Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A question on speed limit changes

Soon to mean 80 mph?
I just read this article from the Guardian regarding the government's proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph, and it got me thinking. The argument put forward is that raising the speed limit would increase accidents and deaths, and is therefore bad. The end of the article links to a Guardian blog entry from September that is more virulent, describing the policy as 'idiotic'.

However, this raises a question for me: a 60 mph motorway limit would likely bring about a reduction in road deaths; a 50 mph limit even more so. Would those criticising proposals to raise the motorway limit support lowering it to 40 or even 30 mph? Most, I'm pretty sure, would not.

All speed limits are arbitrary. And as limits increase, so do accidents and deaths. But, this is mirrored by a reduction in journey times and an improved quality of life for the millions of people making journeys on our roads.

Our 70 mph limit was set in 1965 when few cars could even exceed 70 mph. Modern safety developments mean family cars are now designed to be suitable to safely drive at higher speeds, and in most of the rest of Europe they legally can. It merely seems like a 'normal' limit to us because it's what we're used to.

Safety is important, but this debate must accept that there is a continuum of speeds at which the limit could be set. Those who wish to raise our current limit are not necessarily reckless and uncaring, they're just picking a higher point on a scale where convenience increases alongside accidents and deaths. Whatever point you happen to advocate, short of banning cars moving at all, there will always be another point you could have chosen where fewer cars would crash and fewer people would die.

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