Government plans to raise the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 80mph look to have been consigned to the scrapheap with road safety being given a greater priority by the current transport secretary.
Philip Hammond, the former transport secretary, who advocated the move to a higher speed limit at the Conservative Party conference in 2011, said that the higher limit would benefit the economy by hundreds of millions of pounds due to faster journey times.
However, with Patrick McLoughlin now at the helm of the Department for Transport (DfT), he appears less than convinced, despite the roads minister Stephen Hammond telling a motoring forum last week that plans for the 80mph limit were still on track.
A DfT spokesman told Fleet News: “We have been working to assess the potential economic, safety and environmental impacts of trialling 80mph speed limits across a number of sites on the motorway network. That work is not yet complete and we would consult on the potential impacts before proceeding with trials.”
However, McLoughlin appeared to go one step further at the weekend when he told The Times: “You would have to do trials in certain areas, so it’s not something that’s a high priority.”
A source close to the transport secretary also told the paper: "This is not going to happen with Patrick McLoughlin as transport secretary. Safety is paramount to him and his view of how to run the roads and he would not be confident about how you would do it."
In addition, the business case argument also appears hard to justify. For example, a vehicle travelling 100 miles at 80mph would arrive approximately 11 minutes at its destination before a vehicle completing the same journey at 70mph.
However, driving at 80mph could use up to 20% more fuel than at 70mph, while Hammond’s plans also failed to understand that a large number of companies have their vans fitted with speed limiters.
The road safety charity Brake, which is part of the ‘No to 80’ coalition that opposes Government proposals to increase the speed limit, argues that if implemented it would also result in more violent deaths and injuries on the roads, increased carbon emissions and an increased financial burden on the public, the NHS and emergency services.
Instead Brake is urging the Government to invest in more variable speed limits on motorways, with a top speed of 70mph, as this a proven way to reduce crashes and casualties at the same time as reducing congestion.