Should the motorway speed limit be reduced in wet weather?

07.36 | 3 August 2021 | | 4 comments

Nearly three-quarters of drivers would like to see the standard 70mph speed limit on motorways reduced in wet weather.

That’s according to a survey of 2,100 drivers, carried out by the RAC.

In total, 72% of respondents say they would like to see the speed reduction made to improve road safety and encourage better driving habits.

A third (33%) said the limit should be reduced to 60mph in the wet, while 7% think it should be cut to 65mph. An additional 17% would like an even lower limit of 55mph or 50mph.

The RAC understands France is currently the only country in Europe to have speed limits that are reduced during inclement weather, with the 130km/h (80mph) limit reduced to 110km/h (68mph). 

While there are significantly more motorway fatalities in France, 806 people were killed or seriously injured on motorways in Great Britain in 2019, with around 30% of these casualties (246) occurring when the road surface was damp, wet or flooded – a figure higher than four years earlier (208).

Official figures also show that wet roads and drivers travelling too fast for the conditions were respectively the cause of some 259 and 242 motorway collisions in 2018.

Of the reasons given by drivers who advocate lower motorway speed limits in the wet, 78% said they felt lower limits would encourage some drivers to slow down, while 72% believe it might save lives. 

Two-thirds (65%) said slower speeds might improve visibility with less spray from moving vehicles, and half (53%) felt it would reduce overall vehicle speeds, even if some people ignored the lower limit.

Among the fifth of drivers (21%) who are against the idea of a lower motorway speed limit in bad weather, a majority said it was because most drivers already adjust their speed to the conditions (54%), or because there would be difficulty in defining when the new limit should apply (60%).

Rod Dennis, RAC data insight spokesman, said: “Statistically, the UK has some of the safest motorways in Europe but it’s also the case that there hasn’t been a reduction in casualties of all severities on these roads since 2012, so perhaps there’s an argument for looking at different measures to help bring the number of casualties down.

“Overall, our research suggests drivers are broadly supportive of lower motorway speed limits in wet conditions, as is already the case in France. 

“And while most drivers already adjust their speed when the weather turns unpleasant, figures show that ‘driving too fast for the conditions’ and ‘slippery roads’ are still among the top 10 reasons for motorway collisions and contribute to significant numbers of serious injuries and even deaths every year.

“The overall success of any scheme would of course depend on sufficient numbers of motorists reducing their speed, but even just a proportion reducing their speed in the wet would be likely to improve the safety of the UK’s motorways.”


 

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    In the UK we operate roads on a safe systems approach. Pitching a speed limit at an appropriate limit is a very complex matter and needs general consensus. On controlled motorways it is generally accepted that certain conditions should be supported by variable mandatory limits. These conditions include blocked lanes or windy conditions on exposed topography. The suggestion that wet conditions should be included is indeed worthy of consideration but I would think this must be clearly instructed (via speed signals) rather than left for interpretation. That said it is also noteworthy that in truly downpour conditions, traffic will generally slow and trigger the MIDAS system of speed limits anyway. The exception may be in the small hours where traffic is light (and doesn’t fully slow down naturally) and this may be an area to focus on particularly where a flooded lane may not be visible in unlit areas.


    Peter Whitfield
    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)
    +1

    French speed limits in the rain are a bit more complicated than David Weston says. this is what Wikipedia has to say
    French roads have a variable maximum speed limit that depends on weather conditions. In dry weather rural 2- or 3-lane roads are limited to 80 km/h, 4-lane expressways (in rural areas) 110 km/h, and highways (in rural areas, when classified as motorway) 130 km/h. When raining, the limits are respectively lowered to 80,[1] 100, and 110 km/h. Urban speed limit of 50 km/h is unaffected by weather. The general speed limit is lowered to 50 km/h on all roads in the fog or other low-visibility conditions if visibility is under 50 metres.


    Robert Bolt, St Albans
    Agree (2) | Disagree (0)
    +2

    Isn’t it odd that we don’t think anything of licensing people to drive vehices which are capable of unnecessarily high speeds on our roads, on the the flimsy basis that ‘they have passed a test’, but then have to impose restrictions in the belief (rightly) that they cannot control themselves or their vehicles at said high speeds, after all.


    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (2) | Disagree (4)
    --2

    The French wet limit is about 70mph, just like our dry and wet limits.

    But ignoring that interestingly convenient fact, I must ask if those “7 in 10 drivers” currently driving at the speed limit in spite of whether or not they think it’s unsafe to do so.


    David Weston, Newcastle upon Tyne
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)
    +4

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