Friday 6 January 2012

Government exposed as mouthpiece for pro-motorist lobby group over motorway speed limit consultation

Consultations are meant to be open processes where multiple experts submit their knowledge to an open-minded government department who will make a sensible policy decision based on all the facts. Or are they a way of showing us that the government is democratic when in fact they have already made up their minds.


In October 2011, Phillip Hammond announced the government’s intention to ‘consult on raising the national speed limit on motorways from 70 to 80 mph.’ The press release informed us of the economic benefits of faster journey times; technological improvements which make for out-of-date speed limits, and how thousands of habitual law-breaking drivers will no longer need to worry because the law will be changed for them.

I disagree but at least they have their own mind, or do they?


Back in December 2005, the Association of British Drivers (ABD) produced a press release titled ‘Forty Years on, Time for a Higher Speed Limit on Motorways.’ In it they informed us how they had ‘called on the government to increase the speed limit to 80 mph on most parts of the network.’ The article boasted of a ‘comprehensive study’ carried out by the ABD, which was submitted to the Department for Transport (Dft) earlier that year.

The ‘comprehensive’ study they were referring to was published on their website on the 28th of May 2005, six months before their press release.  The document detail is for the most part poorly researched, for which I have separate analysis. However, it is remarkable for the exact comparison one can make between their submission and the wording used by Phillip Hammond in his justifications. So obvious in fact, that upon reading there can only be one conclusion; the DfT are speaking on behalf of the ABD.

You be the judge.

To start with we have Philip Hammond letting us know how there has been ‘huge advances in safety and motoring technology.’ The ABD 2005 submission, which has since been touched up last year in time for a Road Safety Framework review states; ‘there have been significant improvements in…vehicle engineering.’

The following agreement continues on the subject of varying speed limits. The DfT tells us, ‘some stretches of motorway would be likely to retain a 70mph limit because of their engineering and environment.’  Quite right said the ABD in their final conclusions: ‘There will be certain locations…where retention of the existing speed limit would be appropriate.’

On the economy the free-thinking Mr Hammond declared: ‘Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times.’ Couldn’t agree more say the ABD five years earlier: ‘Increasing the motorway speed limit would result in significant economic benefits from time savings’

And Finally.

‘We all know that many, many motorists who are otherwise law-abiding citizens routinely ignore the 70 miles per hour limit.’  
That’s our line say the ABD ‘… an increase in the UK motorway speed limit, or even its removal altogether would lead…to a substantial reduction in the proportion of drivers who habitually break the law.

I’ll leave you to work out who said what in that last one, but I’m not sure it actually matters, because on this issue at least, they are clearly one and the same.

As it turns out in more ways than one.

Not only is Mr Hammond reciting the words of the ABD before the consultation has even started, but the ABD has the dubious honour of having four Conservative MPs who act as their patrons. According to their website Steve Baker, Karl McCartney, David Morris,  Sammy Wilson and recently Westminster Conservative Cllr Glenys Roberts, who all make up the ABD’s existing patronage. No wonder then Phillip Hammond is so willing and able to speak on behalf of the motorist group.

Beware! They aren’t about to stop there. One of the recommendations at the bottom of the ABD’s submission reads: ‘After a period of time of acclimatisation to a higher speed limit, say three years, the possibility of raising it further or removing it altogether should be reviewed.’

Well there we go, we can expect an announcement from the DfT say in about three years informing us about how they think it will be a good idea to remove the speed limit altogether.

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