55 years of 'temporary' motorway speed limit | Motoring Issues - Car News Dec 2020

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12:30 Thursday 24 Dec 2020

The renowned economist Milton Friedman once said, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary Government program”.

He may well have been talking about the UK motorway speed limit of 70mph, introduced as a temporary measure by the Minister of Transport, Tom Fraser, 55 years ago this week.

Although the 30mph limit was introduced for built up areas in 1935, outside of those areas drivers were still free of restrictions even after the dawn of the motorway era in the late 1950s.

Racing teams even used the public motorway network to test their machines, and early one morning in June 1964 Jack Sears hit a record 185mph speed-testing his AC Cobra Coupe GT in preparation for that year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race.  Returning to his start off point at Watford Gap services on the M1, Sears was greeted by traffic police – not to feel his collar as he had broken no law, but to have a closer look at his sleek racing machine.

The Autumn of 1965 was notably foggy, resulting in a number of crashes on the growing motorway network, and it was this that prompted the National Road Safety Advisory Council to recommend that a speed limit be introduced for foggy, icy, or snowy conditions.  It was decided that a temporary maximum speed limit of 70mpg be introduced on a four-month trial, which began on 22nd December 1965, and was extended the following year by Fraser’s replacement as Minister of Transport, Barbara Castle, before being made permanent in 1967.

While the 70mph speed limit remains in force on UK motorways, it is a different story elsewhere in Europe.  You can legally drive a car up to 130kph on a French autoroute, equivalent to 80mph.  In Poland that figure is 85mph, and parts of the German autobahn network remain famously unregulated.


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