Metric Views can reveal that Government ministers have quietly wound up all efforts to align motorway speed limits for buses, coaches and HGVs with the settings of their respective vehicle speed limiters.
Currently, newer heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and passenger carrying vehicles (PCVs) effectively have two contradictory speed limits when travelling on motorways: the legal speed limit as described in the Highway Code, and the de facto speed limit as defined by vehicle speed limiter regulations.
Last year, the Department for Transport (DfT) proposed addressing this anomaly by aligning motorway speed limits more closely with speed limiter settings (see Metric Views article). At the launch of their consultation in February 2010 they stated:
“… changes are needed because of differences that have arisen between new vehicles, which are fitted with speed limiters, and older vehicles which are not. This means that while newer HGVs are limited to 56mph older vehicles are able to drive at up to 70 mph on the motorway …”
However in the consultation responses summary document, published on 31 December 2010, it states:
“Department for Transport [DfT] Ministers have decided not to proceed with either the proposals for amending motorway speed limits or the extra 3rd lane use prohibitions for certain heavier vehicles. This is partly because it has not been possible to properly identify sufficient benefits that would outweigh the costs incurred in making such regulatory changes.”
In recent years we have become accustomed to cost being cited by Government officials as a reason not to progress with metrication on our roads, but in the case of amending HGV and PCV motorway speed limits, it is untenable for Ministers to cite “costs incurred in making such regulatory changes”. After all, such speed limits are not signed, so any change in these speed limits will not require new signs.
It is also unbelievable for the DfT to state that, “it has not been possible to properly identify sufficient benefits that would outweigh the costs”. Surely, in the case of HGVs, the value of 90 km/h was agreed upon internationally as being the maximum acceptable safe speed for HGVs on motorways, and that continuing to allow older vehicles of that class to legally exceed this speed is by definition unsafe.
The current situation also provides a perverse incentive to hauliers to use older, less efficient, more polluting vehicles since they can legally exceed the speed of newer vehicles fitted with speed limiters.
Aligning legal speed limits with speed limiters would establish a level playing field, benefit the environment, increase road safety and, as former Road Safety Minister Paul Clark said, “provide clarity for everybody – drivers, operators, other motorists and the police”.
It is infuriating that, even after UKMA pointed out the obvious in its consultation response that HGV and PCV motorway speed limits can be aligned exactly with speed limiter settings simply by defining them in km/h (as they do not have to be signed), the DfT continues to cite its original reasons why such an alignment would be “unrealistic”. The original consultation document states:
“4.3 To be clear, we believe that, for several reasons, it would be unrealistic to align the relevant speed limits exactly with speed limiter settings. The reasons include the following:
Speed limiters do not prevent vehicles from travelling at slightly higher speeds than speed limiter settings (eg: when coasting downhill).
[Editor : So what? The driver’s responsibility is to keep within the speed limit regardless of any speed limiter]
Speed limiters have a small permitted technical performance tolerance.
[Editor : So what? Ditto]
EU law is expressed in kmh (sic) rather than mph (and having speed limits of 56mph and 62.5mph would clearly be impractical).”
[Editor : So, as they do not have to be signed, why not express them in km/h?].
Of course, all older buses, coaches and HGVs will eventually be replaced by newer vehicles fitted with speed limiters. By failing to align official speed limits with speed limiter settings, ministers are allowing the HGV and PCV motorway speed limits in the Highway Code, which all new drivers are required to know when passing their driving test, to become meaningless.
The DfT’s stance is incomprehensible.
Consultation on Heavy Goods Vehicle and Passenger Carrying Vehicle motorway speed limits.
Simplification of speed limit rules for buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles
DfT press release – 2 February 2010
Speed Limiter Legislation
The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2004
The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.5) Regulations 2005