Matters of Moment

Matters of Moment Higher motorway speeds? There is hope!

Powerful support is being given to our Petition for an upward revision of speed limits on British motorways, and the petition forms are now flooding in. The most encouraging news is that Mrs Lynda Chalker, MP, newly promoted as Secretary of State for Transport, has commissioned a national speed survey, the results of which are expected at the end of the year. In a letter of acknowledgement to our leading article, Mrs Chalker assures us that the results of the survey will be taken into account "together with all the views which we receive, including those of your readers, in helping on to take the best decision for the future".

Immediate support for our petition came from Earl Howe, whose letter appears on page 1376, and from Sir Hector Monro, MP, the former Minister of Sport, who has written to Mrs Chalker and received an encouraging response. We are particularly encouraged to note that both Earl Howe and Sir Hector Monro are Justices of the Peace, lending even more weight to their powers of persuasion.

Sir Hector makes several pertinent points in his letter to the Under Secretary — that speed differentials should be maintained as the lorry speeds rise to 50 mph; that technical improvements make higher (car) speeds perfectly safe; that the energy saving argument is no longer valid; and that there are "miles and miles" of trunk roads, and others, where the 60 limit could be raised to 70 mph.

Mrs Chalker replies that she already knows, from the Armitage Report, that the current 40 mph speed limit for lorries on dual carriageways "is widely ignored" and the increase to 50 mph is supported by the police, "who have never found it practicable to try to enforce a limit that is widely held to be unrealistic".

If Mrs Chalker were to travel the length of any three-lane motorway at 70 mph precisely, she would be in no doubt whatsoever that the motorway limit is just as widely ignored, and by and large the police do not have the resources to enforce it. She might encounter a large wedge of traffic following a police car, which will discreetly slow down to 60 mph to allow all the motorists to pull away unhindered, or she might see an unmarked police car stopped on the hard shoulder in company with a cross-looking member of the community, though that is less likely.

To stop motorists on a random principle does not seem quite right. A Gallup Poll published in the Daily Telegraph last month revealed that the majority of the public (56%) believe that the police spent too much time attending to traffic offences, and only 42% believe that they are more interested in dealing with serious crimes.

The police are extremely aware of their public image, and would always wish to enhance it with the law-abiding public, so we question whether they really enjoy stopping motorists on a random principle. Would not they, too, prefer to have a more realistic speed limit which is widely obeyed?

This is now our best, perhaps our only, chance to raise enough pressure to have the 70 mph limit on motorways raised to something more in keeping with the 80s. If you have not yet sent in your petition form please do it now; we have extended the closing date by a few days, so good is the response. Failure to take action now would be to acquiesce to a limit which has done no good at all. — M.L.C.

Bravo, Richard Noble

Warmest congratulations to Richard Noble for setting a new World flying start mile record of 633.468 mph with his Rolls-Royce powered Thrust 2. It was rather nice to hear the modest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, William Golding, refer to Noble's new record, established the day before his own award, as another fine boost for Britain...

To the public, Noble is the new holder of the "Land Speed Record", a loose term applied to the fastest-ever officially recognised speed with a car, because he has beaten Gary Gabelich's Blue Flame mile speed by 11.061 mph. In fact, and without intending in any way to detract from Noble's great performance, unless you re-write the FIA rules Gabelich still holds the World's flying start kilometre record (the former Land Speed Record) because a new record can only be established if the old one is bettered by one per cent. Gabelich's kilometre speed of 630.388 mph, set in 1970, remains the world's flying start kilometre record because Noble failed to beat it by the required margin.

However, it was a magnificent show and Thrust 2's 633 mph is now the speed to beat, over the mile distance the American contenders recognise. For our on-the-spot report, see page 1341. — W.B.