I’ve been thinking about the issue of raising the motorway speed limit for a while, since it was proposed some months ago. The recent M5 incident has brought the issue back into focus in a very bad way, but i’m not convinced the two issues are that closely related. The combination of bad weather conditions and possibly fireworks smoke seemed to have been at least partly behind the pile up and this could lead to problems even at much lower speeds.
Damian Carrington writes very well in the Guardian and has an environment blog which is very common sense and down to Earth. His blog post on this highlights the triple impact of pollution, fuel usage and injury & deaths as three overwhelming reasons why this policy is a very very bad one.
‘It doesn’t have to be this way. In March, Spain cut its speed limit by 7mph (10kph), which will save the nation £2bn a year. In 2009, the Labour government consulted on cutting rural road speed limits from 60mph to 50mph, to cut deaths and injuries. And from 1974-1987, following the first oil shock, the US government cut limits to 55mph, at the same time as building the greatest economy the world has ever seen.’
So, what are the arguments?
In the blue (Tory) corner…
1) Getting to meetings faster and creating a more efficient and cost-effective transport system, with it’s positive effect on the economy in these hard economic times.
2) The motorway speed limit has been in place since motorways first opened in the 1960’s and vehicle technology has improved and it is easier to go faster.
In the logic and common sense corner…
– I would agree with the blue views if it wasn’t for the environmental and safety impacts. The justification on its own is not good enough – you have to also consider the full impacts of the justification and issue.
– Due to the limitations of speed camera technology, there is roughly a 10% margin of error, meaning it would be 80 mph + 10%, giving nearly 90 mph for the top speed. There is an automatic ban for people driving 100 mph – this is getting very close to this figure and it doesn’t take much to go that bit faster does it?
– Increasing the speed limit will lead to more accidents and deaths. This isn’t even worth debating. Travelling at a faster speed means less time to react to any kind of incident, inevitably leading to an increase in the likelihood of an accident. Because of the faster speed, if an accident does happen, the impact will be greater.
– Environmental impacts are one of the big arguments. Raising the speed limit will increase CO2 emissions and therefore directly contribute to global warming. Again, this isn’t a theory. Spain have recently reduced their speed limits and are seeing the savings in costs and emissions as a result.
– Fuel costs will increase. The chances are that if the limit is increased, there will be a temptation to also increase your average speed, even by a small amount. If this happens, more fuel will be consumed, therefore the cost of motoring will rise.
To be fair to them, both the Energy and Climate Change Secretary (Chris Huhne) and the Health Secretary (Andrew Lansley) opposed the new proposals (for obvious and logical reasons, up until the Tory elite came down in favour of the real right-wing Tories, at which point the logic of going against their core support evaporated in a cloud of exhaust fumes. Lets face it, the right wingers have no interest in road accidents and the environment. They seem to be more interested in their personal freedom and making lots of money from fraud and big business.
As a theme of the ‘greenest government ever’, this is a fairly good example. Another piece in the hypocrisy jigsaw, which is growing weekly. Given the previous attempted sell-offs of public forests, the attempted demolition of the 2008 Climate Change Act, the High Court Judicial Review over air pollution, the suspension of the Renewable Heat Incentive, £250 Million to bring back some weekly black bin collections and now a policy which is proven to lead to more road deaths and far more pollution.
Although these are hard economic times, this cannot be used to justify any and every policy which ‘might’, ‘maybe’ boost the economy. This is a form of extremism and there is only only one outcome to that.
It’s another example of why short-term political decisions are incompatible with medium and long term strategic decision-making. Safeguarding the stability of the planet’s ecology is not on the election cycle agenda, but what is more important? People have a hard time understanding that we are directly and permanently connected to nature and the world around us.
Just because we can do something does not mean we have to do it. This isn’t the ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ theory, this is about balancing up the positives and negatives and making a decision based on that.
On one hand, the Coalition are introducing the Green Investment Bank (a Labour proposal by the way), but on the other introducing the 80 mph speed limit policy. There needs to be consistent movement towards a more sustainable economy and way of life, not this back and forwards approach, with pandering to one side of the political Tory divide, then to the other, seemingly to try and keep everyone happy.