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Dual carriageways could have higher speed limits than motorways under new plans

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) plans for changes to driving speed limits could lead to some dual carriageways having higher speed limits than some stretches of motorway, it emerged yesterday.

The DfT has proposed to raise the motorway speed limit to 129km/h (80mph), but said the “engineering and environment” of some stretches of motorway may mean they have to retain a 70mph (113km/h) limit.

However, it said it is considering whether some “high standard, near-motorway dual carriageways” could have their speed limit raised to 129km/h. The DfT said it would implement this on a case by case basis, rather than as a new default speed limit for all dual carriageways.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond yesterday officially announced his intention to consult on raising the national speed limit on motorways to 129km/h by 2013, after unofficially discussing it last week. The government plans to launch a full public consultation on the issue later this year.

Safety debate

The Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) yesterday argued that the change in speeds could lead to increased road casualties — but the DfT said that “safety cannot be the only consideration when setting speed limits”.

Technological advances since 1965 — when the current speed limit of 70mph (113km/h) was instated — mean that cars are significantly safer and the number of people killed on British roads has dropped by more than 75%, the DfT said.

“While we must ensure that our roads remain among the safest in the world, we must also consider the huge economic benefits that can be created by shortening journey times,” said Hammond. “Increasing the speed limit on motorways … could provide hundreds of millions of pounds of benefits for the economy.

“Previous analysis shows that raising the motorway speed limit would generate significant economic benefits, worth hundreds of millions of pounds per year from savings of travel time.”

Readers' comments (5)

  • Andrew Munro

    The reduction in casualties has been driven by in the main drink driving campaigns and laws on seat belts. Drivers now have a far greater range of in car gadgets to distract them and the standard Mark 1 car driver is much the same. While the cumulative effect of thousands of slightly shorter journeys may accrue into a substantial economic benefit, it is difficult to see the economic benefit of a few minutes saved each day in terms of useful use. It is also pointless if the effect of the increased limit is only to speed cars to the next queue. The main beneficiary is the Exchequer from extra fuel duty.

    This is a "feel good" proposal in the party conference season but has little real benefit to the economy when compared to the effect of accidents. No one should die using a transport system but that is what nearly 2000 do each year in the UK. Shame on the DfT for even thinking that one extra death could be worth it for a small journey time saving.

    Compared to the time spent in congestion this proposal is not even worth considering seriously.

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  • There are plenty of sections of autobahn in Germany that have a lower permanent speed limit than other dual carriageways in Germany.

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  • Andrew Munro said "Shame on the DfT for even thinking that one extra death could be worth it for a small journey time saving."

    I'm afraid that I have to disagree with you there Andrew. If we take your statement and implement all implications of it, what you are suggesting is that the 70mph speed limit should be reduced to say 50mph, that urban speed limits should be reduced from 30mph to 20mph etc.

    Although any death on the transport network is regrettable we have to put a price on life in order to carry out a cost-benefit analysis for any scheme. As the DfT were quoted as saying in the article “safety cannot be the only consideration when setting speed limits”. If it were then all highway transport would be banned and our economy would suffer enormously.

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  • I generally agree with Andew Munro that raising the speed limit will have insignificant gain on the majority of motorways due to existing congestion - but 70 mph speed limit- what speed limit? If speed limits were actually adhered to / enforced on motorways then there might be a significant reduction in fatalities and only then can we equate speed limits to road safety. Will not raising the limit to 80 then become the 90 to 100 norm for most car drivers? (if not stuck in congestion that is!).

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  • Tim Swift

    It is right that the majority of cars are much 'safer' than they were 46 years ago, as are drivers better prepared.
    It is right that if everyone increased their speed by 10 mph that would likely increase the number of accidents/deaths, though if a higher limit were more strictly and harshly enforced this would not be the case.
    It is also right that shorter journey times would be beneficial to the economy and to people's own free time, though the impact of bottlenecks, accidents and congestion would ameliorate the potential saving (much as it already does!).

    So any decision has to be balanced on a number of considerations:
    Just how 'safe' is the average car and driver at 70mph, 80mph, 90mph, 100mph?; What would be the speed distribution should the nominal 'limit' be raised by 10mph?; Would this cover HGVs, windowless vans, etc? and many others.

    In my view: 80mph with tighter limits (i.e. an absolute ceiling of 90mph, the current 'informal' level from my personal experience) would be much the same as 70mph, as most would still travel at 80-90 mph when possible.

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