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COLUMN-Raising UK speed limits sends wrong signal-Gerard Wynn
September 30, 2011 / 4:35 PM / 6 years ago

COLUMN-Raising UK speed limits sends wrong signal-Gerard Wynn

(Gerard Wynn is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.)

By Gerard Wynn

LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Britain’s plan to raise speed limits will make little difference to emissions but is incompatible with setting demanding climate targets and contradicts the government’s own advice.

The government’s Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Friday that it wanted to raise the top limit on open roads to 80 miles per hour from 70 mph.

The gain in fuel efficiency from buying a model made in 2005 compared with 2000 is about three times the gain from driving at 70 mph rather than 80 mph, DfT data show.

But the idea isn’t to stand still: the time for raising the limit was 1970 when Britain discovered oil in the North Sea and climate change was unheard of.

Now Britain’s oil reserves are dwindling while it has a stretching target to halve carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2025 compared with 1990 levels.

Its plan to raise speed limits runs against the advice of its own, UK-funded Energy Saving Trust and statutory climate adviser the Climate Change Committee (CCC), and it breaks its own to holidaymakers two months ago.

The DfT asked drivers embarking on their summer holidays in July to: “Watch your speed. Fuel consumption increases dramatically with speed: At 85mph a car uses approximately 25 percent more fuel than at 70mph, and at 70mph approximately 10 percent more than at 60mph.”

The inconsistency suggests incoherent decisions on environment by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which pledged to be the “greenest government ever”.

The DfT has compared CO2 emissions with speed for cars which meet 2000 and 2005 efficiency standards. The improvement in efficiency from buying a new model far exceeds that of driving at 70 mph rather than 80 mph for any given model, at about 15 grams of CO2 per kilometre compared with about 5 grams.

But the point is to drive down emissions and fuel consumption, and it makes no sense to erode even a small part of gains from a newer model by driving faster.

The government’s climate adviser, the CCC, said in June that raising the limit to 80 mph could result in up to 3.5 million tonnes extra carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, or 3 percent of last year’s CO2 emissions from transport.

The CCC recommended the government enforce the existing, 70 mph limit better - rather than raise it - and roll-out “eco-driving” training to help meet CO2 targets.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, in part funded by the Department for Transport, more efficient, eco-driving means avoiding acceleration in cities and excessive speed on open roads.

Many countries already have an 80 mph (130 kilometres) speed limit, but raising to that level now makes no sense.

For the next several decades most cars will be driven by conventional internal combustion engines, rather than electric vehicles (EVs) which sold just 5,222 EVs in all Europe in the first six months of this year, according to the research firm JATO Dynamics, or 0.07 percent of all cars.

Gains in fuel consumption therefore rest on improving conventional engines and driving them carefully. (Reporting by Gerard Wynn)

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