manchester foe logo

80mph speed limits slam "Greenest Government" into reverse

news release

Manchester Friends of the Earth is dismayed by the proposals outlined by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport during the Conservative Party conference to allow 80 mph speed limits on the UK’s motorway network. The Minister has claimed that increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would “generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times.” [1]

Manchester Friends of the Earth believes the Minister appears to either be unaware
of, or be ignoring, evidence from both his own, and other government departments
that has shown that increasing motorway speed limits will:

Increase the number of people killed and injured on the strategic road network.
The Transport Committee report on Road Traffic Speed estimated that raising the
motorway speed limit to 80 mph would lead to an increase in motorway casualties of
between 5 and 10 per cent. This indicates that a change in the limit would lead to
between 50 and 115 more people killed and seriously injured per year. [2]

Waste more fuel.
According to the Department for Transport driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel
than at 60mph and up to 15% more than at 50mph. Cruising at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than at 70mph. [3]

Cause more air pollution.
In 2011, the GM Air Quality Strategy Plan acknowledged that the motorway network around Greater Manchester was one of two areas that was breeching the EU limit value of 40μg/m3 for NO2 air pollution. [4] [5]

Have a higher impact in poorer communities.
A 2006 study found that the most deprived areas had some of the highest levels of NO2 and PM10 pollutants and that this air pollution was “driven by road transport sources”. [6]

Cause higher C02 emissions.
In June 2011, the UK Committee on Climate Change (an independent body established under the Climate Change Act (2008) to advise the UK Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and on preparing for the impacts of climate change) reported that a “sustained increase in speeds would significantly increase emissions (e.g. an 80mph speed limit could result in emissions up to 3.5 MtCO2 higher than restricting speeds to the current limit)” [7] The Committee recommended a reduction in motorway speed limits to 60mph.

The transport sector is responsible for 25% of the C02 emissions in the United Kingdom [8] and enforcing the current speed limits or reducing speed limits would provide considerable CO2 emission reductions. [9]

Graeme Sherriff, Manchester Friends of the Earth Transport campaign co-ordinator said:

“The proposed speed limit increase is being justified on economic grounds, but it is unfortunately likely to result in more deaths and injuries on the roads, worse air pollution, and increased climate change emissions. It would make a mockery of evidence from the minister’s own department and fly in the face of the Government’s aspiration to be in the ‘greenest government ever’.”

Graeme Sherriff, Manchester Friends of the Earth Transport Campaign Co-ordinator.
Mobile: 07948 405071.

Catherine Thomson, Manchester Friends of the Earth Co-ordinator. Mobile: 07956

Notes to Editors:
[1] Government plans to raise speed limit to 80mph, Guardian 29th September 2011.

[2] Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS). 2004. Increasing the Motorway Speed Limit.


[4] Reducing the impacts of air pollution from transport on health and well-being. 2011. Page 3.

…there is certainly no indication of a decline in ambient concentrations at the road side (A56) and motorway (MW) sites. The pink line (marked AQS) represents the EU limit value of 40μg/m3, and therefore these two sites are in exceedance.

[5] 2004.  In particular a significant amount of pollution is created by vehicles travelling on motorways in the area. The Highways Agency has control over motorways and the air quality objectives may not be met without action to deal with emissions from traffic on the motorway network.

[6] Air Quality and Social Deprivation in the UK: an environmental inequalities analysis. June 2006.

Figure 3.4 shows a distribution of the most deprived deciles, which tend to be located in the main urban areas of England – Greater London, Birmingham, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, South and West Yorkshire, and the North East. Areas of high NO2 pollutant concentrations (also outlined in red) appear to be in similar locations, driven by road transport sources; this is also the case for PM10.

[7] Meeting Carbon Budgets – 3rd Progress Report to Parliament. Committee on Climate Change. June 2011. (Page 138)

[8] UK Climate Change Sustainable Development Indicator: 2010 Greenhouse Gas emissions, Provisional figures and 2009 Greenhouse gas emissions, final figures by fuel-type and end-user. March 2011.

[9] DRIVING UP CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS FROM ROAD TRANSPORT. An Analysis of Current Government Projections. Final Report. July 2006, Point 4.12.

Enforcing the existing speed limit for motorways and dual carriageways would cut carbon emissions from the road transport sector by 2.8% in 2010. Reducing the speed limit to 60mph and enforcing it would reduce road transport emissions by 5.4%. These savings represent between 15% and 29% of the total savings expected from the transport sector by 2010, according to the Climate Change Programme Review.

[10 ] Manchester Friends of the Earth is an award-winning environmental campaign group, raising awareness and lobbying for policy changes at a local, regional, national and international level. The group consists entirely of volunteers, and its campaigns are funded by membership fees and individual donations. Up-to-date information is available on the group’s website:
Manchester Friends of the Earth is a Licensed Local Group of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Find us on


Support Us

Donate or join us using a standing order or PayPal.

Twitter @foemcr