This is going to land me in a whole heap of unpopularity with road safety organisation Brake and its ilk, but isn’t it about time, seriously, that we changed the speed limits in the UK?
Think about it: the contemporary car is so much safer than it was when the original limits were set. In the 1970s cars were full of spiky bits inside and were so shonky to drive that they would inevitably fall to pieces if driven at anywhere near their maximum speed.
And yet we still had a limit of 70mph on motorways and 60mph on derestricted single carriageways – and not so much as a single camera anywhere in the land with which to enforce the speed limits.
Today, though, cars are massively safer, increasingly faster and can stop in about half the distance of the average 1970s family saloon, and still we have the same old speed limits to adhere to.
I went on a safety awareness course recently, and was quietly bombarded with all sorts of propaganda about how much longer it takes to stop from 80mph than it does from 70mph, and the statistics themselves were quite shocking. But not once were we told about how much safer a modern road car is compared with its 1970s equivalent, and the scaremongering became quite irritating after a while.
So here’s where I think the UK’s speed limits should go – in light of the fact that we all drive around in cars nowadays that are 10 times less likely to hurt us than they once were.
On motorways there should be no limit whatsoever if the conditions are right. But when they’re not right – if it’s raining or it’s foggy or the traffic is dense, for example – then the limit should come way down, and it should be enforced via cameras mounted on overhead gantries.
Just like the way they do it in Germany, in other words. So when the roads are quiet and clear, you can get places fast. And when they’re not, you must toe the line or get penalised, and penalised heavily, simple as that.
The single carriageway limit of 60mph I’d keep, ditto most of the posted 50mph, 40mph and 30mph limits in urban areas. But in towns and city centres I’d actually lower the limit to 25mph or possibly even 20mph in certain areas; outside schools, at busy junctions and so on.
I live in Hove where they’ve recently lowered the limit to 20mph – self-enforced – and I actually think it works pretty well. Accident rates are significantly down yet it doesn’t feel like the place is moving at half a mile an hour. We all get about just fine.