There have been calls for the motorway speed limit to be raised, after the Department for Transport revealed that a change in lorry speed limits could have helped improve road safety.
A report shows that allowing heavy goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes to travel 10mph faster, bringing them closer to the speed of other traffic, has contributed to an increase of 1.5mph in average speeds on single carriageway roads.
An increase of just 1mph would free up 650,000 driver hours and save hauliers more than £10 million a year. The change, which came into force in 2015, allows lorries to travel at up to 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageway roads in England and Wales. It means they are travelling at similar speeds to other vehicles, instead of much slower – with the aim of improving road safety. This report shows there is a possible “statistically significant” improvement to road safety on study roads.
Roads minister Michael Ellis said: “I am pleased to see the improvement in safety while helping to unlock the UK’s potential – encouraging growth and enhancing productivity.
“Increasing the speed limit for lorries has helped companies save time and money, enabling them to re-invest this in their business and buying newer and greener vehicles.
“This move has also potentially improved road safety as it appears to have reduced the risks some drivers take when overtaking slow-moving vehicles.”
The report also shows that the number of speeding lorries has fallen by about 70%.
Since the change in speed limit was introduced, the average lorry speed on single carriageways increased by 1.5mph to 45.6mph, and other vehicles also saw increased speeds. On dual carriageways, the average speed increase was 0.4mph, to 52.4mph.
This report has led to some campaigners calling for the speed limit on the motorway for cars to be increased to 80mph.
AA president Edmund King said: “Driving at 80pmh at an appropriate distance from the vehicle in front, in a modern car in good weather on a decent motorway is probably safe.
“Driving at 50mph tailgating the car in front is never safe.”
The 70mph speed limit was introduced in 1965. Many experts argue it has become outdated with faster and safer modern cars.
Howard Cox, founder of motoring campaign group FairFuelUK, said: “It’s high time speed limits on motorways and dual carriageways are increased to match those in all EU states. At 80mph, where it’s safe to do so, the positive benefits to the economy, travel times and driver stress will be substantial. Most drivers already drive at this speed.”
MP Liz Truss has said an 80mph limit on motorways would boost productivity as drivers would waste less time in their cars.
Jim O’Sullivan, CEO of Highways England, has also said the speed limit on some roads could be safely raised to 80mph.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes disagrees. He said: “Given that inappropriate speed is still a major factor in collisions, it’s unlikely many motorways in the UK are suited to an 80mph limit. We know a large proportion of drivers already regularly exceed the 70mph limit so there is a danger increasing it would send out the wrong message.”
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