We should raise the motorway speed limit – but with a few strings attached


HOW many motorway drivers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Given the not-at-all defensive tone of most of the articles about proposals to revamp the motorway speed limit, I thought I’d wait a week for the dust to settle to write mine, and open it with a joke. The answer, of course, is that none of them should even be attempting it. Not when they’re at the helm of a tonne of metal doing 70mph. Or 80mph, for that matter. There is nothing funny about getting motorway drivers to change a lightbulb. This is serious business.

My dad actually wrote a letter to his MP urging him to vote against any attempts to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph, saying it was “ludicrous”. Lots of you – mainly the Tory party – argue it’s high time to add another 10mph to the speed limit. Others, including every road safety group you care to think of, say it’ll lead to more accidents and all end in tears.

For what it’s worth I don’t agree with sticking with 70mph – but I don’t necessarily agree with raising it either.

The thing to remember is that the 70mph was instigated in 1965, when most motorists ventured onto these newfangled superhighways in Ford Anglias and Austin 1100s equipped with skinny tyres and brakes the size of milk bottle tops. It doesn’t take Jeremy Clarkson to tell you that today’s motors of the masses – Focus, Golf, Astra – will easily outrun, outbrake and outhandle their fortysomething ancestors, and they’re crammed full of airbags, anti whiplash zones and crumple zones even if they don’t. Getting less than five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests is very bad form in 2011, and it’s for this reason I reckon modern cars at least are more than equipped to handle an 80mph limit.

Unfortunately, their drivers aren’t. To this day the basic driving test doesn’t include any motorway driving, which is insane and almost certainly explains all the middle lane hoggers, the headlight flashers, the outside laners who insist on doing exactly 69.99mph and the ones who think it’s fine to shoot out from a slip road into lane three in a single ignorant swoop. Weirdly, there seems to be a correlation between all these drivers and sales of BMW’s X5.

So I’d happily back an 80mph limit as long as those expected to do it are forced to learn how to drive on motorways properly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I honestly believe speed, if you’re trained how to use it properly and responsibly, is harmless in the right conditions.

On the other hand, we could ban all BMW X5s from the entire motorway network. Problem solved!

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