After the remarkably un-bureaucratic government proposal to increase the speed limit on motorways to 80mph, a new report has been published decrying the move. The report’s authors claim that a speed increase would be bad for the country on many levels, most importantly by increasing road fatalities and harming the environment.
Public health experts writing in an online report for the British Medical Journal say they are amazed the government would even consider such a proposal given that there is clear research showing an “exponential” link between increasing the speed limit and the number of road fatalities. The journal cites evidence that when similar increases were introduced in the US in 1995, fatalities in road accidents increased by 16.6%. Moreover, the report argued that as heavy goods vehicles would still be capped at 60mph, there was little weight to the argument that a speed increase would help improve economic output by helping to ‘get Britain moving’. However, inevitably, if the speed limit is set to 80mph, more people will feel they can get away with driving even faster and reckless drivers will be more likely to risk lives.
Maybe the answer to ‘gridlock Britain’ is actually more scientific than simply legislating for greater speed. Perhaps GPS is the answer….
Industry experts have been advocating the roll out of intelligent transportation systems based on GPS for years. There are, of course, many different models for how this could work, but loosely speaking, it would mean that all commercial traffic was centrally monitored so that companies or even individuals could be given a better insight into the most efficient routes and travel times. Variable speed limits are something we’ve had for a number of years – having been introduced on the M25 way back in 1995. This immediately brought down journey times, increased smoother flowing traffic (thus helping the environment) and boosted road safety. So I propose we adopt something similar: with a national motorway network of variable speed limits, made possible by individual GPS units which not only allow a national computer to calculate the most efficient way of controlling traffic, but also recommend an optimised route to individuals based on traffic conditions. This way, you might not find yourself taking your customary route to work, but you will at least get there faster and considerably safer.
The status quo clearly isn’t practical anymore. It’s absurd to have a notional national speed limit which amounts to little more than a legal fiction, given that most people flout it so consistently. Currently, guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers recommend that a Fixed Penalty Notice be applied to all speeding offences which are more than 10% + 2mph over the speed limit, which means that on a motorway and in the absence of aggravating circumstances, like fog or ice, you’ll only get a fine if you’re doing 79 or above. But the problem is that speeding is a strict liability offence and so you don’t really know where you stand. Introducing a GPS variable speed limit would at least end the uncertainty surrounding the current speed limit which is consistently flouted by even the most cautious drivers. But most significantly, a nationally monitored intelligent transportation system, based on GPS, would help control traffic for a smoother, safer and faster journey.