Motoring is a symbol of progression and freedom for people all over the world. The feeling of the open road, to travel at your own pace and choose your own path, is addictive. Any attempt to control it, and to curb that freedom, is usually met with a spirited and emotional response. One thing reliably gets a bigger reaction than any other: speed.
Every road user has an opinion on speed. How fast can I travel? How fast should everyone else go? How fast is too fast? How fast is too dangerous? For all the debate, for all the passion and the anger, for all the campaigns that are mounted and speeding tickets that are issued, what often seems to be missing is an understanding of what speed limits apply, and why.
This article explores speed limits in Britain from every angle, starting by asking what speed limits apply to British roads and examining the messy tangle of laws and legal orders that create them. It looks at the history of speed limits, from the nineteenth century to the present; why ministers decided to have no speed limit at all and why they soon changed their mind. It looks at the way a speed limit is created, and why. And it looks at enforcement — the ways a driver can be caught and the ways they can be penalised, and where we might be heading in the future.
In a subject that's often more emotion and opinion than fact, there's lots to explore. But please, don't go too fast. You can get a fine for that sort of thing, you know.
Let's get this straight
The information in this article was checked for accuracy at the time of publication in March 2016, but nothing in the text constitutes legal advice and no liability is accepted by its author for any action taken on the basis of information found here.
- A good starting point for any speed limit research is the SABRE Wiki article on Speed Limits.
- Extracts from parliamentary debates and experimental speed limit in Oxford: Hansard 1803-2005.
- Vehicle class speed limits: Gov.uk: Speed Limits.
- Speed limiters and governors: requirements in the UK, Gov.uk: Speed Limits; technical description,How Speed Limiters Work.
- Text of various Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments: Legislation.gov.uk.
- AA speed traps and early enforcement: AA History - the early years.
- Comparison with other international speed limits in 1934: "Road Traffic and its Control", H. Alker Tripp, 1934.
- Fog panic and the temporary national 70mph limit: MT 95/924.
- Times Editorial on 70 limit: "A Case To Be Made Out.", The Times, 04/12/65.
- Advice to local authorities on setting speed limits: DfT Circular 01/2006; Circular Roads 01/93;Traffic Orders Procedure.
- Enforcement thresholds and speeding penalties: Crown Prosecution Service: Road Traffic Offences: Guidance on Fixed Penalty Notices.
- Detail about VASCAR and ProVida systems: Wikipedia: VASCAR; Petards: ProVida 4000.
- Britain's first speed camera and camera use statistics: "Speed Cameras: 20 Years On", The Telegraph, 22/05/12.
- SPECS system and origins: Jenoptik: SPECS; BBC News: How do average speed cameras work?.
- Speed Awareness Courses and attendance levels: TTC Group.
With thanks to Rhyds and Stephen for information in this article.