• Reply to the Petition
Although we have not had reply to our anti-70 m.p.h. petition from the Minister herself, her Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. John Morris, has taken up the matter on her behalf. When we presented the petition we also wrote to every member of Parliament, yet only a handful have expressed any interest—very surprising in view of over 280,000 potential lost votes in the next elections. We wish to make little comment about the contents of Mr. Morris’s letter, except to point out that it contains nothing that has not already been said by the Ministry of Transport in defending the blanket speed restrictions; it is simply reiterating the very points which we have continually criticised in the past. No doubt readers will have some strong views to air on this subject. The Parliamentary Secretary’s reply is published in full below.
“In the Minister’s absence, I am writing to thank you for your letter of 11th December and for the petition which you presented recently at the Ministry.
“We have considered carefully—both in the past and again since receiving your petition—the views you put forward in your letter, and I am afraid that we cannot accept either that the 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways should be removed, or that it will result in increased casualties. As the Minister said in her statement to the House of Commons on 12th July, she accepts the conclusion of the Road Research Laboratory that in 1966, with the 70 m.p.h. limit in operation, there were some 480 fewer persons injured on motorways than would have been expected without a speed limit. This reduction includes 58 fewer people killed, and where there is a possible saving in life and injury of this order we simply cannot forego it. She has seen no evidence since July which would justify her reaching a different conclusion. On the contrary, additional evidence we have-recently received from America strikingly supports the value of speed limits on motorways by showing that those with lower speed limits have lower accident rates than those with high limits.
“We do not accept your suggestion that the R.R.L. Report is based considerably on conjecture. As an independent scientific body, the R.R.L. very properly recorded any doubts they had and qualified their statements as accuracy required. But there is no conjecture about their conclusions which were reached only after painstaking research over a period of 12 months. This contrasts with your own unsupported statement that you “feel sure” that the fall in casualties resulted from other causes. In fact, in its report the Laboratory considers in detail most of the factors you mentioned and explains how their effects were either statistically insignificant or allowed for as far as possible in drawing conclusions from the experiment.
“Nor can we accept your argument that ‘bunching’ and multiple vehicle accidents have been increased by the 70 m.p.h. limit. Because of the comparatively small mileage of motorways then in existence, little evidence is available on the extent of bunching before the limit was imposed, but the data we have suggest that even before the 70 m.p.h. limit there was a growing tendency for vehicles to bunch on motorways. The Road Research Laboratory consider that if there is any increased tendency for vehicles to bunch (and this is not certain) much of it probably results from the heavier traffic flow. Moreover, one would expect any accidents that do occur in these circumstances to be on the average less severe with a limit than without.
“The main thing is not whether bunching exists or what causes it, but whether it produces more accidents per vehicle-mile travelled. On this, the Laboratory’s report shows that following the introduction of the limit there was no increase in the number of accidents on M1 in which one vehicle ran into the rear of another nor in the number of multiple-vehicle accidents. The evidence we have about some recent accidents of this kind on M4 suggests that they were the result of drivers travelling at such a speed that they were unable to stop quickly enough when an emergency arose.
“You also mentioned the effect of the limit on the motor industry. In reaching her decision the Minister took this factor carefully into account and I am quite sure that the prohibition of speeds of over 70 m.p.h. will not be seriously damaging. At present a considerable proportion of British sports cars are sold to the U.S.A. despite the fact that in that country virtually all expressways are subject to speed limits. These are nowhere above 80 m.p.h. and few are above 70 m.p.h. I think this shows that high performance cars are valued as much for their acceleration at lower speeds and for their manoeuvrability as for their ability to travel at the highest speeds. A great deal of scope remains, therefore. for British car manufacturers to develop improved features which are consistent with an overall 70 m.p.h. speed limit and yet capable of conquering foreign markets.
“You also asked for a thorough review of speed limit policy as it affects all-purpose roads. The Ministry has, in fact, been conducting such a general review of speed limit policy for the past 12 months, and we have undertaken to report further to Parliament, in the light of further studies made by the Ministry, on our policy for speed limits on non-motorways. This we shall do as soon as the work is complete. We have also undertaken that we shall continue to watch the effects of the 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways. If experience shows that it would be right as our highways network develops to consider other possible limits or variations of the limit, upwards or downwards, then we shall net hesitate to do so. I hope you will agree that in these ways, at least, we are already doing what you have requested.
“Finally, I need hardly say that our speed limit policy is in no way intended as a substitute for other longer term measures to improve driving behaviour and improve road safety generally. We entirely agree with you on the desirability of measures of this kind and we are doing all in our power to promote them. However, that is no reason for giving up the considerable immediate and continuing advantages of the 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways.
“I am sending a copy of this letter to Earl Howe, who joined you in presenting the petition.”
It would appear that it is becoming more and more popular to be excited about circulation figures. In the past we have claimed the largest nett sales of any motoring journal and readers may be happy to know that the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ monthly figures of Motor Sport for July to December, 1967, were 163,774.