Limited: Britain's motorway network is not conducive to wide-spread adoption of an 80mph limit



According to new research by the Road Safety Foundation, England’s decrepit motorway network is not safe enough to have the speed limit raised to 80mph, the aptly named Unfit for 80 report states.

The report raises concerns over the rapidly rising risk of shunt crashes from the sheer volume of traffic using England’s motorways, in addition to poor roadside safety protection systems. This report comes at a time when the Government continues its consideration of a review of the motorway speed limit.

Formal proposals on the speed limit were promised just last autumn; when the then Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond stated the Government’s desire to: “make sure that our motorway speed limit reflects the reality of modern vehicles and driving conditions, not those of 50 years ago … we must consider the huge economic benefits that can be created by shortening journey time”

However the Road Safety Foundation report finds that currently motorways do not provide enough protection to drivers and occupants, and that to raise the speed limit would only compound the problem further.

Director of the Road Safety Foundation, Dr Joanne Marden, who oversaw the research, said: “The vehicle fleet has become safer in the last decade through better crash protection. At motorway speeds, the vehicle alone cannot protect the human body – it has to work with the motorway’s protection systems such as safety fencing to absorb high speed crash energies. In the next decade, the greatest potential for reducing deaths is on higher-speed roads outside built-up areas. This will be delivered through crash avoidance technology and road engineering catching up to complement improved vehicle crash protection.”

Whilst van drivers would appear to be better protected in a collision, and could benefit hugely from decreased journey times, the report indicates that the network is just not capable of dealing with the increased speed limit, and it is a risk not worth taking.
The report shows serious faults in run-off protection which are doubling the rate of death and serious injury largely due to the fact that the roadside protection in missing altogether. It also shows shunt crashes have risen exponentially with increased traffic flow, but only a handful of motorway sections such as on the M25 and M42 have the electronic controls with hazard warning and variable speed limits that are needed to manage the intense flows now commonplace on English motorways.