To the Limit

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.

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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.


With thanks to Rhyds and Stephen for information in this article.

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Published26 March 2016

Last updated28 July 2019