Speeding is deadly. The faster you’re going the less reaction time you have to avoid that other car, that debris in the road, that absent minded pedestrian. The UK government estimates that, each year, “excessive and inappropriate” speed kills 1,200 people and injures over 100,000 more.
This is all pretty obvious – but most people still speed. In 2011 almost half of cars monitored exceeded a 30mph speed limit, while a similar number broke the 70mph national speed limit on a motorway. Legally the limits set for particular roads are the “absolute maximum” vehicles should be travelling - yet one in two drivers are still going faster.
It all comes down to capability: unless a car is on its last wheels, it’s going to be able to drive faster than 70mph. In fact, you’d be extremely unlikely to buy a car that couldn’t go past 70 – even though there is no need for the average driver to travel this fast.
But there is a technical solution: devices that cars can be fitted with, to prevent them from breaking speed limits. Called ‘limiters’ or ‘governors’ (perhaps appealing to the East End gangster demographic), these cap the top speed of a vehicle by restricting the fuel supply to the engine.
Some larger vehicles already have mandatory limiters built in, preventing any naughtiness with the speed restrictions. If you see any vehicle with more than eight passenger seats, or any goods vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, they will have a top speed of 70mph. These limiters were brought in to reduce accidents. So why not cars, too?
Actually, as things stand, most cars already have do have speed limiters. But they’re not there to reduce the driver or other road users, though. No, existing limiters are there to protect the car: sustained high speeds can damage the engine and tires. Engines also work much less efficiently at speed, meaning more pollution and a greater environmental impact.
These inbuilt limits are set way above the highest UK national speed limit, however. There is no uniform standard, but German car manufacturers may limit the cars they produce at 155mph, while Japanese producers limit them at 112mph.
The thresholds for the speed limiter can be easily changed in modern computerised cars. Since 2012, the Ford MyKey has allowed parents to limit their kids’ speeding tendencies. Going one step further, the Nissan GT-R automatically raises the top speed when the GPS detects it has been brought onto a race track. GPS data on speed limits is already available and in use by sat-nav devices. If this technology could be coordinated, an entire country’s speed could be controlled automatically.
Yes, compulsory speed limiters would kill the £20m a year profits that the Treasury currently makes from speed cameras – but no Chancellor is going to argue against mandatory limiters if it means saving thousands of lives every year. Besides, safer roads would reduce the £470m per year spent on medical and ambulance costs for road traffic accidents. Savings would also be made in building and maintenance of speed enforcement infrastructure, such as speed bumps, chicanes and other bizarre street obstacles.
The UK led the way with the first ever speed limit in 1832. Let’s revive that streak of innovation and be the first country to require cars to be fitted with GPS speed limiters. One day, a 30mph will really mean a 30mph limit – and our roads will be safer for it.