Smart move on motorway speed limits?

We’re all used to the speed limit on UK motorways being 70mph – not that it stops us breaking it. According to a recent poll by Autocar, a massive 94.6% of motorists drive faster, and many would like to see the limit raised to what they regard as a more realistic 80mph. But commuters and other drivers who regularly use the M3 between junctions 3 and 4 may soon have to limit their speed to 60mph, if the Highways Agency gets its way.

M3 project

The junction 2 to 4a section of the 59-mile long motorway, which links London to Southampton and passes through both Surrey and Hampshire, gets particularly busy at peak times and is therefore destined to become one of the UK’s first “smart motorways”. These are sections of road on which technology will be used to “control traffic flows and assist in the management of incidents and providing information to road users”. The idea is that they will help to reduce congestion and hold-ups without the need for expensive and time-consuming motorway widening. In the case of the M3, for example, part of the plan is to turn the existing hard shoulder into a usable lane. However, while there may be more lanes in use and more information for motorists, those using the “smart motorway” are likely to have to stick to a speed limit of 60mph, rather than the standard 70mph.

Breath of fresh air?

European targets for clean air are due to come into effect this year. And if the speed limit stays at 70mph, environmental assessments indicate that local air quality will start to suffer due to the emissions pumped out by the huge numbers of cars speeding past. The Highways Agency said: “We want to deliver the much-needed extra capacity and increased traffic flow that this scheme will provide without creating a significant adverse impact on local air quality. As such we are proposing to put in place a maximum speed limit of 60mph between junctions 3 and 4. “This would tackle air quality issues due to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution arising from the conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane, particularly at peak times.”

Other “smart motorway” projects

The M3 is not the only motorway on which you might have to slash your speed from 2015. Plans are already afoot to introduce a 60mph speed limit on the M1 between Junctions 28 to 35a, a 35-mile section of the motorway that runs from near Matlock in Derbyshire to north of Rotherham in Yorkshire. And a further 13 other stretches of motorway may also be assessed for pollution levels from 2015, including parts of the M5, M6, M20, M23, M27 and M62, as well as other busy sections of the M1 and M3.

Swinging sixty?

Whichever “smart motorway” you are on, you will face a big fine and penalty points on your licence if you are caught exceeding the speed limit – be that 60mph or 70 mph. Even if the 60mph limit is approved, however, it will not be enforced 24 hours a day. On the M3, for example, the plan is to introduce the new speed limit between 7am and 7pm every day of the week. A consultation to decide whether or not this will happen next year is currently taking place to allow both affected organisations and individual motorists to have their say. All you have to do is visit the government website and share your views either online or by email before April 11. The consultation on the M1 60mph limit is already well under way and has prompted a mixed response from drivers, many of whom have pointed out that the number of cars on the road at peak times means few reach 60mph anyway, never mind 70mph. You can add your opinion on this plan by e-mailing before March 3. What are your thoughts on a reduction in the speed limit? And what do you make of the environmental angle? Let us know in the boxes below...

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