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2012-03-20 08:26

HAPPINESS WAS...: A British motorway back in the 1960's when traffic was light and there was no speed limit. Because, by modern standards, most cars couldn't go very fast.

LONDON, England - The British government is to press ahead with trials of an 80mph (130km/h) speed limit on some sections of motorways where variable speed limits are already in place.

Some are pleased with the legalisation of a speed at which many vehicles travel anyway; others say the government is gambling with people’s lives. Back in 2010, Italy raised its freeway limit to 150km/h.


Britain’s current general motorway speed limit is 70mph (about 113km/h against South Africa's 120km/h) and has been so since it was introduced in 1965. The first section of the first motorway, the M6 between the Scottish border and Birmingham, was opened in 1958 when disc brakes were rare, 70mph was pretty much the top speed of most family cars, tyre technology didn’t include radials and the high-tech driving aids now so common appeared only in comic books.

South Africa, meanwhile, is considering the lowering of speed limits on free/payways.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of a UK road safety body, Brake, said: “This is a gamble with people’s lives. There has been no research into the safety of this trial but there is a mountain of evidence that higher speeds result in more violent crashes and casualties."

Fact is, a large proportion of motorway users already cruise at or above 80mph. Perhaps scarily, many will take the new limit as a licence to cruise at 90mph – about 145km/h... (“but officer, I was only 10mph over the limit”.)

Townsend added: “It’s hard to see the logic behind this trial when the potential benefits of an 80mph limit are so questionable.

“They are unlikely to significantly shorten journey times on Britain’s congested motorways and could lengthen them by creating an uneven flow - and increase speed differentials between cars and speed-limited trucks.

“Driving at 80mph also means higher fuel consumption and increased carbon emissions."


Brake wants the UK government to abandon its plans for the higher speed limit – and the trial – and instead set out how it will deliver benefits to drivers, the wider public and the failing national economy by improving safety and reducing casualties on motorways.

“The government should instead look at how it can reduce costly and devastating crashes, and reduce congestion, through more variable speed limits and other measures without negating the safety benefits by increasing the upper limit.

“We urge the transport secretary to consult road safety groups in the coming weeks to hear their views.”

Brake believes (as does Wheels24) that road crashes are not “accidents” but man-made, preventable, violent events that devastate lives. It says:

“The term ‘accident’ undermines our work to tackle needless casualties and causes insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by road death or injury.”

Do you think South Africa should have a higher speed limit on our long stretches of inter-city highways? Make your point in the Readers’ Comments section below.

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