Little known speeding facts

Carlton Boyce / 27 May 2016

Speed limits might be the number one most hotly disputed motoring topic. Some claim ‘Speed Kills’, others feel it’s a bit more nuanced than that…



The speed limit debate

While some argue that a lower speed limit unequivocally reduces the number and severity of accident injuries, others disagree – and the evidence is unclear, with data appearing to support both sides of the argument.

(Incidentally, for drivers over the age of 25, the Department for Transport says that speed is a factor in only 2% of injury accidents.)

Even imposing a 20mph speed limit outside schools (something that common sense suggests ought to be something of a no-brainer) generates conflicted data as to its efficacy.

Some say it works; others claim distracted drivers attempting to meet the speed limit pay less attention to the road, causing more rather than fewer accidents in some areas.

So, while the debate rages on, what cannot be denied is that the risk of inflicting serious injury on a pedestrian rises exponentially as the impact speed rises; a collision at 50mph generates four times the force as the same impact does at 25mph.

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The first speed limit

The first speed limit came into play in 1861, with the Locomotive Act of 1861 setting it at just 10mph. However, with the benefit of hindsight, legislators obviously felt that even this was too fast, as the 1865 act reduced this significantly.

The new limits were 4mph in the countryside and 2mph in town – and you had to send a chap ahead with a red flag or lantern to warn others of your approach.

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Motorway speed limit

Motorways initially had no speed limit, something enthusiastic motorists and even some car makers exploited. In 1964, the British sportscar manufacturer AC was caught testing a Le Mans racing car at 185mph on the M1, which caused quite a hullabaloo.

The motorway speed limit was set to 70mph in April 1966 as an experimental measure to see if it helped reduce the number and severity of motorway accidents. This temporary restriction was made permanent in July 1967 by Barbara Castle, the Minister of Transport at the time. 

Jack Sears, AC's driver for the infamous M1 LeMans practice run, insists the speed limit coming in was nothing to do with their test; when Barbara Castle was asked whether the AC run was the reason the limit was introduced, she denied it. As Jack says, "I am innocent of that one, despite what people might say."

Incidentally, the Isle of Man still has no speed limits, only restrictions in built-up areas.

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Your car’s speedometer

The speedometer in your car is not always as accurate as you might think. Specifically, it is allowed to be up to 10% out, so some manufacturers set it to under-read by that amount to give you some leeway and help prevent you inadvertently speeding if your attention drifts.

This means that when it is reading 70mph, you might be travelling as slowly as 63mph. You can check this for yourself by comparing the speed shown on your car’s sat-nav (which is usually very accurate) with that shown on the speedo.

You are probably the weakest link

Brake, the road safety charity, claims that drivers with a conviction for speeding are twice as likely to crash as those with none…

And, don’t forget that speeding fines changed in 2017.

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We are a nation of law-breakers

The same charity claims that up to 25% of us regularly break the speed limit.

While you might be forgiven for straying up to 80mph on a deserted motorway, in my opinion there is no excuse whatsoever for the 40% of drivers who have exceeded the 20mph limit outside a school.

Carlton Boyce

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!

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12 points and you’re out?

Everyone knows that 12 penalty points on your driving licence means an automatic ban. Except, that’s not quite true.

While that’s what the law says should happen, a good lawyer might be able to convince the court that a ban would cause you to suffer ‘exceptional hardship’ and persuade it to leave you still able to drive.

In fact, even 62 points (yes, you read that right…) might not be enough to see you banned. The BBC reported that a West Yorkshire man is in that very position, alongside an estimated 10,000 other UK drivers who are still on the road despite having incurred 12 or more endorsements on their licence.

But don’t risk it – these are the exceptions, not the rule!

Do you really have to pay parking fines on private land?

Do you slow down for a speed camera and then speed up again?

On a clear road, the range for a mobile speed camera can be as high as two miles…

Where does the speed limit start?

The speed limit starts at the point you pass the speed limit sign. This means you must reduce your speed to the posted limit in advance to ensure that you are travelling at the lower speed when you actually pass the sign.

But don’t be tempted to speed up when you see a higher limit sign – if you’re in a 30mph limit, about to hit a 60mph limit, you have to pass the sign at 30mph before speeding up to 60mph. Too many people have been caught out like this – don’t join their ranks!

Average speed cameras

The longest network of average speed cameras in the United Kingdom is on the A9 between Dunblane and Inverness. The 99-mile stretch has 27 sections in total monitored by average speed cameras that cost £2.5m to install.

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