Why we need a 60mph speed limit on Welsh roads

John Osmond puts the case for a new approach to development that will supercede conventional notions of economic growth

One of the more eye-catching suggestions in our report Wales Central Organising Principle being launched at our Rio+20 conference today, is that the Welsh Government should acquire powers to enable it to impose a 60mph speed limit on dual carriageways.

At one level this might sound like a mere headline grabbing notion, though hardly populist with the average motorist. But at another level it is an important mark in the sand of what Wales could do if it was really serious about putting in place measures to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Consider the results of this policy innovation. First there would be a wholesale drop in carbon emissions from our cars on the roads, with an enhancement of air quality in urban areas. Second, would be a saving in fuel, with the same effect. Third, there would be a significant reduction in fatalities and accidents, with an incalculable fall in human suffering and rise in human happiness.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the move – that would, of course, mean the Welsh Government gaining the powers to achieve it – would be a demonstration of seriousness. It would be a daily reminder to motorists of what they can contribute to tackling climate change. It would encourage the rest of the UK to follow suit.

The notion of different parts of a country setting different speed limits is far from unique. In the United State, for example, the states set their own limits and they vary according to type of road. Some states have lower limits at nighttime. Generally speaking the upper limit is 75 mph in western states and 70mph in eastern states. Most of the New England states have a limit of 65mph and Hawaii actually has a 60mph limit.

It is important to put such ideas on the table because otherwise the debate over the Welsh Government’s forthcoming legislation on sustainable development (see the consultation paper here) risks falling into a black hole of process, definitions, obfuscation, and good intentions.

Cutting speed limits in motorways and dual carriageway is just one of a series of practical recommendations in the IWA’s report which says the Welsh Government needs increased powers over transport, energy and planning if it is to have a chance of giving effect to its aspirations for cutting carbon emissions. Others include:

  • Firmer controls over car-based, out-of-town developments.
  • Statutory power over Ofgen in Wales so that power distribution can be regulated to increase renewable energy and conservation.
  • Establishment of a regional bank on the lines of those in North Dakota and the German Lander to retain local savings and support sustainable local business, industry and commerce.
  • Greater use of the purchasing power of the Welsh Government and local authorities to support local businesses.

The fundamental issue highlighted in the report is whether we can develop a new economic system that, while allowing for development and innovation, does not depend on conventional notions of growth. Our conventional growth path, which we’ve been following for the best part of 200 years, is unsustainable not just because the Earth’s resources are literally running out – leading to peak oil, for instance – but because the resultant carbon emissions are taking us directly into the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

This is how Professor Gareth Wyn Jones, one of Wales’ leading experts on the impacts of climate change, summarises the choice towards the end of his contribution to the report:

“Given the magnitude of the challenge and pressure of current economic and social problems, even in this country, still more in the developing world, the understandable and inevitable reaction of politicians is to plump for conventional growth – to seek economic space for readjustment. Sustainability is seen as a distant desirable objective –  ‘Oh God make me sustainable but not just yet’! This is a sure recipe for overshoot. Much more work is required to map out a 20-year pathway to a new paradigm. First, however, we must face the issues honestly. This is a process that cannot start too soon. The new paradigm will not be anti-business or anti-science. Innumerable opportunities will occur for enterprise and new businesses, which lower human environmental impact and increase real individual prosperity and facilitate social interactions. Dispersed renewable energy generation could be the key as it would provide local additional income sources and personalise the attainment of sustainability, including energy efficiency.”

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

5 thoughts on “Why we need a 60mph speed limit on Welsh roads

  1. Bravo! The Tyndall Centre report “Towards a 2oC future: Emission reduction scenarios for Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government, highlights a 60mph speed limit as one of the essential components of Wales meeting our 3% emissions reduction target.
    But as John correctly highlights, the benefits are much greater – not least through reducing the carnage on our roads (89 fatalities in Wales in 2010) that somehow appears more acceptable to politicians than the potential for a slight increase in journey time for people driving cars.

  2. Whilst most people would support any meaningful measure to protect the environment reducing motorway and dual carriageway speed limits in Wales is not an answer. Wales doesn’t have many motorways and dual carriageways of any significance beyond the M4 and the A55 and both of considerable importance to business and Welsh economy. Tamper with these and create a disparity with speed limits in England would have an adverse affect on business and any inward investment revival which is currently hampered in a huge way by ‘Welsh language above all else’ strategy imposed by dictate on the part of the Welsh Assembly Government. Then we have a brainless 5p plastic bag charge for Welsh shoppers which in environmental issues and terms are insignificant and meaningless and there is already evidence that shoppers close to border with England are boycotting Welsh supermarkets etc for the sake of civility and a service for which there should be no charge. Back to driving and speed limits, experienced drivers do know that by keeping a steady speed and minimised use of breaks can provide significant reduction of fuel usage but most of the Welsh roads are not suitable for ‘controlled driving’ and this is down to simple geography and never ending bends, hills and valleys. For people living in north Wales they can get to London quicker than Cardiff by using a car, train or a bus. Wales needs investment into modern, high speed electrified rail network – North to South and East to West down the middle of Wales before any other brainless or token measures are imposed on long suffering Welsh population by the Welsh Government. Before anyone says building an ultramodern rail network for Wales is not possible and far too costly, Welsh people should look at the cost of being governed by the National Assembly and perhaps it’s time now to question the wisdom of having a Welsh Government and use the moneys Wales would save for the benefit of all and for building a better future for Wales by ditching the useless bureaucracy and hot air that does nothing for the vast majority of Welsh people.

  3. If we have a lower speed limit can we be allowed to talk on mobile phones when driving? If you can listen to the radio and eat a sandwich, why not use a phone? It also helps to keep you awake when limping down a motorway at 60 mph. So far as I know it has no effect on carbon emissions.

  4. Excellent article. The 60mph proposal a refreshing contrast to the recent UK coalition gov’t proposals to ratchet up the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph. On the whole, I gauge the vibe from the Transportation engineering industry in general that has greeted the proposals for a speed limit rise as roundly negative, for the same reasons described above: fuel savings, environmental emmissions, but principally for the markedly increased risk of accidents. Perversely, raising the speed limits could in effect reduce capacity anyway in certain situations: higher speed limits with increased traffic can lead to reduced flow rate (increased vehicle headways that need to be maintained at higher speeds and resulting unsteady traffic conditions that arises with higher flows with a larger range of vehicle speeds). At a time when there is a move towards less presence of the elements associated with vehicular control (Traffic lights, signing, markings etc.) – or ‘decluttering’ as it is known – a reduction in speed limits, and the perceived reigning in of measures that overtly favour vehicle passage could complement this mindset? Further – could a shift toward 60 mph on the motorway encourage a more measured approach in other aspects of life?!

  5. A very bad idea indeed – regressive even. We should have a 80mph speed limit on Welsh motorways – have you not read anything of the 30,000 plus qualified scientists who have shown the flaws in the argument for man made climate change that we have been sold? I hope some of these following links will help to contribute towards a more science based approach to the argument:

    http://www.petitionproject.org/instructions_for_signing_petition.php – Petition signed by more than 30,000 American scientists urging the United States government to reject the 1997 Kyoto agreement.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1533290/Climate-chaos-Dont-believe-it.html – this link includes a 1996 graph by the UN that showed that, in medieval times (1100-1300 AD) the earth went through a global warming period that was much hotter than currently – this was later changed to the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph which was totally different and has now been debunked.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FOLkze-9GcI – Professor Bob Carter examines the theory that there is a link between global warming and CO2 levels.

    The temperature has warmed no more than 0.7 degrees since 1850 – there is an evidence based consensus for this – this kind of change is well within naturally occuring climate change. Human activities does seem to have some affect on some elements of climate change (by polluting, warming and cooling) but the problem is that this has been vastly distorted and exaggarated and the global warming swindle has not been based on sound scientific evidence. I am not a scientist so I will let the scientists in these links explain the case better. The sad thing is that the Rio meeting will probably sweep the whole climate change thing under the carpet and come up with a new environmental bogeyman – the destruction of biodeversity being one example.

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