Wednesday 24th November 1965
The UK government introduced an experimental speed limit of 70mph on motorways in England. The trial was introduced due to the high number of accidents while drivers were free to go as fast as they liked after the first highway – the M1 – was opened in 1959. The two-year experiment by the Department of Transport was deeply unpopular and led to protest campaigns by motoring groups such as the RAC and AA. But by 1967 – when Transport Secretary Barbara Castle made her decision to make the speed limit permanent – polls showed 61 per cent of Britons were in favour. This was due to studies by the Government’s Road Research Laboratory that showed casualties had been cut by 20 per cent and 60 lives had been saved. However, motoring groups and manufacturers still doubted the report’s finding and demanded the speed limit was scrapped. Lord Chesham, executive vice-chairman of the RAC, then said: ‘There are enough red herrings in this report to fill the hold of the largest Grimsby trawler.’ Today, Britain’s top speed limit is one of the slowest in Europe and there have been repeated calls to increase it. For example, France, Holland, Austria and Denmark are among 17 countries on the continent where motorists can legally drive at 80mph (130km/h) on their motorways.