Are pollution-linked speed limits coming to Britain’s roads?

Smoggy motorway
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Highways England is considering a proposal to impose pollution-linked speed limits in order to help ease smog and poor air quality in Sheffield.

The proposal will see a 60mph speed limit on the M1 at rush hour – when vehicle levels are at their highest. It would see the limit in place from 7am-7pm daily between junctions 32 and 35a, where the road is closest to schools and residential areas. About 120,000 vehicles use the stretch of road every weekday.

It’s believed that a 60mph limit would create a smoother journey for drivers, as they’d be spending less time speeding up and then slowing down sporadically. Sheffield has already been ‘named and shamed’ by the World Health Organisation for having dangerously high air pollution levels, and fails to hit EU air quality targets.

The plan would coincide with the Department for Transport’s plans to build a £106m ‘smart motorway’, set to launch in March. It’s feared that this motorway project would actually increase traffic levels. Highways England are therefore looking to trial a number of such projects to reduce this impact.

Speaking on the proposed pollution-linked speed limit, an AA spokesperson said “Car users are always the easy hit when it comes to pollution when actually they are not one of the main contributors. There will be people raising their eyebrows about whether this is just an example of the authorities trying to look like they are doing something. There will be a section of car users, who will see that this is not safety-related, and that they are being penalised for emissions that are likely to have come from other sources as well. That same section will say they pay billions of pounds in taxes … and if we’re contributing that amount of money why isn’t it being spent on the road network to deal with the issues?”

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, told the Sunday Times: “Sheffield has already had to close two schools by the M1 because the pollution was so bad, but there are still many residents breathing filthy air — and there will be far more if the motorway gets busier. The government has known about this problem but has still expanded the motorway. Now it is trialling these Mickey Mouse schemes which are bound to fail.”

A Highways England spokesperson said: “Smart motorways are central to the modernisation of England’s motorways, reducing congestion and improving journey time reliability by smoothing traffic flows. One of our key challenges in delivering the £15bn government investment in infrastructure is tackling the issue presented by air quality and in order to meet environmental targets we are investing in wider programme of air quality research to help address this.”

Do you think having speed limits linked to pollution levels is a positive step, or do you think it’s more hassle than it’s worth? Let us know at @Liftshare, or in the comments below. And once you’ve had your say, do your bit to take a car or two off the road by sharing a lift!

Author Lex Barber

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