We are currently plagued by economic disaster and political uncertainty, trapped in an eternal battle with famine, poverty, and disease and witnesses to war ravaging vast plains of our planet. It is perplexing, therefore, and a little perverse that everyone has become so caught up in Transport Secretary, Phillip Hammond’s proposal to raise the speed limit on British carriageways .
Now, if Hammond had suggested a radical overhaul that would revolutionise the way we drive on our roads, then concern would be understandable. If, overnight, he had sprouted an extravagant moustache, donned a pair of Lederhosen, and proposed the creation of das Uber- Englischer -Autobahn –System, liberalising our motorways of speed limits altogether, and converting our beloved M6 into a wild expanse of motorised bedlam, then, yes, worries about safety, and governmental responsibility and environmental dangers would fall on concerned listeners.
Fortunately for us, though (and the M6), Hammond isn’t a crazed German petrolhead, with an addiction to Porches and horsepower: he is from Essex, and enjoys fishing. His proposal is, in fact, quite tame: to raise the speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways from seventy to eighty miles per hour. Not reviewed since 1965, he argues that the stagnant seventy limit does not reflect the technological advancements in driver safety. After all, why should the same limit be imposed when we are now driving modern NCAP tested vehicles, and not whirling airily around in fibre-glass Reliant Robins?
His second argument is less convincing. According to Hammond, “Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times.” If this truly is the government’s latest effort to save our country from the brink of economic oblivion, then we may as well just give up now. It is akin to asking the nation’s workers to jog to work in order to extend the working day by, what, three minutes? Perhaps breakfast shall soon become a crime, because so heinously wasteful are the minutes that we spend eating our toast in the morning that our economy is being plunged further and further into irreversible turmoil. And all this is assuming that journeys will, in fact, be shortened. How often during rush hour on the M25, or the M6 or the M62, or on any motorway, dual carriageway, or main road in the whole country do we ever see traffic motoring along at anywhere close to the speed limit? In reality, we are all crawling along, wishing we had spent more minutes at home. Wasting our time. And eating our toast.
Considering an estimated 49% of British motorists are already breaking the top speed limit on our motorways, any dramatic effect on our roads is unlikely. Those who wish to drive faster than seventy miles per hour already do so. They tip-toe the line and only dip below the limit when faced with an impending line of speed cameras. Those lunatics for whom not consuming their five-a-day is an act more treacherous than obliterating the speed limit will continue to abuse our roads, and of course the real dangers, those people who see fit to occupy the middle lane and dawdle at 50mph, will, alas, continue to dawdle with all their dastardly derision.
The government’s eagerness to push this amendment through is not down to economic policy. Instead it is an easy, long overdue change that they will exploit as a means of appealing to a public whose support they are rapidly losing. A Political Party Conference where the main focus is re-identifying with the British public, the freeze on Council Tax, and a tame concession that “you are all allowed to drive a little faster”, is nothing more than Cameron and the Coalition seeking a period of respite. An overdue change? Yes. But a viable economic strategy? The Tories are simply lying again.