The national speed limit of 70mph was imposed in 1965 – six years after the first motorways opened – and for most motorists, with nothing more potent than an Austin Cambridge or a Hillman Minx at their disposal, reaching such a speed was an impossible dream.
Technological advances have overtaken the speed limit, though. Modern cars are so quiet, refined and fast that it is absurdly easy to drift over 70mph. Even the most modest family hatch will break 100mph, and scores of cars top out at 155mph, their top speeds artificially restricted by anxious manufacturers. A Bentley Flying Spur can live up to its name by propelling five people at 200mph-plus until it runs out of fuel (not that long, as it happens). Virtually any car built in the past decade was designed to go faster than 70mph. It seems a bit silly, almost cruel, not to let them.
In return, agreeing to a lower speed limit on urban and suburban streets is a small sacrifice to make. In congested cities you would be lucky to reach 30mph anyhow.
It is time to allow an even higher speed limit than 80mph, or to have none at all on a few long stretches of straight, empty, four-lane motorway, just as the Germans do.