HC Deb 12 November 1975 vol 899 cc686-8W
Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future implementation of the Fuel Emergency Order 1974; and if he will give an estimate of the amounts of fuel saved during the operation of the order to date.

Dr. Gilbert

The 60 mph and 50 mph (Temporary Speed Limit) Order 1974 expires on 30th November. The Government propose to extend for a further year the temporary speed limits of 50 mph and 60 mph which were applied last December to single-carriageway and dual-carriageway roads, respectively. As soon as the Order in Council extending the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973 comes into Force, I propose, together with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales, to make a continuation Order extending the 60 mph and 50 mph (Temporary Speed Limit) Order 1974 until 30th November 1976. The new Order will come into effect on 1st December immediately after the expiry of the present order. A similar Order will be made in respect of Northern Ireland.

I have now examined the results of a survey of traffic speeds carried out on a representative sample of roads where conditions permitted speeds to exceed 50 mph and 60 mph. The percentage of drivers observing the speed limit was as follows:

May July
% %
Single-carriageway roads 80 86
Dual-carriageway roads 79 82
By comparison, observations on stretches of the M3 and M4 showed that only 62 per cent. of drivers were observing the 70 mph limit. The reduction in speeds between May and July 1975 is probably due to a higher proportion of leisure travel in July.

Consumption of motor spirit in the first half of 1975, compared with the equivalent period of 1973, was between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. less than could be accounted for by reductions in traffic—a saving of about £40 million a year to our balance of payments. The factors leading to this will have included slower speeds, more careful driving behaviour and a tendency to use smaller vehicles.

In the first five months of 1975 the accident rate per vehicle mile, compared with the corresponding period of 1973, was 15 per cent. lower on motorways, 16 per cent. lower on all-purpose roads subject to the reduced limits, and 5 per cent. lower on 30 mph and 40 mph roads. There is insufficient evidence of previous speeds on roads other than motorways to show how far they have fallen since the limits were reduced, but on motorways there is evidence that speeds are lower than in 1973. The comparable decline in accident rates on other roads outside the 30 mph and 40 mph limits suggest that on these, too, speeds have declined.

These results imply a growing awareness by drivers of the benefits of slower speeds and careful driving. Higher prices and publicity campaigns have no doubt played a part in this, and it has not been possible to attribute any specific share of the reduction in either fuel consumption or accidents to the speed limits themselves. The degree of observance reflected in the figures that I have quoted suggests that most people comply with the reduced speed limits now in force—but I am considering the need to give further publicity to them. I do not consider that it would be desirable, in terms of cost or flexibility, to mark them specifically.

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