On Monday 6 January 2014 the Highways Agency published a public consultation on introducing a maximum mandatory speed limit of 60 mph on the 34-mile stretch between M1 Junctions 28 and 35a. The rationale behind the proposal is to contain possible future rises in air pollution, notably nitrous oxides (NOx) – a response to tightening air quality targets from the EU. Failing to meet the targets could lead to heavy fines from the European Commission.
Reducing motorway speeds from 70 mph to 60 mph potentially has several effects:
- It reduces air pollution (in this case NOx) by about 20–25% as the following graph shows:
- By the same token, it reduces CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, which saves drivers money.
- It potentially increases journey times which would result in economic loss, particularly if the affected traffic is moving goods and services. However, this could be negated if as a result of the reduction in speed the traffic runs more smoothly.
- It potentially reduces the risk of collisions if the traffic runs more smoothly and reduces their severity.
There will be confusion amongst some drivers as to what ministers’ position is on motorway speed limits. After all this government had widely talked up the possibility of raising the limit to 80 mph in places while here the debate is all about cutting it.
The consultation comes at the same time as news from the Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders (SMMT) that UK car sales in 2013 jumped 10.8% on the year before to reach pre-recession levels – 2.264 million cars. Looking at the composition of the fleet it is interesting to note that the share of mini and supermini as well as dual purpose has increased, while that of lower and upper medium cars has decreased.
This should help with emissions as cars in these segments tend to consume less fuel.