transport: Reducing the speed limit to 50mph will save lives

An early steam bus.
An early steam bus.

A crashed car was taken to a garage not a million miles from here, and was on display while waiting for the insurance assessor to come and write it off.

The story I was told was that there was a witness to the crash, who swore that it was ‘doing the ton’ when it hit the tree – backwards.

A modern hybrid bus in London.

A modern hybrid bus in London.

The witness, a tractor driver in an adjacent field, went to see what had happened to the car, which had gone through the hedge, rolled down a bank and landed on its roof in a field.

Afraid to investigate for fear of what he might find, the witness walked along the road for a minute to calm himself, when a figure appeared at the roadside. “Excuse me” it said, “I think I need some help. My car has run off the road.”

The clue to the driver’s survival in this case lies in the fact that his car hit the tree backwards. I have known several cases where the driver has not survived, leaving his family and friends to mourn his loss.

Accidents in this area (away from the A1) are usually because the driver has been going too fast and ‘run out of road’, failing to negotiate one of the sharp blind bends which are so prevalent in our country lanes.

John Wylde

John Wylde

A suggestion was made by the previous Government that single carriageway main roads should in future be limited to 50mph, and some country lanes to 20mph, but the coalition has not pursued the idea.

The main areas where 20mph is already being imposed are in the vicinity of schools and in residential areas where children might be playing in the street. This has been enforced by the use of road humps, but local authorities are now being ‘advised’ to discontinue their use without, as far as I know, any alternative encouragements for motorists to keep their speed down.

I am personally an advocate of the reduction of the limit on single carriageway rural roads from the present 60mph.

When the realisation hit us in 1973 that oil is a finite resource which will one day run out, the Government reduced speed limits to conserve fuel, to a level which I feel was absolutely the right one, but in 1977 some of them were raised to their present level.

Partly for fuel conservation reasons, and partly for safety reasons, I very much regret the Government’s intention to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. Most people agreed to the idea of raising the limit provided it is strictly enforced. I shall be delighted if it is, but I doubt it.

The present limit is not enforced as it should be and I foresee many people driving at 90mph in future, with the consequence that there will be increased pressure on the emergency services.

The most economical speed for cars is about 56mph. Unfortunately, it will not be until the cost of petrol rises above the perceived value of drivers’ time that there will be any incentive to drive more slowly.

In the early days of motoring, electric cars were being developed, but apparently it was Henry Ford who put a stop to it. Their development now depends on improved battery life and the provision of charging points, with re-charging occurring as quickly as refuelling a petrol car. This appears to be some way off.

The best compromise is undoubtedly the hybrid vehicle. There are now growing numbers of such buses in cities. Network Rail converted a locomotive to test the principle, but inexplicably converted it back to conventional diesel operation despite its success. Hybrid cars are successful but very expensive.

In the early days there were steam cars and steam rollers and traction engines, but these were killed off by the taxation system. Such evidence as there is appears to support the idea that steam cars could be very successful if somebody put their mind to it.

l John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? Visit his Integrated Transport website. This book, £14.95, is available to Northumberland Gazette readers for £11.95 post paid and signed by the author. Order from the Gazette office.