UK motorway speed limits could be lowered to 50mph to protect the environment

Concerns over Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels on sections of major roads in the UK are leading to the lowering of speed limits with one politician stating: “Speed limits for environmental purposes – we are at the beginning of that journey.”

After setting targets to reduce levels of NO2, the Welsh Government is now monitoring additional sections of the M4 with a view to reducing the speed limit from 70mph to 50mph.

According to the BBC, since 2018, the Welsh government has spent more than £5.6m creating five 50mph zones at sites found to have unsafe levels of NO2.

Two of those are already in place on the M4 in addition to three A roads.

In just the past four months that resulted in 40,000 drivers receiving advisory notices and 3,379 notices of intended prosecution after breaking the lower speed limit.

National Highways, the body that runs England’s motorways and A roads, has also imposed 60mph limits in four places on the M6, M5, M602 and M1.

Its head of environment, Ivan Le Fevre, said: “Hard acceleration when people are putting their foot to the floor with the accelerator, that does make an engine really work very hard and produce lots more pollution than when they’re running efficiently.”

He added that 60mph was “about the sweet spot” for keeping the air fairly clean without clogging the road.

While Highways England is reportedly currently not planning to lower more speed limits, it said it would keep its network under review.

Nick Molden, founder of vehicle testing and data specialists Emissions Analytics said diesel engines emitted more nitrous oxides (NOx), such as NO2.

“What should have been cleaning up the NOx from the engine before it was released to the environment, wasn’t,” Mr Molden said.

Last year the World Health Organization slashed the level of NO2 pollution it said was acceptable by 75 percent.

NO2 has been linked to several health issues, including lung problems in children and Alzheimer’s in older adults.

Although there has been a huge rise in the number of electric vehicles on UK roads, it’s thought that isn’t enough to mitigate the pollution from diesel engines, resulting in lower speed limits.

Mr Le Fevre added: “Certainly, while we have older vehicles and particularly old diesel vehicles on our networks, then we have to think about these sorts of measures.”

Highways England says that reducing the speed limit by 10mph lowers emissions by 17 percent and can accelerate efforts to bring affected areas within legal limits by one to two years.

Nine UK motorways saw 60mph trial zones put in place last year and the M621 now has a permanent 50mph limit at junctions 6-7.

Mike Wilson, chief highways engineer at HE, said: “Improving air quality and tacking air pollution are priorities for the government.

“Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, known to have severe effects on vulnerable groups.

“Highways England is committed to improving air quality in and around the strategic road network, and to supporting the aims of the government’s UK nitrogen dioxide plan.”

Even drivers of cars that produce no emissions at all are advised by National Highways to drive at a maximum speed of 60mph for “practical and safety reasons.”

Author: TIM BRADLEY
Disclaimer: This article was not originally written by a member of the GreenerHighways.co.uk team.
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