First, many drivers flout the current speed limit. One estimate claims 49% of motorists drive faster than 70 mph on British motorways.
Secondly, new technologies have helped save lives. There has been a drop of 75% in the numbers killed on British roads so a faster limit need not lead to more deaths.
Thirdly, Hammond believes that our roads "should be the arteries of a healthy economy".
Let's rebut each in turn:
1. If many drivers are breaking the law, then perhaps the law should be more strictly enforced. Combine this with the third claim above: if the worry is that we must boost the economy, then it seems there is a ready income stream: more speeding fines. Moreover, if so many motorists are driving above speed limits, then another possible consequence might be raising all speed limits. So why only motorways? Or is there something different (and unmentioned) about them?
2. While I have not seen the figures, it is difficult to accept that fewer people die on the roads now than in 1965 given that far more use the roads today. I suspect the idea is that fewer may die as a proportion of the population. If this is meant, then a big contributing factor has been the Labour government's investment in buses and trains. Fewer people (as a proportion of the population) are dying on our roads because fewer people (as a proportion) are in cars. So perhaps the answer is not faster limits for cars, but more special lanes for buses and more high speed rail. Nevertheless, the fact that fewer might die today than 50 years ago is not an argument for redressing the balance in favour of permitting faster driving that will contribute to higher death rates.
3. Perhaps sound road policy will boost the economy. The problem is that any review will cost us money now -- money that might be spent improving roads, not considering whether we should drive faster on them -- and any change in speed limits will not come into effect for another two years (in 2013). Thus, this is a plan to help the economy long after any recovery might have taken place at the cost of more road deaths. Oh, and more greenhouse gas emissions.
So why argue for a policy that is damaged goods? The reason is simple. While such reviews will cost money upfront (that I believe will be poorly spent), it is an effort to drive (pardon the pun) transport policy on the cheap. No bold vision. No new roads. No new rail transport. No new airport. Not even new signs! (Translation: in the UK, motorways have a symbol meaning "national speed limit applies" rather than a number. You must love common law in theory and in practice . . . )
Yet another ill-thought plan by a government that should know much better. Disappointing. Again.