Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has said that he will review the possibility of introducing an 80mph speed limit on some of the country’s motorways in two years’ time when the number and length of smart motorways has increased. Such plans had previously been touted by McLoughlin’s predecessor, Philip Hammond, but the idea had seemingly been put to bed when McLoughlin said two years ago that it would not happen.
Whether he has come under pressure from within his own party to appease drivers, whether he has bowed to public consensus that cars are safer and better equipped to brake under high speeds, or the two year promise is being used as a means of encouraging some voters to put the conservative party back in power during the next general election is unclear, but the proposed plans will, as ever, divide opinion.
There will be those that believe quiet stretches of motorway, with decent driving conditions, and posing very little danger, are able to offer safe driving at 80mph. There will also, however, be those that believe increasing speed limits will only lead to more dangerous roads while also increasing CO2 emissions at a time when the government and the rest of the world is looking to reduce emissions to a safer level.
McLoughlin has said that he will make the decision in maybe two years’ time when smart motorways up and down the country have been completed. These are stretches of motorway where the hard shoulder can be used as an additional lane during congested driving conditions, and where variable speed limits are in place so that drivers are restricted to lower maximum speed limits when there is a lot of traffic, when conditions are poor, or when other conditions demand it.
While the motives behind his u-turn are unclear, Mr McLoughlin will win the uneasy support especially of those motorists that cover a lot of miles at night and when the motorways are clear. Rush hour travellers will not really be affected by any increase in speed limit, because bad congestion typically means an inability to get anywhere close to the existing 70mph limits anyway.