English motorway network ‘unfit’ for 80 mph speed limit

ENGLAND’S motorway network does not currently provide enough protection to car drivers and occupants to consider raising the speed limit to 80 mph, according to a new report from the Road Safety Foundation.


Instead, says the road safety charity, focus should be on the large economic benefits arising from fixing the network systematically.


In new research it shows widespread faults in run-off protection doubling the rate of death and serious injury and shunt crashes rising exponentially with traffic flow.


Some 800 serious crashes occur annually on English motorways, resulting in 115 deaths. The cost of serious motorway crashes is £0.4 billion annually excluding traffic delays.


English roads generally have become safer over the last decade with a 47% drop in the number of deaths, but motorways have not done as well with only a 42% drop.


The major cause for the reduction in all serious road casualties in the last decade is improved vehicle safety, says the report. However, today’s vehicle fleet can still only protect up to an impact speed of 40 mph.


An independent safety rating ofEngland’s motorways finds that only 50% have the maximum four-star rating. Half the remaining network has significant flaws in ‘run-off’ protection and there is room for improvement on a further 25%.


The analysis shows ‘run-off’ crashes account for at least a quarter of all serious motorway crashes. The serious ‘run-off’ crash rate doubles on English motorway sections with low protection.


‘Shunt crashes’ account for a further 20% of motorway crashes. The analysis shows that ‘shunt crashes’ on English motorways increase steadily with traffic flow.


However, says the report, entitled ‘Unfit for 80’, an enforced 80 mph strategy is feasible with technology as demonstrated on the M42 and M25 ‘controlled motorways’ and with average speed cameras at motorway road works.


Opinion surveys reveal no evidence of broad public support for increasing the speed limit to 80 mph unless there is an “enforced 80 mph” strategy so that driven speeds stay broadly as they are today, says the Foundation. Given this is the only plausible strategy, no material economic benefits arise from increasing the speed limit.


Before raising the motorway speed limit from 70 mph to 80 mph, the Foundation recommends:

  • Motorways should be brought up to a minimum four-star standard by 2020
  • Motorway control systems should be installed across the network where flows exceed 85,000 vehicles per day by 2020
  • General information and warning systems should be installed across the remainder of the network by 2020
  • Signing and marking regimes should follow best international practice so that they can be read by the vehicle systems which are being introduced in the period 2012-2015.


The report has been published after the Department for Transport announced in October last year that it would consult on raising the motorway speed limit to 80 mph for light vehicles on suitably engineered motorways.


In promoting its view, the Department claimed that:

  • Half of motorists already exceeded the 70 mph limit and the moral legitimacy of the system would be restored
  • Vehicles had become safer
  • There would be resulting economic benefits
  • Other EU countries had higher limits.

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