Ministers refuse to update obsolete HGV speed limits

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

6 thoughts on “Ministers refuse to update obsolete HGV speed limits”

  1. Metric un-Conversion
    Driving a truck once on a German 2-lane autobahn I overtook a line of slower trucks on a hill- passing a sign which said “No overtaking 4 t’. At the top of the hill I was overtaken by a police car which had been tailing me and was flagged down. “You know why we have stopped you?” “Yes- you think we are over 4 tonnes” “And you are not?” “No- 3 tons, 15 cwt” (It was some time ago- convert that, I thought. But he didn’t try) “Ah ha, but that is unladen weight. What is in the back?” I had to show him. It was a beautiful 1926 Bullnose Morris we’d been filming in Switzerland. “Wonderbar!” he said- “B***** off!” (In German similar).
    (I never did find out if we were over or under 4 tonnes!)


  2. Tram speed limits and signs are already in km/h …

    … and of course all HGVs use metric-only digital tachographs that record distances in km and speeds in km/h.

    Given that we already have a mix of km/h and mph on our roads, setting HGV speed limits in km/h won’t be so radical. However, this issue does make it obvious that we ought to switch ALL speed limits to km/h sooner rather than later.


  3. DfT and Government Aims:
    The previous Government said it had an aim to make Britain’s roads the safest in the world. There was a DfT consultation (now archived):

    Click to access roadsafetyconsultation.pdf

    In the present Government, the Minister responsible for Road Safety is Mike Penning. See:
    He is also responsible for ‘Better regulation’.
    Has he been asked, ‘Is it the Government’s aim to make Britain’s roads the safest in the world?’
    He is MP for Hemel Hempstead and someone living in that Constituency might like to ask him about ‘better regulation’, ‘road safety’, etc. etc.


  4. Dear All,

    Oh how our minds we do pervert,
    when first we practice to convert!

    I define “metric conversion” as changing from one of the many millions of old pre-metric measuring words to the simplicity of a metric system unit — selected from the International System of Units (SI).

    I define “anti-metric conversion” as changing from a metric system unit one of the many millions of old pre-metric measuring words.

    Sadly for bureaucrats at the DfT the two processes of “metric conversion” and “anti-metric conversion” have never been shown to produce a smooth, economical, or FAST transition to the full use of the metric system anywhere, or at any time, in the world.

    To whom are these bureaucrats grovelling?


    Pat Naughtin
    Geelong, Australia


  5. “UK faces life in the slow lane as business world looks to Asia and South America”

    This was the Guardian headline about a new report by consultant PwC. This report includes the following paragraph:

    “As far as the destination of UK exports goes, there hasn’t been much of a change in the last 10 years even though there has been a big shift in the global economy. UK growth was based on property speculation and financial speculation, and now that those bubbles have burst, the question is what our areas of competitive advantage are going to be. It is going to be quite a challenge and it is not going to happen overnight. There has been a shift in government thinking towards the need for a more positive industrial strategy, but that is a complete reversal of the way we have been going for the past 30 years.”

    And the UK Government’s latest responses on such issues:

    The Transport Ministry announces that it will not align speed limits with speed limiters as the task is just too difficult.

    The Minister of Science, not a scientist himself, proudly announces that we will soon be able to buy draught beer in measures of 2/3 pint.

    So let’s just ignore the oncoming problems of life in the slow lane, with tax increases and cuts in services, and go out and get drunk.


  6. This anomaly shows that the DfT’s isolated position on resistance to metric road signs is untenable in the long term. Any new European road legislation that refers to measurement units will only be in metric units as the UK is the only European country that uses the imperial system on its roads. This will only lead to more anomalies like this one. It just exposes the folly of trying to use two incompatible systems of measurement.


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