Speed limits were first introduced as long ago as 1865. Between 1865 and 1896 “locomotives” on the highway had to be preceded by a pedestrian carrying a red flag. They were subject to a speed limit of 2 mph in populated areas and 4 mph elsewhere.
The maximum speed limit was then increased to 14 mph and, in 1903, to 20 mph. From 1930 until 1934 there were no speed limits for cars and motorcycles. However 1934 saw the introduction of a 30 mph speed limit in built up areas, as well as the compulsory driving test.
Other roads had no speed limit at all until 1965, when an upper limit of 70 mph was introduced for all roads including motorways. During the 1974 fuel crisis there was a temporary maximum of 50 mph on all roads until May. Then in December 1974 this limit was reduced again to 50 mph on single carriageway roads and 60 on dual carriageways. In 1977 these limits were increased to 60 and 70 respectively. For some vehicles, for example HGVs, the limits are lower.
Since these dates, there have been no major changes to the limits and recent proposals to increase the motorway speed limit to 80 seem unlikely to be implemented. Although speed limits haven’t changed for decades, the armoury of enforcement methods used by the Police has massively increased. Where once the Police relied on speedometers and stopwatches, they now have radar, lasers, and a variety of speed cameras.
How things have changed. Nevertheless, motorists should perhaps be grateful; at least there are no plans to re-introduce the man with the red flag.
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