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Speed Limits

Volume 929: debated on Wednesday 6 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is the outcome of the Government's consultations about the national speed limits; and if he will make a statement.

As I told the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) this afternoon, with effect from 1st June I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales propose to restore the 70 mph limit on dual-carriageway roads and to raise the limit for single-carriageway roads to 60 mph.In reaching this decision we have taken careful note of the replies to the consultation letter which was sent last November to more than 50 representative organisations, seeking their views on the right level for national speed limits on roads other than motorways.The 50 and 60 mph limits were introduced in December 1974 in the light of the urgent need to cut fuel imports. The response to the consultation letter shows that the continuing need for fuel economy is recognised, but there is a broad measure of agreement that this is best achieved by prudent driving habits. Speed limits are most likely to command respect if they are fixed at a level which reflects safety and traffic considerations. This accords with the policy which has been advocated for many years in relation to local speed limits, and we accept the view that the same principles should apply to the fixing of the national limits.

Surveys have shown that a significant proportion of drivers have been exceeding the 50 and 60 mph limits and that compliance fell between 1975 and 1976. Those findings suggest that if the present limits are continued they would be difficult to enforce to the extent needed to maintain respect for road traffic law.

The decision to revert to 70 mph for dual-carriageway roads takes into account that some of these roads are nearly of motorway standard and they all physically separate the opposing streams of traffic. But some stretches of dual-carriageway road will need to be kept at 60 mph for safety reasons, and these lower limits will be signed.

Many representative organisations thought that on single carriageway roads the speed limit should not be as high as on motorways and other roads separating the two streams of traffic. Nearly all European countries have a lower limit for ordinary highways. In raising the limit on single carriageway roads to 60 mph, I do not expect present driving speeds to rise to any significant extent, but it will assist road safety by providing a better margin for the safe overtaking of slow vehicles, and reducing the frustration which causes some drivers to take risks. It should also help the police to enforce the law by enabling them to concentrate on those who drive irresponsibly fast. If, as I hope, drivers generally respect of the 60 mph limit on single carriageway roads, it will serve the interest of fuel economy as well.

Under the provisions of the Road Traffic (Regulation) Act 1967 the initial order imposing the new limits will not be laid before Parliament, but would need to be extended by a continuation order—subject to annulment by resolution of the House—after 18 months.