Is there such a need for speed on the roads?

This speed limit sign at Whitby Abbey seems rather unnecessary!
This speed limit sign at Whitby Abbey seems rather unnecessary!

LIVING ‘out in the sticks’ is the (often derogatory) term used by city-dwellers for people who live in places like Northumberland. The planners’ term for it is ‘rural isolation’.

Those who experience it realise only too well that transport is the basis of all nearly all economic and social activity.

For a very small number of rural folk the only means of transport available is walking. This is our natural means of locomotion and it keeps us fit and makes us tired and hungry, which is the natural rhythm of life.

Human civilisation has been developing for centuries, and ships on the sea and boats on rivers have provided us with water transport, but it is less than 200 years since there has been anything other than the use of horses to convey us further and faster than we could walk on land.

When the first railways were built, primarily for the purpose of conveying coal and other heavy materials to feed the burgeoning industries of the early 19th century, the proprietors were astonished to find that people wanted to be conveyed too.

Later in that century, inventors turned their attention to applying mechanical power to road transport, and then to the air.

For the next 50 years this was seen as a blessing, as people’s horizons were widened, even to the point where successive governments accepted that the out-dated railways were finished and the future was with road transport locally and in the air for longer distances, and investment was put into road construction and airport development.

Now there is a realisation that we have overdone this freedom.

Air travel must be curtailed for environmental reasons, and road traffic, which is stifling our towns and cities, is not always giving us the freedom that we think we ought to have in the rural areas.

We complain about the cost of running a car, which overall is usually more than we realise, and particularly the cost of fuel, which we have to believe, because we cannot go anywhere without it.

Until we learn how to use renewable energy in cars, fuel will become generally more expensive because it is a finite resource and we cannot just go on using it in ever greater quantities.

We often want to travel more quickly than we usually can so then we are in a hurry and we want to be able to drive faster, which again increases our fuel consumption and wears out our tyres more quickly, both of which cost more than we like to think. Hurry also leads to accidents, which put up the cost of insurance.

To save us from ourselves, we have speed limits, and because we lack the self-discipline to adhere to them, we have cameras to try to enforce them.

We then complain about these so the authorities make them ineffective by drawing our attention to them and permitting devices to warn us of their location.

Ideally, there should be a camera adjacent to every speed limit sign as we approach a built-up area so that if we pass the speed-limit sign too fast, we would know for certain that we are going to be photographed.

As to the limits themselves, there is now perhaps too much variation between types of vehicle.

On single carriageway rural main roads the standard limits are 60mph for cars, 50mph for coaches and 40mph for large lorries.

Such lorries are controlled by speed limiters to the motorway speed limit of 56mph and drivers cannot exceed that, but a specialist in road freight transport has said of the lower limits for lorries that ‘exceeding the speed limits for commercial advantage, or for the driver’s personal convenience, is typical of the industry’s culture’, and enforcement is woefully inadequate.

It is often the difference in speed between various types of vehicle which gives rise to problems, rather than the actual speed itself, and lorry drivers who do adhere to their limit on single carriageway roads are often seen to be the cause of frustration to impatient car drivers.

Frustration leads to risk-taking, and often to accidents, so perhaps it would be better to acknowledge that lorry braking and general mechanical reliability are now such that their limit should be raised to 50mph, but as a corollary the limit for cars on such roads should be reduced from 60mph to 50mph, with much more attention being given to making people adhere to it.

Then we shall all be able to make steady progress together without the need for dangerous overtaking.

In recent consultation, some people agreed rather reluctantly that perhaps the speed limit for cars on motorways could be raised to 80mph, provided it is strictly enforced.

However, experience inspires little confidence in that actually occurring, and we can surely look forward to some motorists driving much faster even than they do now if the Government’s intention is carried through.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? ( This book, priced at £14.95, is available to Morpeth Herald readers for £11.95 post paid and signed by the author. Order from the Herald office.