• Poor mapping: Many of our cars already provide guidance to ruling speed limits, although they don’t yet actually cut our cars’ speeds. Very often these readouts are wrong. Who will map every metre of every road correctly, and update it? Who will make the same limits apply to every car, when limits change all the time? Stand by for unexpected rear-end collisions, or people leaving the road, plus a sharp increase in queues and frustrated drivers.
• Variance: Not everyone’s 40mph or 60mph is the same as that of the car driving behind or ahead. In the miles-long convoys that are sure to be created by this – a source of aggravation on their own – frustration is an absolute certainty. And whatever you say about frustration being a mere human frailty, it has huge potential to create head-on collisions as drivers who “can’t take it any more” take chances to get past.
• The ability to drive through the system: It’s said the authorities plan to ‘sell’ this new system to us motorists by making it possible for us to override by pressing harder on the loud pedal. That means that while many of the country’s drivers accept a 50mph limit, many more will learn exactly where and when to go for the override. Result? Further frustration.
• The role of older cars: There are between 25 and 30 million cars on our roads, none fitted with these new devices. Chuck in a few hundred thousand vans and trucks for good measure. At two million new car sales a year, it’ll take 20 years for the car parc to be replaced. For the first decade of the new regime, unrestricted cars will outweigh those with speed limiters. It’s anyone’s guess how this will play out in the traffic, but the presumption must be that it won’t be pretty. As far as the driver of a 2020 Ford Focus is concerned, the driver of the 2023 model will be making a lot of unwarranted and unpredictable speed reductions. More rear-end collisions beckon.
The child-like excitement of the road safety lobby, who speak as if this nonsense were a simple issue whose benefits will be delivered from a particular day in 2022, exposes their extreme naivety. So does the ridiculous assertion from EU commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska that the package of safety measures she plans “can have the same kind of impact as when seatbelts were first introduced”.
The wonderful thing about seatbelts (and airbags, and electronic stability control) was that they made a car comprehensively safer whatever you did with it. Under the controlled speed limit system, it will be as easy as ever for cars to collide at intersections, drive off roads and rear-end one another because of driver inattention, some of it driven by the new frustration and boredom of drivers. Ironically, it will still be possible for drivers so minded to wilfully exceed speed limits by as much as ever.