London, 24 August 1998.
For immediate release.

Contact the ABD

Press Release

Anti-Car Highways Agency in Stealth Plan for
50MPH Motorway Limit
Drivers' Group Calls for Resignation of Highways Agency Chief

A Highways Agency plan to reduce a stretch of the M4 to 50mph and turn the FAST LANE into a BUS LANE has been discovered by the ABD.

This plan, affecting 6.5 miles of the M4 east of junction 4, will run in to the elevated section which will be reduced from 50mph to 40mph.

This is simply the latest in a long line of widely criticised speed limit reductions that the Highways agency has applied with minimal notification and no consultation in the London area. The time limit for comments and objections to this scheme has already expired - not that the HA ever intended to listen to objections, anyway, as a phone conversation with an ABD member made clear.

It is the first of these unreasonable limit reductions to affect a full motorway, and sets a dangerous precedent - if they get away with this, the Highways Agency will then be able to introduce bus lanes and speed camera enforced 50mph limits anywhere they please on Britain's motorway network. And they will.

ABD Chairman Brian Gregory comments:

"The Highways Agency should be about building and maintaining the proper network of high speed trunk roads that our taxes have paid for many times over. However, their recent glossy annual report shows that they are more interested in maintaining nature reserves, introducing bus lanes and reluctantly fixing a few potholes. Now they clearly have a policy of reducing speed limits on our roads to ridiculous levels, despite much research evidence showing this is counterproductive in road safety terms. Worse, they are introducing these limits by stealth, one at a time, to avoid the inevitable outcry. We have no hesitation in demanding the immediate resignation of Lawrie Haynes, the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, on the basis that this organisation has grossly betrayed the trust of the British public."

A conversation was held on the telephone last week between an ABD member and a Mr Gooday of the Highways Agency. This member reports as follows:

"The speed limit reductions, which will be permanent, and extend from J4 (approx. 6.5 miles) are, according to Mr Gooday for safety reasons. I asked him for details of his research justifying this, to which he had no answer. Had he checked any statistics concerning the detrimental effects of ridiculously low speed limits? Answer no. What was the level of accidents that they were trying to reduce? He didn't know, apart from a half hearted attempt at referring to the discredited 'West London camera experiment', which, of course, is supposed to have virtually eliminated fatalities in this area, but in fact showed no reduction in serious casualties compared with the rest of London."

"When I asked him what the HA was doing sponsoring this sort of scheme he admitted that the main idea was to 'discourage people from using their cars'. When I suggested that by taking his logic to its conclusion they might as well stick a 50 limit on all motorways and bring the country to a halt he commented it wouldn't be a bad idea. Such people are determining road strategy!"

So we have it - initial insistence that these restrictive measures are safety related, absolute failure to back up this assertion with facts, research or even logical argument, and final admission that what the Highways Agency is really about is "discouraging car use" by making it unpleasant.

Brian Gregory had this to say about the attitude displayed in the above conversation:

"How can the public tolerate such ignorance and arrogance from an organisation that is supposed to be providing a public service? This is not the first time one of our members has had a similar experience on the phone to this agency. For them to insist that something is justified by safety but then roll over and admit that it is really about making it unpleasant to use cars constitutes more than a simple lie - it is using the deaths of those killed in road accidents as cynical political pawns in an irrational war against the motor car."

"Worse," continued Gregory, "is that this scheme will impact directly on safety. Coaches will use the nearside lane in free flowing traffic, then cut across to the bus lane at high speed as traffic brakes ahead. A major accident is inevitable in this scenario."

There is no logic to this scheme at all - apart from the safety aspects, there is currently no commuter bus service along the M4 for this scheme to benefit, only shuttle services from Heathrow that should be replaced by the new rail link. So, once again, the motorist is being inconvenienced in a totally negative way without any thought being given to alternatives. But we have come to expect that.

Just pity the poor residents of Chiswick, who will get the traffic diverted off a more congested and frustrating motorway.


Notes for Editors