'The freedom of motorists is being stripped away'

The introduction of speed limiters into new cars is another example of freedom being stripped away, says Mike Rutherford

OPINION Speedometer

Freedom of choice is a precious thing. It affords drivers the right to decide the types of vehicles they want; how much they’re prepared to pay for them; what on-board features they require; whether it has petrol or diesel in the tank; where, when and how their vehicles are used.

All this represents liberty and individuality for empowered consumers. We don’t realise how lucky we are to live in a time and place in which we can enjoy such things. But not for much longer, I fear.

Wales plans to introduce default 20mph speed limits

First, the politicians introduced additional taxes for drivers who, for example, drive into London. Then they said they’ll outlaw conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040. After that came the growl from Westminster that it wants us aboard autonomous vehicles, and soon. But before all the above, the UK Government (we can’t only blame the EU for this new law) has decreed that in three years, it will ban the sale of new cars not fitted with speed limiters

The advantages of such tech are obvious at certain times in certain places; during term time, for example, from 6am-6pm, or outside schools where 20mph limits are present, but often ignored.

But there are disadvantages, too. The two million or so new cars expected to be sold in the UK in 2022 will, in theory, be prevented from exceeding speed limits. Yet the remaining 38 million second-hand vehicles, plus countless visiting foreign HGVs, will not.

Result? Speed incompatibility – one of the greatest dangers on the road – will increase. If a tiny minority of new cars brake automatically as the motorway speed drops from, say, 70mph to 40mph, but most other vehicles do not, more rear-end shunts are inevitable.

What if you’re driving down that 20mph school street at 1am? Will your 2022-spec car stop you doing a harmless 30-35mph? Yup. Need a quick burst of speed to overtake, avoid an accident, make space for an emergency vehicle? Your car’s limiter will try to prevent this.

Also, when the accelerator becomes less of a pedal to skilfully caress and more of a brutal switch that’s on or off, there’s a danger limited vehicles will drive right up to, but not 1mph over, all the limits, all of the time. This would be wrong, and dangerous. At around 8am, that 20mph limit near the school may still be too high, as can 70mph on a motorway with ice or snow patches. Will speed-limited cars recognise such facts? I doubt it.

I have major concerns about the idea of forcing a tiny minority of cars to be limited, while the overwhelming majority of vehicles will be unlimited. As with most things motoring, the politicians just haven’t thought this one through.

Worse still, they’re horribly contradicting themselves because – wait for it – they quietly admit that the speed-limited cars deemed by them to be so essential will actually have override devices that will give them the ability to be driven at almost unlimited speeds. What hypocrisy. What a waste of time and money. What a shambles. 

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A car equipped with a speed-restriction device that can be instantly deactivated by its driver makes as much sense as a prison-cell door that can be unlocked by an inmate.

Do you agree with Mike's view about speed limiters? Let us know in the comments below...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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