Changing speed limits on the UK’s roads is hardly out of the news at the moment. For instance, various London boroughs, including Camden and Islington, have recently announced a reduction in the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph to improve road safety. In 2011, the government briefly toyed with the idea of increasing motorway speed limits from 70mph to 80mph. Now they are looking at the possibility of reducing sections of the network to 60mph to alleviate congestion.
Although the Highways Agency politely declined our offer to provide data on the effect of speed on fuel economy and emissions for their M1 consultation, I have decided to share it with you instead as I think it makes for interesting reading.
Every car has an optimum speed for maximum fuel efficiency but what is the range between models and what difference does it make? By mining our data, gathered during tests on more than 500 passenger cars, we decided to find out.
The table below shows that the average optimum speed for the top five selling cars in the UK (2011) is 46mph over an 8mph range.
You can also see that for these same vehicles a reduction in speed from 70mph to 60mph improves fuel economy by an average of 22%, but this varies from 15% on the Ford Focus 1.6 petrol and VW Golf 1.6 diesel to 34% on the Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 diesel.
In a separate study we looked at the effect of reducing the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph and while this reduced CO2 emissions, the impact on CO2, NOx and particulates, due to changes in driving style, warrants further investigation.
While reducing speed may deliver one objective it can have a number of knock-on effects; every car has an optimum speed, 60mph is better than 70mph for fuel economy but 20mph is not necessarily better than 30mph for all tailpipe emissions. Factor in other considerations such as air quality, congestion and road safety and the picture becomes even more complex. What can be concluded however, is that robust data should be the cornerstone of any proposed changes to the rules of our roads.
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