England’s motorway network is not safe for an 80mph speed limit, according to a new report from the Road Safety Foundation.
Poorly-maintained and inadequate roadside protection and the rising risk of shunt crashes from the volume of traffic using England’s motorways are key concerns in the report, ‘Unfit for 80’, which is published while the Government continues to consider a review of the motorway speed limit.
In autumn 2011, Philip Hammond, former secretary of state for transport, stated the Government’s desire to make motorway speed limits reflect the reality of modern vehicles and driving conditions, and to consider the economic benefits of shorter journey times.
However, the Road Safety Foundation report finds that motorways do not currently provide enough protection to car occupants to consider raising the speed limit.
The new research shows widespread faults in run-off protection which, according to the Road Safety Foundation, are doubling the rate of death and serious injury where protection is not provided. It also shows shunt crashes rise exponentially with increased traffic flow, yet only a handful of motorway sections have the electronic controls with hazard warning and variable speed limits that are required to manage intense flows of traffic.
Dr Joanne Marden, director of the Road Safety Foundation, says: “The vehicle fleet has become safer in the last decade through better crash protection. At motorway speeds, the car alone cannot protect the human body. The car has to work with the motorway’s protection systems such as safety fencing to absorb high speed crash energies.
“In the next decade the greatest potential for reducing deaths is on higher-speed roads outside built-up areas. This will be delivered through crash avoidance technology and road engineering catching up to complement improved vehicle crash protection.
“Our cars provide 4-star or 5-star crash protection but too many of our motorways rate only 3-star with major weakness in run-off protection.
“England’s most heavily trafficked motorways can carry a million vehicles within a week. But a one-in-ten million combination of circumstances can arise every three months. Even though they may seem minor, the rate of exposure to any risk is so intense that even minor flaws in motorway layout or safety provision are likely to have serious consequences sooner rather than later.”
Dr Marden continued: “Drivers who want to are already travelling at 80mph when they can. Economic benefits only arise if ‘80 means 90’ and opinion surveys show no public support for that. However, large economic benefits arise from fixing motorways systematically rather than raising the speed limit.
“If 80mph is to be trialled, it must be on controlled motorways such as sections of the M25 and M42, because England’s busy motorways cannot cope with 80mph without enforcement and the ability to lower speeds at busy times, bad weather, congestion and other hazards like spilt loads and crashes ahead.”
Click here to read the full report.