Lower speed limits in wet weather
Survey finds support for French style variable speed limits in rainy weather
Seven-in-10 drivers would like lower motorway speed limits in wet weather.
Crash statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that 246 people were killed or seriously injured on UK motorways in 2019 when the road surface was damp, wet or flooded
Following the French motorway idea of cutting motorway speed limits in wet weather, RAC surveyed more than 2,000 drivers. The results suggest that 72% would like to see the standard 70mph speed limit reduced in wet weather. They believe this could improve road safety and encourage better driving habits. France cuts its speed limits during inclement weather, with the 130km/h (80mph) limit reduced to 110km/h (68mph – a reduction of around 12mph).
A third of respondents (33%) said the limit should be reduced to 60mph in the wet. Less than one in 10 (7%) think it should be cut to 65mph, while almost one in six (17%) said they would like an even lower limit of 55mph or even 50mph. One in seven (14%) would like to see the limit cut but were not sure by how much.
“Statistically, the UK has some of the safest motorways in Europe,” says Rod Dennis, from the RAC. However, there hasn’t been a reduction in casualties of all severities on these roads since 2012. “Perhaps there’s an argument for looking at different measures to help bring the number of casualties down”.
Dennis says the general consensus is in support of a variable limit. “While most drivers already adjust their speed when the weather turns unpleasant, figures show that ‘driving too fast for the conditions’ and ‘slippery roads’ are still among the top 10 reasons for motorway collisions and contribute to significant numbers of serious injuries and even deaths every year.”
Of the reasons given by drivers, 78% said they felt lower limits would encourage some drivers to slow down. Furthermore, 72% believed it might save lives, so is worth trying.
Two-thirds (65%) said slower speeds might improve visibility with less spray from moving vehicles. Half (53%) felt it would reduce overall vehicle speeds, even if some people ignored the lower limit.
A fifth of drivers (21%) are against the idea of a lower motorway speed limit in bad weather. The majority said it was because most drivers already adjust their speed to the conditions (54%). Meanwhile, 60% believe it is difficult to define what any new limit should be.
Four in 10 (42%) said many drivers choose to ignore existing speed limits anyway. A similar proportion (41%) thought drivers wouldn’t obey a lower motorway limit.
When asked whether a lower speed limit in the wet should be posted on variable speed limit motorways, 73% of drivers were in favour, with 15% against the idea and 11% unsure.
The success of any scheme relied on the public agreeing to obey new limits. But Dennis pointed out that “even just a proportion reducing their speed in the wet would be likely to improve the safety ”.
Along with the “practical hurdles” – limits, signage, Highway Code etc – a. number of motorways already have variable limits. “With digital signs now so commonplace, arguably the means exist to conduct a trial to see whether there are safety benefits of setting different speed limits in inclement weather.”
Highway Code Rule 227 states that stopping distances in wet weather are at least double those required for stopping on dry roads.