July 7th, 2010

Motorways aren’t changing, they already have

Back in the 1960s, motorways were being built more and more, covering the country in a network of high speed, smooth roads with no speed limits. People would test their cars, pushing for top speeds which were, at the time, very modest. 90mph was fast back then, and not only that, a cars build quality was much poorer. Cooling was insufficient, and cars would often break down with damaged engines.

Accidents were also more deadly. Safety equipment wasn’t just worse, it was non-existent. Cars would be completely obliterated in crashes, and with these roads being so new, and the distances being so much longer than drivers were used to, those crashes were not uncommon. It was dangerous, and that danger was brought more and more into the public eye when AC decided to use the M1 for top speed trials with the AC Cobra, achieving speeds of almost 180mph. All this outrage helped towards the introduction of a 70mph motorway limit in 1965.

Since 1965, car technology has advanced, as has safety equipment, and motorway driving is no new thing. Everything has changed except the speed limit. And that makes no sense.

Even a regular, normal car like Hyundai’s i10 is now impressively packaged, with bundles of safety kit and a top speed in excess of 100mph, at least in manual trim. Compare that to a popular small car of the 60s, the Austin Mini… it had a top speed of 72mph, it didn’t even come with seatbelts, and it took 27 seconds to reach 60mph. If a Mini ended up on its roof, then the pillars would probably fold up and the occupants would die, and that’s if they hadn’t been thrown from the car and crushed by a procession of wagons because of the lack of seatbelts. However the i10, even though it didn’t get full marks in Euro NCAP tests, is an altogether far safer place to be than the Mini, or indeed almost any car of its size built before the turn of the century.

Times have changed, but the law hasn’t kept up. 70mph was a sensible speed restriction in 1965, but today it’s not, it’s too slow. I can almost guarantee that you, dear reader, have travelled at over 70mph on the motorway, and I’m also willing to bet that it felt safe. Modern cars like to cruise at higher speeds, particularly those from Germany, which have been designed for unrestricted Autobahn. Modern cars can crash at higher speeds with less risk of death or serious injury. Modern cars can do everything better than their 60s counterparts, so why on Earth has the law not changed to suit the developments?

How about a speed limit of 100 on stretches of 3-lane motorway, and no limit between midnight and 7am? Or maybe even just upping the overall limit to 90, or just copying Germany’s system. No matter what is done, something should be, because it’s not 1965 anymore.

John Slavin