The head of Highways England, Jim O’Sullivan, said that the only reason the UK had not moved to an 80mph speed limit on motorways was due to social acceptability as well as condemning classic cars in a recent interview with the Telegraph.

The interview, released yesterday, showed overwhelming support from Mr O’Sullivan for higher speed limits on parts of the motorway network, especially in the move towards smart motorways and more autonomous motorways. He also showed a move towards restricting the roads that classic cars could go on in the future, as they pose a “hazard” to more autonomous vehicles that are not able to communicate with them.

Not a new plan

Back in 2011, Philip Hammond, who was Transport Secretary at the time, created a plan to increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph but lack of backing from the Coalition Government at the time meant that plans were shelved in June 2013.

Back then, the variety of Transport Ministers meant that mixed messaging was sent out to motorists. Some ministers, such as former Roads Minister Mike Penning who promised to set up trials of the 80mph limit. Later Patrick McLoughlin said the plans were “not a priority” while a source close to the ministry said it was more over safety concerns than anything else.

Alienating female drivers

At the time, the move pushed down by Downing Street as they felt it could ‘alienate female drivers.’ A survey conducted in 2013 by the AA showed that 41% of women thought that the idea wouldn’t work while 73% of men supported the change.

However, five years down the line it is highly likely that this will have changed with the increasing number of women driving, an estimated rise of 700,000 since 2013, and more and more confidence from women drivers.


As it currently stands, the scheme would have to be tested against a strict set of security measures. Raising the speed limit means deadlier crashes, and poses a much higher risk. However, surely some of this comes down to driver skill, as referenced by Mr O’Sullivan below.

Mr O’Sullivan speaking on the issue of safety in the interview said: “Dependant on driver skill which is a different issue, there are parts of the network that could probably be [updgraded to 80mph]. We have not done a formal safety analysis but there are parts of the network that subject to a safety analysis could probably operate at 80 miles an hour.”

One other thing noted by Mr O’Sullivan was the social norm of driving at 70mph and changing the social attitude towards driving at a higher speed. This is thought to be the harder aspect of moving to a 70mph motorway, rather than any technical parts. Mr O’Sullivan said on this matter “I think there is a technical argument about speed and safety of vehicles etc but I think 70 miles per hour is so socially embedded in this country that I think it is probably not going to change, in fact, it’s almost certainly not going to change. I think that has more to do with public opinion and social views than it has with the technology of vehicles.”

Classic car condemnation

Along with statements about upgrading speed, he also revealed perhaps what could be come the future of motorway driving, fully autonomous with very little human engagement. The plan to remove classic cars from motorways initially but eventually all non-autonomous vehicles seems to be perhaps one of the most contentious points of the interview.

In a world that is fully reliant on vehicles, could it possibly be that in thirty years we would no longer be allowed to physically drive on a motorway but instead let a vehicle do the work for us?

This shocking idea shows the ideal way the government intends to send this country. Only on Tuesday did the government announce £100 million Research and Development funds for zero emissions development, along with other massive industry heads contributing millions. There are also plans to send a driverless vehicle on the roads by 2021, a mere three years ahead.

Mr O’Sullivan backed his point on removing classic cars by saying “Do you know what? Classic cars are not a lot of fun on a motorway if you have ever driven one.” Due to the lower speeds and the lack of technology in the car, in thirty years or so, it would be considered unsafe to have cars that cannot communicate with every other vehicle on the road, and while they may not be allowed on motorways in the not too distant future, there are no plans to ban them altogether, as “I [Mr O’Sullivan] think that classic cars are something people will continue to enjoy for many years to come. I can’t see a problem with continuing to operate classic cars.”

Do you think upping the speed limit will be good for the UK? Should classic cars be allowed on motorways? Let us know below

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