National Speed Limit of 70mph introduced
The 22nd of December 1965 AD
The day that must be etched on Jeremy Clarkson ’s heart.
Just before Christmas 1965 Transport Minister Tom Fraser (not Barbara Castle, as many seem to think) introduced a 70mph limit for drivers on motorways, following several pile-ups in the foggy autumn and winter of that year, though another cause is sometimes cited - the era’s super-cars being seen on motorways in legal-speak: “Travelling at speeds in excess of 150mph”.
Like Income Tax in 1799 this was to be a temporary measure. In the sixties many car drivers were the first in their family to own a vehicle, so with fewer points of reference as regards driving than is the case today. The engineering on some cars (especially in those days brakes) was not great, with many struggling to reach 70mph. At the time then few voices were raised against the measure.
Barbara Castle confirmed the limit as a permanent fixture when she was transport minister in 1967. The genie was out of the bottle to stay.
As driving experience has become ingrained, cars have radically improved, and road building likewise, voices are now starting to be heard about raising the limit, comparing things with France where the top speed is 130kph (80mph), for example. But the chances of this happening are roughly equivalent to those of proportional representation and free beer for all. Indeed it should be recalled that in a period of energy crisis in 1973 the limit was dropped to 50mph for a time, so the smart money would be on a decrease before any increase.
By way of interest, if you feel the need, the need for speed, try the Isle of Man , where rural roads are still de-restricted. Or Germany where much of the autobahn network has no limit. Or if you fancy going a bit further afield, Nepal is another option, though you might want to watch out for a few of those mountain bends.
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From Iain Dickson on 3rd October 2011
Regarding safety on German Autobahns consider the following: Autobahn crash involves 259 cars (20 Jul 2009) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/5871271/Autobahn-crash-involves-259-cars.html Sandstorm Causes Deadly Autobahn Crashc (4/8/11) http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,755945,00.html
From Martin on 30th September 2011
Thanks Al, good information along with the bit of self-publicity, though you may wish to consider toning down the "you should" to "you may consider".
From Al Gullon on 3rd September 2011
Your "need for speed" paragraph should first refer the reader to the Motor Sports Association for the UK. Their web page http://www.gomotorsport.net/en-GB/godrive/default.html provides a list of all the disciplines available which includes several in which you are 'on track' alone and racing for the best time. Secondly you should introduce the German autobahns with, "To see the true effect of speed limits on motorways you should visit Germany. Much of their autobahns have only a 'government suggested' limit of 130kmph yet they continually have among the best motorway safety records internationally." Sincerely, Al A. C. Gullon, BSc., PEng. Automobiles+Concepts+Environments Consulting on Safety & the Environment Technical Articles & Lectures Ph: 613-738-0712 Fx: -8946