What will an 80mph motorway speed limit do to safety

With news that the UK could soon be trialling an 80mph speed limit on sections of its motorway network, do the new plans to increase the maximum permissible speed mean safety will be affected?

The UK’s motorway network is currently the safest in Europe with only 2.0 deaths recorded per one billion kilometres travelled. An odd statistic, but comparison to France and Germany at 5.4 and 4.5 deaths per one billion kilometres travelled respectively shows the UK actually has an enviable safety record.

In decent weather, France’s motorway speed limit stands at 130kph – or 80mph – while sections of Germany’s motorway network are derestricted completely.

Looking at the statistics would lead people to believe that upping the maximum speed to 80mph in this country would see road deaths and accidents increase to levels of our continental counterparts.

But for the most part, France and Germany’s motorways are constrained to two-lane carriageways, whereas in the UK, the norm is three – potentially a setup more appropriate for an 80mph limit given slow moving vehicles never have to use the outside lane.

With a 10mph faster legal speed, motorists may become less impatient to pass a car in front, tailgating them in the process, knowing they can easily reach their intended destination within the confines of the law. Possibly then, helping to improve standards of driving on motorways.

However, an increased speed limit will mean a greater speed differential between the slowest and fastest travelling cars on the motorway, increasing the risk of a collision if a slower vehicle should pull out into the path of a car travelling at 80mph, decreasing a driver’s thinking time.

Partly due to advances in car safety, road deaths in the UK have dropped by 75 per cent since the 70mph limit was introduced in 1965.

And with modern car’s brakes and tyres, 80mph is in theory a safely attainable legal speed – if drivers were to modify their following distances to suit, safety needn’t be a concern.