Sunday, 9 October 2011

Speed kills

The Minister for Transport is thinking of increasing the speed limit on Britain's motorways from the current 70 miles per hour to 80 mph. His reasoning is that most drivers are already travelling at that speed and that making it legal will cut commercial costs. While I agree with the first part of that, I have to wonder just where there are going to be any cost savings.

Let me say right now that I try to respect the speed limit. I haven't always been such a goody two-shoes and I was perhaps lucky to be caught speeding only once. One of things drummed into me while I was undergoing observed drives preparatory to taking the test for the Institute of Advanced Motorists was the requirement to observe speed limits and I have tried to do so ever since. It's not just a matter of obeying the law: it also makes economic sense. Is there a driver anywhere who is ignorant of the fact not that speed kills, but that speed costs? (Perhaps I should also make it plain that I don't agree that speed kills. Inappropriate speed kills, but not necessarily speed per se.)

Once when I was driving back to Cherbourg from our French home, a distance of about 180 miles, I tried an experiment. I maintained a speed of 90 kmh, about 56 or 57 mph, as long as I could. There were occasional bursts above that to overtake slightly slower lorries but on the whole I kept to the speed. It did mean the journey took a little longer - about 10 minutes as far as I can recall - but it also meant that my fueld consumption decreased from about 50 miles per gallon to 61 mpg. With the price of petrol currently just below £6 a gallon, that means a saving of £3 on that journey alone.

I'm unsure just how the Minister thinks commerce will save money if the speed limit is increased. If drivers are already travelling at 80, will they speed up to 90? Will that really improve the finances of any company - other than the oil companies? I sometimes check the average speed at which I have undertaken a journey as recorded by the on-board computer. A journey of about 100 miles, of which 98 are on dual carriageways with 70mph limits, is done at an average speed of about 55-60mph. And that is with me driving at 70 most of the way. Those couple of miles on town roads reduce the average speed by a tremendous amount - and that will still be the case if the journey is done at 80.

One of the arguments used by those in favour of increasing the limit is that other countries have higher limits. In France, for example, most of the motorways have a limit of 130kmh, equivalent to 80mph. But when it is raining, the limit is reduced to 110, about 68mph. Not that it seems to make much difference as most drivers still travel at speeds in excess of 130. Or so it seems to me as I pootle along at 110 regardless. I have yet to discover just when precipitation is sufficient to be classified as rain and when it is simply drizzle and I rather suspect the same applies to the majority of motorists.

Those in favour of increasing the limit also point out that when the 70 limit was first posted, cars generally and brakes, tyres and suspension in particular, were considerably less advanced than they are today.

When we were coming back from the Auvergne a couple of weeks ago we had plenty of time in hand and I tried keeping the speed down to 65mph. It really made next to no difference to when we arrived at our destination - at least, I don't think it did - but it certainly improved the fuel consumption. Whether or not the motorway speed limit is increased, here is one driver who will rarely take advantage of the higher limit.

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