Up the limits
The vexed subject of speed-limits is in the news again, as last month’s Editorial emphasised. The leading motoring organisations are rightly pressing hard for the raising or abolition of unnecessarily low limits. The Daily Express has been backing them. RoSPA is opposed to a higher Motorway speed-limit in Britain that would bring us into line with most other EEC countries — with a title like “Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents” this is, perhaps, not unexpected, although one might have hoped this dedicated body would have by now abandoned the futile idea that “speed kills”, without qualification. We agree that it is high time the limit on our Motorways was raised or, better, abolished. Before the permanent 70-limit was imposed Motor Sport had a go at attempting to get comrnonsense to prevail. We organised a massive Petition against this 70 mph speed-limit, which had been introduced purely as a panic measure in 1965, signed by 280,000 readers. It was presented to the Transport Ministry by Earl Howe and the Editor in the presence of leading racing drivers, headed by Graham Hill. Alas, unless an Election is pending, making a Government Department listen to public opinion is more difficult than persuading an elephant to ride in a Mini. No doubt our stacks of paper were soon fed to the Transport House boilers, preventing the civil-servants from feeling any draughts. However, that Motor Sport Petition may well have prevented those who decided our motoring destiny from reducing the limit to 60 mph. . . (Which is why we consider another such Petition, as announced last month by the Managing Editor, to be worthwhile in 1983.)
Since 1965 cars have become safer, traffic density has increased, and the accidents which the 70-limit on our M1 and subsequent Motorways was intended to reduce, but didn’t, are induced by the bunching, the nose-to-tail driving, that an unrealistic Motorway speed-limit must always incur. So it is high time speed-limits were revised, and Britain’s brought into line with those of other EEC countries. Did you know that ours are lower than the restrictions in Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland, with West Germany eschewing Motorway limits, and Italy’s generally higher than ours?
The motor-car has always been the butt of ridiculous catch phrases, such as “lethal weapon” or “speed kills”, by unthinking or biased people. From the earliest times it was obliged, legally, to be driven very slowly. Things improved a bit, with enlightenment the overall speed limit eventually going to 20 mph, enforced by zealous constables using cheap stop-watches and waving hankies, until such stupidity was universally ignored, as some of you may remember, or have heard about. Clearly a bad Law, which was replaced in the 1930s with freedom from speed-limits on the “open” road, but a 30 mph limit imposed in “built-up” areas. That was a relief to those who saw speed as one of civilisation’s benefits. One had only to keep an eye in the rear-view mirror for black (Police) Ford V8s to escape a fine for “speeding”, an odd term applied to modern cars doing close to 30 mph. Even this advance rather strained the important good relations between the Police and the public.
All that was ages ago. Since then we have had additional 40, 50, 60 and 70 mph limits, to confuse and irritate. (To which can be added an unofficial injunction to proceed at 5 mph, over a stretch of Welsh road after the notorious “gritting” process, and where else but in Powys could you set notices proclaiming “No carriageway markings”?).
It is time to think again, yet, God help us, the Transport Under Secretary, Lynda Chalker, is trying to use “sleeping policemen”, or artificial bumps, to enforce the 30-limit, regardless of their cost and the closing of roads while they are installed. Clearly an unenlightened lady, who believes naively that any speed is suicidal in a horseless carriage. . .
Is Britain to remain backward in not coming forward with raised or abolished speed-limits for the 1980s, to speed up essential transport and particularly to reduce dangerous bunching on our Motorways? If anyone in authority thinks permitting overtaking on the near-side offers a motorway solution, St Christopher help us all. — William Boddy.