The speed limit on Britain’s motorways will rise to 80mph after ministers judged that motorists driving above the 70mph limit were ‘perfectly decent people’.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the current limit was ‘out of date’ and a higher one would bring economic benefits when introduced in 2013.
The rise to 80mph will be the first change to Britain’s speed limit since 1965, while the introduction of more 20mph zones in residential areas is also being considered.
Mr Hammond said the number of people drivers breaking the law was undermining the principle of policing by consent.
Mr Hammond told The Times: ‘I take the view that we operate in a democracy of policing by consent.
‘If 50 per cent of the population are routinely breaking the law it’s actually the law that needs looking at.
‘Now I think 95 of the country will think “great”, although only 5 per cent will say so, but the 5 per cent who are opposed will say so very loudly.’
Despite the ruling being attacked by road safety campaigners and environmentalists, Mr Hammond defended the speed limit rise, saying its impact on road safety would be ‘marginal’.
Mr Hammond added that half of drivers flouted the 70mph rule anyway, and most police authorities turn a blind eye if drivers are caught at 80mph. But there are worries that if the official limit is put up to 80mph, many will start to drive at 90mph.
He told BBC News the current limit has ‘lost its legitimacy.’
Department of Transport officials point out vehicles have changed dramatically since the current speed limit was set in 1965.
Technological advances means cars are significantly safer, contributing to a fall of more than 75 per cent in the number killed on British roads since that year.
The limit in France and Italy is 81mph and in Ireland, Spain and Portugal it is 75mph. In Germany there is no speed limit on certain stretches of motorway.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: ‘There are good reasons for making 80 the new 70, and good reasons not to.
‘Drivers travelling that 10mph quicker might reach their destination sooner, but will use about 20 per cent more fuel and emit 20 per cent more CO2.
‘There is also likely to be a slight increase in road casualties.
‘And what about enforcement? If police follow existing guidelines, many people could do 90mph before action is taken.’
‘If 50 per cent of the population are routinely breaking the law, it’s actually the law that needs looking at’
He went on: ‘Local authorities already have the power to set 20mph limits, and that’s how it should stay. Local solutions to local problems. Isn’t that what Government favours?
‘The reality is not all urban areas throw up the same issues. For example, child casualty rates are higher in deprived neighbours than in affluent ones.
‘Before you change a speed limit, you have to know whether you are doing it for safety, economic or environmental reasons. Unfortunately not all of these are compatible.’
Increased: The motorway speed limit has gone up from 70mph despite criticism it could lead to more road deaths
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would not help the economy and would increase costs for drivers.
‘It would also add to pollution and increase road casualties. Responsible motorists know that driving steadily at or below 70mph is most fuel-efficient, reduces jams and is safer.
‘Opinion surveys show that the public will only support increases if they comes with full enforcement, which is not possible in the current economic climate without a massive increase in the number of speed cameras on our motorways. This is an empty gesture that in the end would not benefit anyone.’
AA president Edmund King said: ‘Eighty miles per hour in a modern car in good weather at a safe distance from the car in front is perfectly safe. Driving at 50mph tailgating the car in front is not.
‘Eighty miles per hour is already accepted by most as the de facto limit so it is better to legalise this limit and enforce it. The best speed limits are limits that drivers understand and respect. If people think they can speed on motorways and get away with it, they are more likely to speed on urban roads.
‘The irony is that with the record pump prices motorists are slowing down, not speeding up.’
An AA/Populus poll in March 2011 of 12,865 AA members showed that 63 per cent felt the motorway speed limit should be increased, 23 per cent felt any new motorway speed limit should be strictly enforced and 39 per cent felt any new motorway speed limit should be enforced as the 70 limit is now.
Motorway speed limit to rise to 80mph
GD Star Rating