Could more electric cars lead to an 80mph motorway speed limit?

Previous push to raise limit was shut down over emissions concerns

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The speed limit on some motorways and dual carriageways could be raised to 80mph as more motorists buy electric vehicles.

The suggestion was made by transport secretary Grant Shapps at the Conservative Party conference, as he also suggested limits could also be lowered to 20mph outside schools for safety reasons.

Shapps said that the suggestion of raising speed limits on the motorways was previously put forward in 2011, but was scrapped as it was warned the higher speeds could generate an extra 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

However, with the popularity of electric vehicles constantly increasing, the proposal could be reconsidered.

Speaking at a transport debate in Manchester, Mr Shapps said: “On 80mph motorway speed limits: I’ve been thinking about this issue and maybe even sought advice on the subject of late. I think there is an argument for looking at our speed limits, both in terms of higher speed limits and actually lower limits – 20mph outside of schools.

“When it was last looked at in 2011, reviewing the last submission to ministers on the subject, it was thought the carbon emission addition would be too great.

“But since I am a driver of an electric car myself, I got to thinking about whether that would still be the case. I think there is an argument that once you have increased the level of electrification and therefore decreased or entirely removed carbon, that you might look at those things again.”

Last year, Highways England boss Jim O’Sullivan said that certain sections of the road network were ready for higher limits, but it was only ‘public opinion’ that was stopping the change.

The Alliance of British Drivers shares the sentiment, calling the 70mph limit ‘outdated and discredited’, arguing that statistics show there are ‘virtually no sober, responsible drivers involved in road traffic accidents where their speed is the primary definite causation factor’.

However, Nicholas Lyes, head of policy at the RAC motoring organisation, said that although the transport secretary made a good point about emissions, he called for ‘compelling evidence’ that increasing the limit would not impact safety.

He said: “Any move to raise speed limits on motorways to 80mph is fundamentally an issue of safety. Part of the problem is that at present, there is a high proportion of drivers that break the 70mph limit and drive nearer to 80mph. If the speed limit were to be changed to 80mph, there is a risk that the new default becomes even higher.

“Our motorways are currently the safest roads on the entire network, and we wouldn’t want to see anything happen that changes this. So, unless there is compelling evidence that a change in the limit on some stretches of road would not adversely affect safety, the current limit should be retained.”

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Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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