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Opinion

Opinion: how to go faster and still keep the 70mph motorway speed limit

It’s time we started thinking outside the box when it comes to the UK's six-decade-old motorway limits

Published: 03 Jul 2023

It’s mad, but it’s never going to change. The UK’s 70mph motorway speed limit was established (as a temporary measure!) nearly 60 years ago, in an era when brakes were made of lambswool and crumple zones of cottage cheese. Sixty years before 1965, they’d only just removed the requirement for motor vehicles to be led by a chap waving a flag. But here we are in 2023, still stuck with our 70mph limit, and isn’t that just a bit weird?

Personally, I’m all for lower speed limits when motorways are busy, or foggy, or icy, or wet. I’m all for 20mph zones in towns. But imposing a 70mph limit on an empty, dry motorway, in a modern car, is like banning Michael Phelps from his local swimming baths unless he’s wearing armbands.

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The French know this, allowing their autoroutists to do 130kph (81mph) in bonnes conditions. Yet Brits apparently can’t be trusted beyond 70, and no politician will ever change this, because apparently suggesting a modest increase in motorway speeds is the moral equivalent of campaigning on a ‘feed all the puppies into a sausage mincer’ platform.

However. There is a simple solution to retaining the 70mph limit, yet legally going faster on motorways. Why don’t we just make our miles a bit longer?

“DOES ANY ONE OF US REALLY KNOW EXACTLY HOW LONG A MILE IS?”

It works, mathematically. Extend the length of a mile by, say, 20 per cent, and we can stick to that nice, politically correct 70mph, yet go quicker on the M5. Same 70 limit, just each one of those 70s is a bit bigger.

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If you’re thinking, won’t that make a horrible mess of our entire established notion of distance, a) yes it will, but b) so what? Pretty much no one apart from us, and the USA, uses miles in the first place, and the Americans love a bit of supersizing. And does any one of us really know exactly how long a mile is? It’s a daft unit of measurement, let’s use that to our advantage here.

(Added bonus: elongating the mile will make running a marathon even more arduous and awful than it already is, which is exactly what you deserve if you sign up to run a marathon.)

But if you’re not down with the idea of messing with our units of distance, here’s another option for upping motorway speeds without breaking 70mph. Make our hours shorter.

Reduce an hour to, say, 50 minutes, and we can keep that 70mph speed limit, but we’ll have to go quicker to clock up that same distance in less time. Again, I know what you’re thinking: Sam, you’re a genius. You’ve just knocked 80 minutes off my eight-hour working day. Where do I sign?

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You’re welcome. Sure, there’s a bit of admin to sort out. Scratching a few digits off the world’s clocks, for starters. And figuring out what to do with those missing 240 minutes left over at the end of the day. But frankly that’s child’s play compared to pretending a six-decade-old speed limit makes sense.

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