When ever I drove my VW Golf R32 along the UK motorway network a few years back, before I traded it in for a Toyota Prius, I was always amazed at how many cars would be overtaking me. I wasn’t racing, I was just cruising along at a steady 90-95 miles an hour.
Again and again, Jags, Porsches, Range Rovers, BMWs, Mercedes and Bentley’s would fly past, without question doing well over 100 miles an hour.
I will remind you this was not on an autobahn, this was on the M40 near Stokenchurch.
The speed limit in the UK was then, and is now, 70. There are some people who drive at 70 or less, trucks, coaches and very, very few cars.
White vans, I’d say the average is 85, most passenger cars about the same, a few cars hammering along over the ton. Of course it’s illegal, if you get caught the penalties are severe but a huge proportion of British drivers regularly flout this particular law. I was one of them, if I’m pointing fingers, one of those fingers is pointing at myself.
Another observation I think is very relevant to this proposal is journey time. I had a weekly drive back in 2005 of 120 odd miles from my house to the Scrapheap Challenge location. One week I drove there in my re-chipped, 4 wheel drive VW R32, maxing the speed at every opportunity. I knew where the speed cameras were, I knew where police patrols were likely to be. I dove that car for a year and never got a speeding ticket, but I drove like a criminal, always terrified I was going to be caught.
Then I did the same journey in the Prius, driving in my socks to get max mpg. Never breaking the speed limit, often well under the speed limit. The journey took me 12 minutes longer. That’s all. Not an hour, as I was expecting, 12 pathetic, short minutes.
The R32 would get at best 20 mpg. The 2nd generation Prius got over 70.
And now, our current Transport Secretary, the clearly brilliant and in no way connected with the oil industry and no relation of Richard, Philip Hammond has said he wants to raise the speed limit to 80.
So if with a speed limit of 70, the average speed is let’s say 75-80, then with a speed limit of 80, it’s going to be nearer 85-90.
I’m not going to consider the risk factors, I think our motorways are generally very safe, statistically much safer than A roads and way safer than the charming wiggly lanes near where I live which are lethal.
I am going to consider the efficiency factors though.
When you see an advert for a car and it says ’48.3 mpg combined cycle,’ that’s a test done on a rolling road. Yes, those big steel rollers under the wheels, in a building. It’s a bit of a joke, but it’s a level playing field joke as all cars do the same test.
The thing the love it/hate it Prius does is give a very accurate picture of your fuel consumption. I’ve driven them long enough now to know that the figures appearing on the screen and the actual use of fuel are very close.
If I drive along the M40 in the Prius at 65 mph max, I will get over 78 mpg. My all time record, 112 miles on the M5 to Cornwall to visit Dick (the tash) Stawbridge was 82.4 mpg. The M5 was really busy and slow, it was summer, nightmare journey but brilliant mpg.
If I drive at 70, the Prius will get about 68 mpg. 10 mpg less than 5 miles an hour slower. If I drive at 80 in the Prius, it drops down to about 58. If I really thrash it, touching 90, you can get it down to the high 40’s. And this is in a car whose very existence, whose whole conceptual design and technology is focussed on minimizing fuel use.
The simple fact is, the faster you go, the more the car has to push against the air, and the more fuel you burn. It’s not, as I hate saying, ‘rocket science.’
I know I’m going to hear from a load of blokes who drive big diesel Beemers and Mercs who will claim that because they’ve got a massive engine they can cruise at 90 and still get 46 mpg or some such nonsense.
I will not be impressed until cars are getting well over 100 mpg, anything below that is an embarrassment, anything below 60 is an affront to decent citizens, and anything below 40 mpg should be a public order offense.
However, even if you have a plug in hybrid Volvo V60, a car I recently drove in Sweden that over a month could easily achieve an average of 140 mpg, get in that and hammer it down a freeway at 85 or 90 miles an hour and it’s going to drink diesel like it’s going out of style. Which, by the way, it is.
A 55 mph speed limit, like they have in most of the USA, brought in during the 70’s ‘oil crisis,’ now that would be a radical and challenging proposal. You’d still get there, it would take you a few minutes longer, leave a little earlier, listen to an audiobook while you drive, broaden your mind.
An audiobook suggestion, try ‘The Man in the Rubber Mask’ written and read by Robert Llewellyn. Available soon on audible.co.uk.