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Speed Limits and Sat-nav in the UK

Speed Limit

But first what is a speed limit? What better resource is there than Wikipedia? It is a very, very interesting article. And I mean very interesting. The article needs about fifteen minutes to read and digest, but it is well worthwhile! Let's take,as an example, the first person to be convicted of breaking a speed limit. The first person to be convicted of speeding in the UK was Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent. On January 28, 1896 he was fined for speeding at 8 mph (13 km/h), thus exceeding the contemporary speed limit of 2 mph (3.2 km/h). He was fined 1 shilling plus costs (from the Wikipedia article) Now, doesn't that sound absurd? Yes , yes, yes! How on earth can someone be accused of speeding at that speed, slower than someone can walk, except by some balmy legal system?  I am not going to answer that, but I don't really suppose that the authority was balmy, they had their reasons. But today, in 2010 I can drive my Land Rover Discovery weight 2 tons through most villages and towns at speeds up to 30 mph. Most of these towns and certainly villages do not really enforce the speed limit. The police might occasionally organise a speed trap, but they need to choose a location that is safe not only for the officers but also where there is space to pull the driver over.  I don't think that the authorities that set these speed limits are balmy. But, I do challenge the wisdom of many of them when they set speed limits, and when they review them. Wiltshire has just published a review of speed limits on the A and B roads. the C and D roads, many of which go through villages will be reviewed later. I am not sure whether I am allowed to publish the recommendations which are subject to review.

Maximum speed limits

I will leave for another  article, the discussion of what is an appropriate speed limit. My understanding of what a speed limit is for, is that it is for informing road users that they are entering a zone where a speed limit is in operation. The local authorities have determined that vehicles should not exceed the posted speed limit for the safety of the public. There are maximum speeds associated with certain types of road in the UK: 70 mph on motorways and dual carriageways and 60 mph on all other roads. sisty mph is the National Speed Limit. There are also additional speed limits to reduce the speed of motorists. The reason why there are speed limits is because to exceed the posted limit would endanger the driver and other road users. A speed limit sign is an important guide to road users that they should limit their speed for one reason or another. The sign is also, a warning for that those who exceed the speed limit that they will be breaking the law and this can result in a fine. This means that speed limit signs should not be disregarded. The government link Speed: know your limits is a PDF document. It is interesting to note that The Times Online has an article on a government proposal to cut the National Speed Limit from 60 to 50 mph, except for certain A class roads. Cut Speed to 50 

Scrap speed limits?

Whilst local people will understand that the speed limit is appropriate, and may not really need to have a speed limit, strangers will not have that local knowledge. There is also an important role that road markings and signs have that should contribute information to road users that they should modify their speed. These signs can negate the necessity to have a speed limit. Whilst the majority of the public who drive on the roads do so sensibly and use road signage to guide them in selecting an appropriate speed, unfortunately there are others who do not. It is therefore, necessary to have speed limits. The existence of a speed limit does mean that the police could be used to control motorists speed. This is especially effective where there are radar traps that are in operation most of the time. However, the use of speed limits, it could be argued, is not necessary. There is a danger that drivers ignore speed limits that appear to be unnecessary, especially where it is unlikely that the limit will be enforced.


With the introduction of sat-nav navigation systems motorists are directed to take routes that they would not have been aware of before the advent of sat-nav. This has meant an increase in the number of road users in rural areas. These road users are ignorant of local road conditions and a proportion of these drivers are impatient to get to their destination, and will thus be travelling faster than they should. It is therefore, very important that both road signage and speed limits need to be very carefully selected.

In another article I will discuss some roads in Wiltshire and Somerset that are subject to inappropriate speed limits. These roads are examples of a lack of wisdom locally, and I am sure that examples could be found elsewhere. 

Posted on 04 Feb 2010 by Geoff Edwards

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