Raising The Speed Limit – Can the Conservatives ‘rev up’ the Economy?

 by Rachel Small

It is December 1965, the Beatles are number one, children are asking for spirographs for their Christmas and The Sound of Music has just been released in the cinemas. The average house costs £2,530 and a Manchester United season ticket is £8.50.

After a spate of serious accidents in foggy conditions, Tom Fraser the then Minister of Transport introduced the 70mph speed limit as a temporary measure. In 1967 the new Transport Minister Barbara Castle made the measure permanent. There was little protest – this may be because 70mph was more than 80% of the maximum speed of average cars(now it is only 60% of most cars maximum speed) It is fair to say that in the world of automobiles – and the world in general, the world has moved on since 1965. So why is the speed limit still 70mph?

This was the question posed by Philip Hammond on Thursday 29th September when he announced the government’s new consultation on the matter. The reasons he gives for the increase are the benefits to the economy of being able to move people and goods around the country faster. Hammond said “Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times. So we will consult later this year on raising the limit to get Britain moving. “.

The Conservatives are trying to become the motorists friend, they have promised to; clamp down (pardon the pun) on private sector wheel clampers and stop funding fixed speed cameras. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour parties influence on drivers when they were in power – transport was a low priority in Labour’s 1997 election manifesto, in 2000 press hysteria about rising prices of petrol led to blockades at oil depots which in turn led to motorists queuing outside petrol stations for supplies which quickly ran out. This was when William Hague (then leader of the Conservative Party) positioned himself as the motorist’s friend.

The facts and figures seem to support the change – since 1965 there has been a 75% drop in deaths on British roads, and 49% of drivers break the top speed limit anyway. Of course automobile technology has improved dramatically from 1965. Cars are safer – in 1965 it was not compulsory for passengers or drivers to wear seatbelts, it wasn’t even compulsory from cars to have  seatbelts until 1967. Driving under the influence was not against the law until 1967 either.

Are the Conservatives right when they say that this potential speed limit increase will get the economy moving again – only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the current speed limit is out of date and no longer fit for purpose.

For more information and statistics on road safety see The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.



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