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Should the motorway limit be raised to 80?

It's an idea that's been discussed for some time, but calls to raise the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 80mph have failed to gain momentum.

Last year, Jim O'Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England, had his say on the matter. Speaking in an interview with The Telegraph, O'Sullivan suggested the only way an 80mph limit on motorways would be possible was if it became 'socially acceptable'.

The issue, explained O'Sullivan, is that the existing limit of 70mph is so 'socially embedded' into the British driver's psyche, it has become extremely hard to change.

'There are parts of the network that subject to a safety analysis could probably operate at 80 miles an hour,' he said.

However, O'Sullivan added that any future proposal would likely be blocked – something that had 'more to do with public opinion and social views than it has with the technology of vehicles.'

An outdated speed limit?

Cars on motorway

The 70mph limit was first introduced on the UK's motorways back in 1965 as a four-month trial. It was made permanent in 1967 but proved unpopular, with hundreds of drivers staging a demonstration at Newport Pagnell service station on the M1.

Now, 50 years on, the limit remains just as disliked among some drivers.

Many argue that the 70mph speed limit was introduced at a time when car brakes lacked power. This argument is backed by the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD), which describes the current limit as outdated and has called for an 80mph limit on the UK's motorways.

Majority of UK drivers support an increase

Research carried out last year revealed that three-quarters of drivers believe the motorway limit should be increased to 80mph.

The survey, cited by the RAC, coincided with an overhaul of how offenders are charged for speeding offences. It found that 27% of drivers felt limits should be more lenient when roads are empty and 56% believed allowances should be made for anyone who exceeds the limit by 5mph.

Are motorways safer than we think?

According to research by road safety charity Brake, motorways have much lower crash rates per mile-travelled than other road types. Reports from 2014 showed 88 injury collisions per billion miles occurred on Britain's motorways compared with 819 on its urban roads.

Studies have also shown that accidents are often the result of dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. Supporters of an increased speed limit suggest a faster flow of traffic would help alleviate such situations.

Even though the motorway limit remains at 70mph, 80mph is the limit most drivers stick to. Which, in turn, raises the question: if the limit was raised to 80mph, would drivers be tempted to bump their speed up to 90mph or even higher?

We suspect this is a conversation that will continue to rumble on for some time yet.

Whether you're for or against an increase in the motorway speed limit, the most important thing is staying safe on the road. Hastings Direct offers a range of quality car insurance policies to give you added peace of mind. Get a quote today.

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