Don’t hold your breath for a UK autobahn: Major scepticism over plans to scrap motorway limits

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Prime Minister Liz Truss has mooted the possibility of scrapping the mandatory motorway speed limit of 70mph, instead letting drivers decide a safe speed for themselves. 

Should it go ahead, the plan could mean an 80mph ‘advisory’ limit whilst allowing drivers to travel at higher speeds if weather and traffic conditions allow, similar to the format on German autobahns.

As exciting as this sounds, is it a practical move? MCN sat down with transport experts – with opposition mainly centred around safety.

Take it easy on open roads

James Gibson, executive director of Road Safety GB (a national road safety organisation made up of representatives from groups across the UK, including local government road safety teams) told MCN: “Road safety professionals have spent decades reminding drivers and riders about the link between speed and severity of collisions and casualties.

“We have rightly tried to help drivers understand the dramatic increase in stopping distance and the greater demands on response times that even a small increase in speed can have.”

He added: “Travelling at 80mph compared to 70mph makes a limited impact on journey times. If constant speeds could be achieved over 100 miles, the difference in journey time is just 11 minutes.

Riding the Yamaha Ténéré 700 on the motorway

“There are clearly other factors such as environmental and infrastructure considerations, including the distance of junctions and slip road design.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) are also against the increase, which was floated in a question about motorways during a live debate.

RoSPA Road Safety Manager for England, Becky Guy said: “Studies have shown that lower motorway limits help maintain smoother traffic flows, reduce air pollution and save drivers fuel. And slower is always safer.”

National Speed Limit sign

Not only can higher speeds result in more catastrophic injuries, they also greatly increase stopping distances and the likelihood of non-fatal accidents.

The stopping distance at 80mph is 50% or more greater than that at 60mph, however the devil may be in the detail for motorcycle riders as Motorcycle Action Group’s Colin Brown explains: “MAG does not currently have a specific formal stance on motorway speed limits, but most riders appear to be in favour of higher speed limits. 

“Indeed, given the kinetic energy rationale often cited for speed limit reductions, it could be argued that motorcycles should be allowed a higher speed limit than cars. 

38 people have died on smart motorways

“HGVs already have a lower 60mph limit on motorways so there is precedent for lighter vehicles to enjoy higher speed limits.”

He added: “I would be surprised if off-the-cuff comments made in the leadership race progress to concrete proposals any time soon.”

An 80mph limit would bring the UK in-line with other European countries including Austria, Italy, France and Denmark.

Stuart Prestidge

By Stuart Prestidge