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This December, we’ll celebrate the 35th anniversary of the UK’s 70mph speed limit.

And in that time, it hasn’t budged – despite many other countries increasing theirs and just as many calls for it to be raised. It’s been an on-off debate for decades now, but with the increasing need to crack down on emissions, have we missed the boat with it?

To answer exactly that, we’ve compared UK roads against Germany’s autobahns – famed for their limitless motoring – and weighed up the impacts of an increased limit on travel times, accidents and, of course, environment.

How Many Hours of Travel Could an Increased Speed Limit Save?

The speed limit pushed by many campaigners, including a number of MPs, is 80mph. By our findings, that would shave at least the best part of an hour off the routes we’ve looked at.

Adopt the autobahn approach, however, and the enforceable limit could go beyond even that. With a 100mph top end, a run from Land’s End to John O’Groats could be nearly five hours better off – over a third of the current time. It would also have saved Dominic Cummings over three-and-a-half hours on his return trip to Barnard Caste.

But, the time savings aren’t just beneficial to borderline-illegal trips away; the UK’s road freight industry would perhaps be the biggest winner if the limit was to increase. Even if only half an hour was saved, a 15-lorry haulage firm could save a day’s pay on each run.

Drilling into data from vehicle finance provider Moneybarn, the average UK commute covers 24 miles and an hour of travel time – even a 1mph rise in average speed could cut five minutes of commuting time a day and over an hour and a half a month. For those whose trip to work involves motorway, the savings will stack even quicker.

Are Germany’s Autobahns Safer than Our Roads?

While saving on in-car time is the main argument for increasing the limit, the impact it might have on the number of accidents is usually the counterargument. With more than a ton of metal, glass and rubber making up the average car, you’d be forgiven for thinking a higher limit isn’t a safe proposal.

However, comparing with Germany shows that mightn’t be the case. Large stretches of German motorway have no enforced speed limit, and the number of fatalities is higher than on Britain roads, yet the country’s rate of deaths is two thirds lower – three for every 100 miles, compared to GB’s five for every 100 miles. The rate of accidents is also down, with 43 less casualties for every 100 miles.

That deficit, despite there being more than three times the length of motorway in Germany, raises questions over the UK’s 70mph limit.

This could be, in part, down to the more stringent process for learner drivers. In addition, if you’re involved in an accident travelling above the ‘recommended’ autobahn speeds, you could be to blame and your insurance could be voided, regardless of the circumstances.

Convenience or Environment?

A more recent counterargument is the effect raised speeds could have on vehicle emissions, especially as Boris Johnson and co face increasing pressure on their eco plan.

According to government research, raising the limit by even 10mph could increase carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by between three and six per cent. In 2010, 64,000 deaths were associated with air pollution – such a rise in overall emissions could lead to 2,880 more deaths a year.

That said, the increasing uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) could account for any gain in emissions. The government is currently considering ‘e-highways’, which would see overheard cables – similar to those seen on rail – electrically power lorries and virtually halt HGV emissions for their motorway journeys.

In 2018, transport was the UK’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with road freight accounting for 5% of all CO2 emissions. Perhaps a move to electric could undo any potential gains, especially after the proposed ban of petrol and diesel vehicles in 2035.

Would an Increased UK Limit be Supported?

The countless government U-turns in recent months are perhaps the best demonstration of public opinion and the power of it. To gauge whether an increased speed limit would be called for, or opposed, we surveyed Brits on the topic of increased top end.

With the majority of respondents saying they wouldn’t welcome an increase, and less than one in ten being on board with the idea of an autobahn-esque, limitless motorway, the proposal initially seems about as welcome as Cummings in County Durham.

But, the results also suggest Germany’s lower rate of fatalities could be the swing – while the previous questions suggest the public are generally against a higher limit, over 40% said they were undecided on whether autobahn statistics could sway their opinion.

Considering the vast majority haven’t had their opinion changed in the past decade, despite growing concerns over pollution and environmental impact, it seems accidents are the biggest factor in public opinion.

For more motoring insight and features, add the Car Lease Special Offers blog to your bookmarks.

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