Government transport secretary Grant Shapps suggested at the recent Conservative party conference that a rise in the motorway speed limit to 80mph could happen, as more people switch to electric cars. The previous speed limit review concluded that an increase would be inappropriate due to concerns about emissions.
However, the RAC says a higher limit could prove dangerous for motorists who already take liberties.
Here’s what Grant Shapps had to say:
“On 80mph speed limits, I’ve been thinking about this issue and maybe even sought advice on the subject of late. I think there is an argument for looking at our speed limits, both in terms of higher speed limits and actually lower limits – 20mph outside of schools. When it was last looked at in 2011, reviewing the last submission to ministers on the subject, it was thought the carbon emission addition would be too great.
“But since I am a driver of an electric car myself I got to thinking about whether that would still be the case. I think there is an argument that once you have increased the level of electrification and therefore decreased or entirely removed carbon, that you might look at those things again.”
RAC: 80mph limit is ‘an issue of safety’
The RAC acknowledges that a speed limit increase could incentivise a large-scale move to electric cars, thereby reducing emissions. But RAC head of policy, Nicholas Lyes, raised concerns about safety:
“Any move to raise speed limits on motorways to 80mph is fundamentally an issue of safety. Part of the problem is that at present, there is a high proportion of drivers that break the 70mph limit, and drive nearer to 80mph. If the speed limit were to be changed to 80mph, there is a risk that the new default becomes even higher.
“Our motorways are currently the safest roads on the entire network, and we wouldn’t want to see anything happen that changes this. So unless there is compelling evidence that a change in the limit on some stretches of road would not adversely affect safety, the current limit should be retained.”
Our case for a safe 80mph limit
What it hasn’t considered, is whether less lenience at the higher end could keep people legal. Could the ‘10 percent plus two’ rule be pinned back in the case of the overall limit, to keep people closer to 80mph?
We also now drive on motorways that have constantly-changing speed limits based on prevailing conditions. Could an 80mph limit be the special preserve of motorways operating at or below a certain percentage of their capacity? Could it restricted to certain hours of the day and/or weather? These are all ideas that could be explored.
Conversely, we can’t help but wonder about whether there really would be no emissions penalty. It would definitely use more electricity – whether produced emissions-free or otherwise.
There’s also the question of infrastructure. Would the extra power needed for a 10mph increase be appropriate at a time when infrastructure is playing catch-up? It’s all food for thought.