Proposed Reduction of Speed Limits on A Roads

This story in The Times suggests that plans to cut the speed limit on A roads from 50mph to 60mph are in progress. It quotes the Roads Minister, and talks of specific timetable – so it has every appearance of being a ‘live’ issue.

So I wrote to my MP for his views on it (with my usual encouragement to reply by email, with a cheeky reference to the plunging value of HBOS shares)

Dear Kevin Barron,

I note from the following article in The Times that there will be a consultation document in the summer which will contain proposals to reduce the speed limit on a substantial number of A roads to 50 mph.

Times link :
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/article5864847.ece

There seems to be some confusion as to whether this is an environmental initiative or a road safety initiative.

I would like to lodge my objection to such a measure being implemented as increased transport times will adversely affect both my business –
which relies on reliable, speedy deliveries (which are expensive enough without paying the drivers for longer) and my leisure.


This blanket approach does not suggest that the risks are being carefully weighed for each road, and smacks or revenue raising.

Can you find out for me how much the proposed change will cost in terms of the hardware (cameras etc.) and in terms of revenue lost to business, and how much it is projected to earn through fines?

And could you also indicate how you would choose to vote on the matter?

Please reply via email to xxxx@xxx.xxx for the sake of the ever increasing tax-burden (the expensive paper you use has to cost as much as a share in HBOS) and the environment.

Kevin Barron replied:

I have not seen the article in The Times to which you refer in your email of the 9th March, on the issue of reducing the speed limit on a number of A roads. However, when the consultation takes place, I am sure that the relevant government department will be happy to receive your comments on this matter. Given that the consultation has not yet begun, and nor are there any proposals for a change in the law, I do not believe you question as to how I would vote on this matter are relevant at this stage.

You will note that the reply from Kevin Barron does not address my concerns at all, nor does he feel fit to share his views as my representative on what is clearly an issue being discussed in government. In fact he goes so far as to describe a question from a constituent as to how his MP would vote on a current poitical issue as ‘irrelevant’.

I wrote back:

I note that you did not address any of my concerns in your response.

In both cases you have responded to items that are on the current political agenda with a non-response.

With regard to the news story in The Times about the proposed reduction in speed limits on A road – which you say you have no knowledge of despite me providing you with a direct link to the story and  a summary of it – although I appreciate your encouragement to contact the relevant department ‘when the consultation takes place’ I rather thought it was your role as my MP to be aware of the views of your constituents, and to take them into account, and my role as a voter to be aware of the views of my elected representative. Is this no longer the way it works?

Incidentally your phrase ‘when the consultation takes place’ as opposed to ‘if…’ rather suggests such a scheme is indeed being mooted. Can you confirm or deny this?

I ask you again if you could let me know what your views are on the proposal to reduce the speed limit on A roads to 50mph.

<snip part of letter about the proposed subsidy for scrapping cars>

On a wider note, if before policies have been decided is not the correct time to seek to find out the opinion of one’s MP in order to establish if one need press for one’s own view to be considered, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me when is.

Kevin Barron hadn’t replied to this last message before it became clear from various reports in the press that the proposals had been formalised  – as we both knew they would I suspect. I sent the following email on 22nd April:

Dear Kevin Barron,

I wrote to you twice last month about the proposed reduction in speed
limits on A roads.

The first time you claimed you couldn’t reply because there were no
specific details, ignoring the fact that I had asked for your views on
the principle of a blanket change, not the detail.

You have not yet responded to my second email, sent last week.

However, I note that today the BBC amongst others is now reporting that
proposals have been put forward, so may I take this opportunity once
again to seek the views of my representative, and urge you to lobby
against such proposals?

I heard a representative from whichever council controls the A57 Snake
Pass between Sheffield and Manchester (Derbyshire?) on BBC Radio
Sheffield yesterday saying that since they introduced the speed limit,
accidents have fallen dramatically, by something like 40% (I was in the
car and not entirely concentrating on the radio, but is wa something in
that region).

The figures he quoted, whilst initially sounding impressive don’t
really hold up to scrutiny. Essentially the number of accidents on the
Snake Pass have fallen from a minuscule percentage of the journeys
taken on it, to a marginally more minuscule percentage. Given that
Snake Pass was shut for weeks at a time last year – meaning there was
no traffic at all – has had major repairs in the last year making it
safer, and has had traffic light controlled roadworks on it the last
few times I have used it, I am not surprised the accident rate has
fallen – but I wouldn’t want to attribute it to any one element. The
fact is though that there were hardly any accidents before the speed
limit change, and there are a couple fewer now. Talking in percentages
when the numbers are small are misleading. My mum had an accident in
her car last year, her first since 1989. It would, however, be
misleading to say that her accident rate rose by 190% last year –
although it did. I hope you can see the point I am making.

The point is that of course reducing the speed limit will have an
effect on accident rates. A simple thought experiment shows this – if
no-one moved at all, no-one would crash into anyone else. If we all
moved at a speed beyond which our reactions could cope it’ be
impossible to drive anywhere without hitting something. The line
between these points on a graph is, one assumes, roughly if not
entirely linear.

However, the marginal return on reducing the limit is small. As the
example of Snake Pass show, there are hardly any accidents per car
journey anyway, so there is little scope for improvement – and the cost
of doing so is increased journey times for all and increased inflation
as deliveries will take longer to arrive and will have consumed more
wages in doing so – plus a few thousand man-hours changing signs.

I am in favour of speed limits in general, but any measure imposed in a
blanket manner is bound to have problems, and this one in particular
offers such negligible marginal benefits against certain large costs
that I would urge you to lobby against it. Although some improvement
has been seen on Snake Pass, it is not representative of modern A roads
– it is narrow, winding, has an uneven surface, multiple blind spots,
huge changes in altitude, and is very busy. It is not at all comparable
to, say, the A832 in Wester Ross, which is smooth, wide, has good
visibility and is very quiet. These two very disparate examples show
why this one-size-fits-all approach cannot work.

At the end of my last letter about this I also asked you:

“if before policies have been decided is not the correct time to seek
to find out the opinion of one’s MP in order to establish if one need
press for one’s own view to be considered, perhaps you would be so kind
as to tell me when is.”

I would appreciate your views on this question also. Clearly this was a
live political issue when I first asked you about if a few weeks ago –
it would have been preferable if you had answered then.

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