7 in 10 drivers want lower motorway speed limits in bad weather
France is currently the only country in Europe where motorway speed limits vary according to the weather. In rainy conditions, the limit drops from 130km/h (around 80mph) to 110km/h (around 68mph).
According to the RAC findings, a third of UK drivers would like to see our limit cut to 60mph in the wet, while 17 per cent believe it should be as low as 50mph.
However, a fifth (21 per cent) of drivers disagreed with altering the current limits. Half of these argued that drivers already adapt their speed to suit the weather conditions, so legislation isn’t necessary, while 60 per cent also worried about defining the conditions when a lower limit should apply.
Stopping distances in the wet are around double of those in dry conditions, meaning it will take the average car 630 metres - the equivalent of 48 car lengths - to stop from 70mph.
Official data shows that wet roads and drivers travelling too fast for the conditions were respectively the cause of 259 and 242 motorway collisions in 2018 - the ninth and tenth most common contributory factors in a total of 4,029 crashes.
Of those who supported a change to the current law, the potential to slow down traffic and possibly save lives were given as the most common reasons in favour, followed by the positive effect on reducing road spray.
The RAC’s data insight spokesman Rod Dennis said a change warranted examination but warned that it might not be straightforward.
He said: “Statistically, the UK has some of the safest motorways in Europe but it’s also the case that there hasn’t been a reduction in casualties of all severities on these roads since 2012, so perhaps there’s an argument for looking at different measures to help bring the number of casualties down.
“While most drivers already adjust their speed when the weather turns unpleasant, figures show that ‘driving too fast for the conditions’ and ‘slippery roads’ are still among the top 10 reasons for motorway collisions and contribute to significant numbers of serious injuries and even deaths every year.
“The overall success of any scheme would of course depend on sufficient numbers of motorists reducing their speed, but even just a proportion reducing their speed in the wet would be likely to improve the safety of the UK’s motorways.”
Mr Dennis added that while trialing such a change could be conducted easily through the variable speed limit systems in place on smart motorways, a permanent change would be more complicated.
He said: “There would also be a number of practical hurdles to be overcome such as deciding what that lower limit would be, updating the Highway Code and fitting roadside signage to inform drivers of the new limits.”