The short Preston By-Pass was the very first section of motorway in the UK and was officially opened in 1958, swiftly followed by the first inter-urban motorway, the M1. The first section of this famous carriageway was unveiled to the driving public in 1959. The rest, as we always insist on saying, is history. Hot on the heels of this futuristic vision of our road network came the seventy miles per hour speed limit.
Inevitably, anything that prevents the public doing exactly what they want is likely to get criticised. Road safety measures are not immune to this. In 1959 the Morris Minor 1000 could achieve a top speed of 75mph (with a following wind) from its 848cc four-cylinder engine. Acceleration from rest to 60mph was a breathless 31.3 seconds. To many motorists, 70mph was not so much a limit as a motoring dream.
The cars of that era had brakes certainly, but they did not have ABS or any of the other safety features that are routinely fitted to many of today’s cars, so it rather begs the question, ‘Why are the cars of the 21st Century subject to sixty year-old rules’? Fair point.
Why It Hasn’t Changed
When seat belts were first made mandatory in the cars we, the British motorists purchased, we found them uncomfortable and inconvenient. We also found that the fines for not wearing them were also uncomfortable and inconvenient and so grudgingly we started to take them seriously. Now of course, we clunk-click every trip (remember that?) without thought. It is ingrained.
Similarly, the seventy speed limit is also fixed in our driving minds. A couple of years ago, the government mooted the idea that the speed limit could be raised to 80mph on motorways when safe to do so. By and large the public approved of this because we know that our cars are safer, more reliable and more capable than they were back in the day. The government soon backed off, bludgeoned by road safety organisations who highlighted quite rightly that roads are much busier and accidents more frequent as a consequence.
Should It Change?
Now the debate has re-opened. The Chief Executive of Highways England has made the pronouncement that motorway speed limits could be raised – but only if public opinion changes and remains some way off, if adopted. The CEO reckons that an increase to 80mph on stretches of the motorway network is a possibility, should higher speeds become socially acceptable. As an adjunct to this, Highways England recently announced plans to increase motorway roadwork speed limits from 50mph to 60mph, following a trial period on the above mentioned M1. Similarly, there would be a trial analysis period to see how drivers got on.
There is a technical argument about the speed and safety of modern vehicles. They are certainly perfectly capable of cruising safely at eighty (indeed, there is a certain ‘flexibility’ now) but the fact is 70 miles per hour is so socially embedded in this country that we shouldn’t get our hopes up because it almost certainly not going to change. Think about the introduction and regulation of autonomous cars, for example.
So what do you think? Our roads have never been busier and there are many criminal people who flaunt the rules regardless. Does seventy really matter anyway when most of the time it is unachievable in traffic or on any lesser roads? On balance, it is probably better to stay safe rather than sorry and, since all our vehicles come with a full AA inspection
, eCars247 customers
can be sure that our one-owner cars
are thoroughly checked for safety.