middle lanes are the “passing/swerving” lanes for anyone going faster…

    • 0 avatar

      Speed cameras on the motorways here in the UK only trigger at 79 (and would trigger at 90 were the speed limit raised to 80). Raising it to 80 makes some sense- after all, a lot of European countries seem to do fine with their 130 kph limits, to say nothing of what the UK motorway system was built for.

  • avatar

    Well, Britain ain’t west Texas (where the photograph was taken) — the country is a lot smaller and much more densely populated.  I can’t see how sacrificing lives to save others a few minutes’ time on individual journeys makes sense.  (Also, don’t try to tell me that adding 5 minutes per day saved adds up to X hours per year is sound economics — you can’t really use that 5 extra minutes effectively.) 

    And if there is a serious crash with the resulting traffic tie-ups, then EVERYONE on that stretch of road loses. Seems to me 70 mph should be fast enough in most places there.

    • 0 avatar

      “Seems to me 70 mph should be fast enough in most places there”

      When we’ve got your kind of insight, I wonder why we study, educate or employ any researchers, scientists and engineers to design the world around us…

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t see how sacrificing lives to save others a few minutes’ time on individual journeys makes sense.

      When we raised the speed limit in the US highway fatalities continued to decline.  If a higher speed limit doesn’t lead to higher fatalities – it seems like a win/win.

      From what I understand the higher fatalities caused by higher speeds are mitigated by the fact that people pay closer attention when they are driving faster (and more accidents are caused by inattention that by speed) so it nets out.

    • 0 avatar

      “Also, don’t try to tell me that adding 5 minutes per day saved adds up to X hours per year is sound economics”
      No kidding, I’d like to hear how raising the speed limit is going to “boost the economy”.  That said, I’d like to see limits raised where it makes sense.  I hate flying, and when I have serious ground to cover (500+ miles), it would be nice to cut down the travel time.  For shorter trips 60-65 is fine, I don’t really care about saving 20 minutes.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was in southeastern Utah. 70mph is definitely not fast enough in much of the western US, but the 75mph zones make up for that.

      I tend to agree, in the states of ID, WY, MT, UT, AZ, NM, TX a 70-80mph zone is great. But, I get nervous doing those speeds on I-5 through central Cal sometimes, too much traffic and too many erradic (sp?) drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      @TexN: What you are neglecting here is that the denser the traffic gets, the more likely traffic jams become, just from the sheer density. If you raise the speed limit, and have the same number of people traveling, the traffic becomes less dense, because everyone spends less time on the road.

  • avatar

    Plus your helping the economy by burning more fuel. Its a win-win ;)

  • avatar

    More fuel for the fire.
    If Germany can go unlimited, France 130km/h (80mph), Luxembourg 130km/h (80mph), Poland can do 140 km/h (87mph), Italy 130km/h (80mph), and places like The Netherlands or South Korea (some of the densest higher population countries on earth) can do 120 km/h (75mph), then why why why is most of America limited to 65mph (105km/h) or 70mph (113km/h) or 75mph (120km/h)?!  Our roads are basically in fairly comparable condition, and our population density is far far far less.  United States is 83 people per square mile.  Germany: 593.  France: 295.  Italy: 518.  Poland: 316.  The Netherlands: 1,039.  South Korea: 1,261.
    United Kingdom: 660.
    Speed limits here are simply a joke.  I could even argue that the 120-130km/h in most of these countries is still too low.
    In Germany, even when roads are unlimited, most traffic does not drive at anything over the 130km/h.  The safety of the road is high (of course arguing training, enforcement, vehicles play into this).  Most people follow a limit when there is one because most limits are not pure BS.  I see NO reason why in America we can’t have unlimited, or even 85-90-100mph speed limits.  In fact, it might make more sense in the USA than almost anywhere in the world.  Wide open spaces for hundreds of miles, low traffic volume, and cheap gas too!   And I think any argument on wasting gas is moot.  You don’t have to drive that fast if you don’t want to.  Those who do pay MORE in gas taxes.  Perfect right? Or maybe there is a benefit that somehow some higher speed cars burning more gas offsets airline emissions because more people will drive instead of fly? Who knows…
    But as I always say, “safety” is about generating revenue, and speeding tickets here are simply too lucrative to give that up.  And the public is too dumb to force the nanny state to release its grip (funny, because the UK is probably the definition of a nanny state…).  Whats the average cost of a speeding ticket in the USA?  5mph over the limit and you risk how many hundreds of dollars in fines, fees, and insurance premiums (other BS for another day)?  And as proof it is all about money, why can we all pay more money to take a joke of a “safety” course to avoid reporting our dangerous driving to insurance companies?
    Anyway, I’m going on too long.  This has been my personal rant it seems lately.  I’m tired of it.  But trying to keep the discussion going :) My discussion always seems to end with, why can’t we try it? See what happens after 5 years? Or why not combine it with better training for everyone? Or maybe special training and annual vehicle inspections and allow a sticker permitting driving the higher/unlimited speeds? Variable limits like often used in Europe? There has to be a workable solution here. We also don’t seem to account for the fact that our cars are far more capable, far more stable, far safer (crashwise but also handling/braking wise with stability systems, etc.), riding on infinitely better tires, infinitely better headlight technology (halogen and xenon…i should now be able to drive faster in the dark than 15 years ago) with better poor weather treatment of the roads (chemicals/salting in winter). It isn’t 1965 or 1970 anymore, yet we’re still driving like it was.

    I also wonder how many people who were against raising limits in 1995 would now support going back to those old limits. I would guess very few. I would think that if the limits were raised dramatically, people would eventually realize the benefit and have no desire to go back.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d wager that every country you’ve mentioned has much stricter requirements for driver education, testing, licensing, and vehicle condition/inspection.  At least in my experience, drivers on high speed motorways in those countries take driving seriously, maintain lane discipline, and are attentive and alert.  In this country, however, we have drivers texting, eating, talking on cell phones, and going under the limit in the left lane. 

      Until we fix those problems, I’ll have to keep traveling to Germany on a regular basis to experience automobiles and driving as they were meant to be.

    • 0 avatar

      The Netherlands now has a maximum speed of 130km/h. Shame on you that you didn’t know that.
      ps. They changed it today and this has absolutely nothing to do with the elections tomorrow.

    • 0 avatar

      Re your first paragraph:
      while I don’t disagree with faster speed limits, your population density figure for the US is deceptive, and probably wrong, unless it includes Alaska. Yes, the overall population density of the US is pretty sparse indeed compared to EUrope, but New Jersey is >1000/sq mi, Massachusetts is >800, and if you were to make a triangle with the apexes in Chicago, Richmond VA, and Portland, Maine (which includes Boston, NY, DC, all of Ohio, PA, etc.) my educated guess (I pay a lot of attention to this sort of thing) is that the population density of this area would be at least 550/sq mi.

  • avatar

    Actually, I think many American highways are in much worse repair than motorways in the UK. I haven’t driven in Germany, Belgium, etc. to compare. Are we willing to pay more taxes to repair the highways to allow for safe travel at higher speeds? Studies of the economic benefits of “go fasta” could easily be used to justify tax hikes or tolls.

  • avatar

    UK doesn’t use km?  I thought US is the only country using mph.  How ignorant.  Is the UK mile the same as the US mile?  Don’t laugh, because a UK oz and not the same as a US oz.

    • 0 avatar

      Road signs and speedometers in the UK are all still in imperial units, and our miles are the same unit of measure as yours (unlike all the confusing transatlantic differences with ounces and gallons which I’ll never understand)

      In everything else we’ve long since gone metric in the UK but the road network is likely to stay imperial as it’s considered just too costly (and potentially confusing) to change

    • 0 avatar

      The imperial gallon is larger.  That’s one way to improve you car’s MPGs.  Perhaps the US should switch to imperial gallons to meet the new EPA standards. :-)

    • 0 avatar

      You got me curious with the one about the ounces being different, which I’ve not heard before.  So I turned to Wikipedia and found these wikifacts:
      – an ounce of weight is precisely the same in both UK and US (and everywhere except in Indonesia where they inherited a different ounce from the Dutch colonisers, and still use it even though the Dutch stopped).
      – a fluid ounce of volume is slightly different.  In the UK it’s precisely that amount of space taken up by an ounce (weight) of water.  In the US its a smidgeon more for some reason.
      – They also use another different fluid ounce (exactly 30 cubic centimeters) for nutrition labeling in the USA. 

    • 0 avatar

      I always heard (but never confirmed) that the reason for the difference between the UK & US volume measurement Gallon / pint etc was because my country men’s ancestors (Britain) traded with my neighbours ancestors (USA) but “held” back 20% of the product and told them it was still a gallon!

      Perhaps an old wives tail but sounded cool!

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      UK power supply is much more manly than the frankly weedy 120V you get in the US too ;-) OK, that’s pure trolling, but I had to do it.

      The UK car speed limit of 70mph was set at a time when such a speed was almost theoretical for a vehicle to attain.

      And in Belgium, they have lights on all the roads, but they can’t afford to keep them turned on all the time now. They go off in the mornings when you are driving to work and it is still dark. Buit great when they are on. What is rubbish is the fact that all motorway road surfaces are mandated to be low noise tarmac – which means when it rains (as it frequentlyu does here), the residual surface water is hugely risky.

      You can be driving through France in light drizzle, very safely at 130kph. As soon as you hit Belgium, you can’t see a thing because of all the water on the road. Madness.

  • avatar

    While I agree with the prevailing sentiment; speed limits being about revenue and not safety, etc.
    I gotta disagree with the premise behind the density comparison. True, we are a sparser nation than developed countries or Europe or Asia, but… we have the highest density of ignorant McMuffin-eating clown-motorists in the history of the planet.
    Two cases in point from the last twenty-four hours from my dash:

    Coming home after a long workday last night, we had quite the monsoon going. I.e. can’t see the reflectors and keep-both-hands-on-the-wheel rain. I was holding the speed limit, 65, which was probably too fast. Most of my fellow commuters were aware of the road conditions, and were holding between 50-70 mph. A half dozen intrepid SUV/Pick-ups (and these were all SUVs and light trucks) came screaming up, both in the passing lanes, and the right lanes, at 80-90 mph. Don’t know if they were emboldened by the AWD (or blissfully unaware that everyone has 4-wheel-brakes) but I’d hate to think what these idiots would feel comfortable with if the posted limit was 80 or Autobahn. There is the speed limit, and then there is maximum rate of safe speed. These are almost never the same.
    Second case in point, this morning I was running late. In the passing lane there was a young mother taking her brood in a Caravan, holding 60 mph, with 20 cars trailing her.
    Until we as a society actually administer tests which truly assess the physical and mental competency of the motorist (including proper legal passing enforced) the nanny-staters are unfortunately right, the patina of safety rather than revenue generation is correct.

    • 0 avatar

      Several states have tightened the requirements and restrictions placed on 16- and 17-year-old drivers. That has helped to reduce accidents and fatalities (at least, it has here in Pennsylvania).

    • 0 avatar

      Connecticut has adopted its own restrictive, graduated licensing system. In December they held a press conference to crow about how teen driving fatalities were down thanks to the licensing scheme. The very next day, four teens were killed in a single car accident.
      The reality is that reduced accidents and fatalities are an unintended consequence, not the result, of the graduated licensing scheme. Between the increased costs involved in acquiring a license and the down economy in general, far fewer 16 and 17 years olds can afford to get their driver’s license, let alone drive. I’m going through this process with my nephew right now and I don’t see anything to indicate that new drivers are going to be better prepared to hit the road than they were when I was 16, as the “more comprehensive” training focuses knowing what the penalties are for various traffic violations by drivers during their probationary period. Not how to drive better, but what the punishment will be if/when they screw up.

  • avatar

    Following the logic, scientific studies etc. of those who support raising speed limits, it would benefit everyone for the government to force people to drive very fast, and legislate incentives for automakers to produce and people to buy more powerful, faster cars.  How could I have been so blind to such common sense and compliance with the laws of physics?
    Let’s say the typical highway speed got to be 200mph.  Would going even faster be even better/safer, or would the speed demons concede that even faster driving might not be a good idea?  What do they think might be the limits?

    • 0 avatar

      how could I have been so blind to such common sense

      Most likely you’re not going to find a lot of eating/drinking/txting going on at 200mph.

    • 0 avatar

      The limits depend on available technology and the lowest common social denominator.

      If the 200MPH of tomorrow is the 65MPH of today, where virtually everyone is capable of meeting and exceeding the limit safely and comfortably with a modern transportation apparatus, then the people arguing for higher speed limits would be no more “speed demons” than those fighting for a 75MPH+ limit today.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually following the logic of those support raising speed limits, the speed limits would be raised to allow faster driving, not to force it.  Most of us simply believe that the speed limits should be set based on sound engineering principles not on the government’s desire to increase revenues through tickets or, as seems to be the case in Britain anyway, get us out of our cars entirely.

    • 0 avatar

      In addition to what Lumbergh said, the whole point of this exercise is a cost benefit analysis – there exists some optimal speed limit, given our priorities for safety and efficiency, and we should compute what is and use that as our limit. Preferences vary, of course, which is why we have a convention that one goes faster in the lanes on the left.

      Good job slandering the opposition’s argument though, Mr. Loyalty. Your ad infinitum argument is wholly irrelevant. Your argument in reverse: we should go as slow as possible to minimize the risk of injury. Who is to say a 10 mph limit isn’t too high?

    • 0 avatar

      If the typical highway speed reaches 200 mph, that is because the vehicles and road system will be able to support those speeds. So it’s best to leave that strawman out in the field where it belongs.

      In 1949, when the height of automotive technology in this country was the 1949 Cadillac with its ohv V-8 and Hydramatic transmission, 75 mph seemed dangerously fast. Today it’s the typical speed most people drive on limited access highways.

      But I guess some people haven’t figured out yet that it’s no longer 1949, and a Honda Civic or Ford Focus can outperform a 1949 Jaguar, so they get all worked up over raising the speed limit to – GASP! – 80 mph. Either that, or the silly arguments put forward are designed to hide the paucity of facts supporting their position.

  • avatar

    German autobahn pavement is twice as thick as US interstates — 2′ vs 1′. Most first world European highways are glass smooth, whereas US interstates are falling apart. In order to safely drive over 80 MPH on US interstates it would require billions of dollars on infrastructure.

  • avatar

    @GuernicaBill: Highways in Belgium are a dream, especially at night. Streetlights everywhere on the highways.
    80 mph? Neck-breaking speeds. Nobody will survive. Everybody needs to panic.

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    Correct.  Correct.  Correct. Much better condition, I have visited the UK and live in a state with amongst the worst highways.  Their asphalt materials specifications have got to be much higher than here.  My state is stuck in East German circa 1976 mode.
    Further, they (the UK) seem to tend to follow the German mode of having fairly widely spaced interchanges.  The insignificant little town I live in has four interchanges in five miles of interstate and a speed limit of 70. IMHO, too high for most of the drivers around here who by and large have no idea how to merge and somewhat randomly wander around the highway once they’re on it.
    And yes, driver ed. there is pretty strict.  I understand that you have to test on a MT and can’t roll back at all starting up a hill or you will be failed.
    They also seem to enforce their insurance laws, unlike this – and many other states – where 1/4 of the drivers are on the road uninsured.

    • 0 avatar

      In the UK if you pass in a manual you can drive either stick or automatic. If you pass in an automatic that’s all you can drive without re-doing your test.
      When I did my UK test you also had to be able to reverse around a corner and keep the passenger side within 1 foot of the curb. If the tester didn’t like you the corner selected could be uphill or downhill .
      Fun times.

  • avatar

    Or maybe the Transporation Secretary owns an DB-9.

  • avatar

    It’s nice to see that something good has come from replacing the previous Labour govenment.

    I have read that, not many years ago, nobody got really angry with you unless you were caught exceeding 100 mph. Prince Charles once lost his license temporarily for that reason. 80 to 90 mph was common on the motorways.

    I concur with the National Motorists Association which argues that most roads, with the exception of school zones and crowded downtown areas, are underposted by 10 to 20 mph.

  • avatar

    BTW, most speed limits in Michigan are illegal. Michigan state law, as currently written, is that speed limits must be based on sound engineering studies. Since ticket issuing municipalities know that engineering studies in most cases would result in higher speed limits and thus less revenue from tickets, they’ve simply avoided doing the engineering studies. Some judges have already thrown out speeding tickets based on this law.
    Let’s be real. Most motorists and taxpayers would rather have the police looking for the genuinely bad drivers and drunks than to use us an a revenue stream for government. However, as long as we keep electing the officials we elect and keep hiring the cops we hire, I don’t see any changes happening soon. Politicians, bureaucrats and cops have every incentive to keep shaking motorists down.

  • avatar

    Up above “Jmo” states:
    “When we raised the speed limit in the US highway fatalities continued to decline.  If a higher speed limit doesn’t lead to higher fatalities – it seems like a win/win.”

    If you google around you will find studies that talk about how the increased speed limit did not increase the number of injuries, but fatalities did increase.

    According to the IIHS:

    “Institute studies showed that deaths on rural interstates increased 25-30 percent when states began increasing speed limits from 55 to 65 mph in 1987. In 1989, about two-thirds of this increase — 19 percent, or 400 deaths — was attributed to increased speed, the rest to increased travel.13,14,15

    A 1999 Institute study of the effects of the 1995 repeal of the national maximum speed limit indicated this trend had continued. Researchers compared the numbers of motor vehicle occupant deaths in 24 states that raised speed limits during late 1995 and 1996 with corresponding fatality counts in the 6 years before the speed limits were changed, as well as fatality counts from 7 states that did not change speed limits. The Institute estimated a 15 percent increase in fatalities on interstates and freeways.16
    A 2002 study by researchers at the Land Transport Safety Authority of New Zealand also evaluated the effects of increasing rural interstate speed limits from 65 mph to either 70 or 75 mph. Based on deaths in states that did not change their speed limits, states that increased speed limits to 75 mph experienced 38 percent more deaths per million vehicle miles traveled than expected — an estimated 780 more deaths. States that increased speed limits to 70 mph experienced a 35 percent increase, resulting in approximately 1,100 more deaths.17
    A 2009 study examining the long-term effects of the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit found a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributable to higher speed limits on all road types, with the highest increase of 9 percent on rural interstates. The authors estimated that 12,545 deaths were attributed to increases in speed limits across the US.18”

  • avatar

    Ronnie, you’re complaining about “low” speed limits in Michigan?  You guys get to legally go 70 mph on freeways within the Detroit metro area (though not inside the city limits as I recall).  You’d never see that happen in VA, where we recently upped our rural Interstate speed limits to 70.  And it would be absolutely verboten to see such a road posted above 55 mph in PA or NY, the land of low speed limits.  Also, I remember Telegraph Road having a 50 mph speed limit.  Woodward Avenue has 50 mph limit also, at least farther out.

    DC is probably the most absurd place of all that I’m familiar with.  There’s essentially a blanket 25 mph speed limit on all surface streets, and many freeways are posted at 40 mph.  I don’t think there’s a place in the city posted above 50.

  • avatar

    I know one TG presenter would be rather happy…

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    I also wonder what effect the higher speed limits will have on road noise.  The Brits are pretty protective of their countryside after all.  Is there an appreciable amount of road noise, say one mile from the motorway, at 75 or 80 vs. 55 or 60, or does it not make that much difference?

  • avatar

    Contrary to the naysayers who often have a financial stake in having under posted speed limits, this change will improve safety in Great Britain and likely contribute to a small but statistically-significant drop in the nationwide fatality rate per mile traveled.  The 85th percentile speed (the speed at or below which 85% of the free flowing traffic travels in good conditions) has been in the range of 79 to 81 mph for many years. Engineers know that setting the posted limit at the 85th percentile speed tends to reduce the accident rate and promote the smoothest and safest flow of traffic, though politicians do not always utilize the engineers’ expertise.

    Using the 85th percentile speed as the key factor to set speed limits to maximize safety was the norm some 20 years ago when Britain led the world in the year-over-year reductions in the fatality rate.  This move, along with the removal of many speed cameras in areas with under posted speed limits, shows that Britain is slowly returning to sound traffic management policies based on safety, NOT on ticket revenue collected from safe drivers.

    One way the change will improve safety is to move more traffic from nearby A and B roads to the Motorways where the accident rate per mile traveled is up to 8 times lower, as the article noted, because the normal speeds of traffic will now be legal.

    The change should apply both day and night on any rural Motorway where the actual 85th percentile speed is anywhere near 80 mph.

    We are frequent visitors to Britain to see my wife’s relatives in West Yorkshire, so the change will be personally beneficial to my family.  I am 66 years old, licensed for 50 years, well over a 1 million mile driver with driving experience in 16 major countries plus several minor ones.

    James C. Walker, Board Member, National Motorists Association Foundation (similar to the Association of British Drivers),, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

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