The 50 m.p.h. Speed Limit

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Sir,

I fully realise that I am preaching to the converted in complaining about speed limits to the readers of Motor Sport and yourself. One remembers the excellent, but, alas, vain campaign Motor Sport mounted against the 70 m.p.h. limit, and I now believe you may once again have to lead the fight against another even more ridiculous piece of restrictive legislation.

I refer, of course, to this asinine 50 m.p.h. limit slapped on all roads as a “petrol saving measure”. I dispute the efficacy and fairness of this curb. All cars are different, and while some cars are quite happy in top gear at 50 m.p.h., others are far from their best at that speed unless in a lower ratio to prevent cold-running, plug fouling, etc., and could easily be doing 70 or 80 in top with the same engine revs, and petrol consumption. Also, from a safety point of view, we have all experienced the situation where, in order to get out of trouble, a quick spurt is needed, and at under 2,000 r.p.m. in top gear flooring the accelerator is not going to do you, or the car, much good! A “petrolsaving” blanket limit of 50 is stupid enough, but carried to its ludicrous conclusion, should there not also be legislation that everyone must be in top gear? The point is that it is quite impossible to legislate for lower petrol consumption. Goodness knows, the stuff is dear enough already (quite apart from being scarce) and likely to get a lot dearer and scarcer, so no one in their right mind is going to waste it. No, my belief and fear is that this new limit may very well not be lifted.

I remember only too well how an inept Minister of Transport was panicked into introducing the 70 m.p.h. limit after a few clowns telescoped on the Motorway in fog. Introduced, firstly for a “trial period” and then for an “extended trial period” it stayed, of course (as “They” had intended all along). Now we have the 50 limit and, if and when the fuel situation eases, the faceless men in pin-striped trousers at the Ministry of Transport will flourish statistics and exclaim: “Look how accidents have declined!” And they probably will have, of course, but because there have been far fewer cars on the roads, thanks to the fuel shortage.

So “They” will continue the 50 limit for a further “trial period”—and we know the rest of the story by heart. In this they will he aided by a wretchedly apathetic public and organisations like the AA—who actually “welcomed” the introduction of the present limit (why any motorist pays a subscription to this emasculated, Quisling organisation, I will never know).

I hope I am wrong in all this conjecture, but I fear the worst. Rows of cars nose-to-tail at 50 m.p.h. like a funeral undertakers’ annual outing to the seaside is a horrible vision. Fifty miles per hour is such a dawdle that concentration is bound to suffer, and chronic boredom, then frustration, set in. And the policy of the traffic police is going to be interesting to observe. Apart from the problem facing them of the impossibility of effectively enforcing this or any other open road limit, what speed are they going to cruise at on Motorways? At present they appear to cruise on the inside lane at between 40 and 50, allowing traffic to flow past. Unless they drop to cruising at 30 (in which case a policeman’s lot will most certainly not be a happy one) or remain stationary on the verge or slip roads, they are going to end up heading queues of hundreds of cars going between 40 and 50 m.p.h. and all scared to pass!

But what is going to happen is that a great many motorists are going to flaunt this new law—and I for one certainly don’t blame them. I am sure that the great majority of Motor Sport readers obey the 30 and 40 limits in urban areas, but on the open road travel as fast as conditions will set ely permit. It means that one has to be extremely vigilant and sharp-eyed and, while it has effectively stopped open-road motoring being a pleasure, probably one’s observations and road-craft are improved!

Nevertheless, I am constantly aware that I am breaking a law—albeit one that I consider unjust and unnecessary—and that I could pay dearly for it. The point I would like to make is that a stupid law like the 50 limit, and the 70 limit for that matter, that is regularly broken every day by thousands of otherwise law-abiding people, could tend to breed a contempt for law generally if one did not happen to agree with it, and this would be regrettable.

The Engineering Union justify their refusal to recognise the Industrial Relations Act by saying it is a had law, and that’s that! But they are also pledged to work towards its reneal by every means at their disposal, and I think it’s about time that the enthusiastic motorist stoped being a doormat and started shooting about how much he bolsters the Exchequer and how many MPs he sends to Parliament. etc. etc. Questions should be asked about how long this new limit is to remain in force and, if successful, work towards the removal of the 70 m.p.h. limit from our Motorways. Motorists seem to be the only people who don’t protest nowadays, and this is surprising, because protesting seems to get results.

In the long term, however. I believe we are fast approaching the twilight of the car as we know it. I am resigned to consigning my much-loved Dino to mothballs, and showing it to my grandchildren as an example of what a real car looked like. By then I expect to be crawling to work at 30 m.p.h. (sneed controlled by a central Government *computer), in a standard Government-issue Mini-box, powered by gas processed from cow dung.

Larkhall J. L. M. Cotter

[Certainly we should all press now for an assurance that the 50 m.p.h. speed limit will be rescinded as soon as petrol is properly rationed or again flows freely without rationing. But car owners are loyal in times of National crisis, in spite of the unfair loads continually placed on them by successive Governments, so no drastic action is likely to be envisaged by the AA or RAC, though, St. Christopher knows, they should take some action!

It does seem now that for a long time this sub-continent of French and German-orientated Europe will be a country of crawling little cars and pop-bottle motorcycles, but the slower pre-war cars could be some fun.—Ed.]