24 Sep 2020

Higher or Lower on UK Roads?

Highways England is implementing a 60mph speed limit restriction on four stretches of motorway as a trial to see how it impacts on air pollution.

The stretches of road – part of the M6, M1, M602 and the M5 – are up to 4.5 miles long and have been chosen for their poor air quality (based on levels of nitrogen dioxide). Trials will last 12 months, with the results providing valuable insight.

The move comes after considerations were put forward last year to raise the speed limit to 80mph. Here’s a look at both sides of the debate:

Raise the limit

Discussion in 2019 focused on raising the speed limit to 80mph across the road network. The logic stemmed from the impending arrival of electric cars as the main choice of vehicle, which would vastly reduce the carbon footprint to the extent where raising the speed limit wouldn’t make a big enough impact on CO2 emissions to prove detrimental.

It would increase productivity as company vehicles, goods transporters and staff could get to their destination quicker. However, it could lead to an increase in crashes, certainly more severe ones, as the rising speed of vehicles results in slower reaction times for drivers.

Lower the limit

Highways England is trialing a speed limit of 60mph to find out the positive environmental impact it could have on our air quality. A huge focus has been placed on improving the nation’s carbon footprint, with ambitious plans to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.

This would help move the country towards this target, prior to the ban on selling petrol and diesel vehicles. But concerns would centre on the negative impact on business efficiency and adding on to individual journey times.

Whichever option is put in place, the future may be quite different on our roads compared to now.

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