MPs recommend 64mph motorway speed limit to reduce oil demand
MPs have released a new report listing a number of recommendations to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil – and it includes slashing speed limits and introducing driving restrictions at weekends.
Parliament’s Environment Audit Committee has called for the Department for Transport to consult on cutting the maximum speed limit on UK motorways by 6mph to 64mph in a bid to trim vehicle fuel use.
It also called for ‘car-free Sundays’ in big cities as well as encouraging lift sharing for commuters as ministers call for drastic measures to help lower oil imports.
The recommendations have been outlined in the committee’s fourth report on ‘Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies’, which was published on Thursday morning.
It warns that road transport emissions have been ‘moving in the wrong direction’ in recent years, namely due to increase in sales of heavier SUV and crossover cars and more vans on the road due to rising demand for deliveries following the pandemic.
It listed points raised by the International Energy Agency (IEA) last year to limit fuel use and thus reduce oil demand, particularly from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
The IEA proposed cutting off Russia’s supplies by lowering transport-related fossil fuel consumption with a range of proposals.
Among these is to reduce speed limits on highways by at least 10kmh (6mph).
It also recommended car-free Sundays and alternate car use in big cities, as well as the promotion of car sharing and practices that decrease fuel use.
Other suggestions it raised include the introduction of working from home three days a week where possible, making public transport cheaper and incentivising walking and cycling.
The IEA also wants ‘efficient use’ of freight trucks and goods delivery, increased availability of high-speed and night trains instead of planes, and the avoidance of business travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The agency estimates that if these measures – and greater use of electric vehicles – were implemented in full they could cut oil demand by 2.7 million barrels a day globally.
‘Adopting the immediate and longer-term recommendations would put the countries on track for a decline in oil demand consistent with what is required to reach net zero emissions by 2050,’ it added.
Any move to cut speed limits on Britain’s motorways would be a big contrast to plans to remove them entirely, as had been proposed by former Prime Minister Liz Truss during her Conservative Party leadership campaign last year.
The then-Foreign Secretary said in August that she would be ‘prepared to look into’ the radical idea to transform British motorways into a German autobahn system with no restrictions on speed.
MPs on the select committee said they acknowledge the Government’s plan to end the sale of petrol and diesel new car sales in 2030 will have a big impact on reducing oil demand, but they warned that this could take decades as drivers will not be forced to transition to EVs from that deadline date.
‘The best way to reduce the UK’s future exposure to volatility in the price of oil is to reduce oil consumption,’ the report said.
‘The rapid growth in electric car sales is encouraging, but it will take many years to replace petrol and diesel vehicles.’
The report comes the same day that official industry figures showed that fully-electric vehicles outsold diesels for the first time in 2022.
While 16.6 per cent of all car registrations being battery-powered models, the market share of diesels fell to just 9.6 per cent.
The Environment Audit Committee recommends that the DfT consult on measures to lower fuel use, ‘such as those listed in the IEA’s ten-point plan’.
They said such policies would help the UK to ‘improve energy security, reduce oil demand and cut climate-changing emissions from transport’.
AA President, Edmund King, said that drivers are already slowing down in a bid to conserve fuel and battery range with petrol, diesel and electricity prices higher than usual.
‘Ironically, we already have 60mph limits on a couple of stretches of UK motorways due to air quality issues and traffic is frequently slowed down on other motorways due to incidents or false alarms from Stopped Vehicle Detection systems,’ he told This is Money.
‘When fuel or electricity prices are high, many drivers do drive below the speed limit to conserve fuel or electric charge.’
Mr King also points out that many European countries, such as France, already have higher motorway speed limits of 130kmh (81mph).
‘Perhaps the IEA recommendation was aimed at them,’ he adds.
‘Measures to improve the free flow of traffic on motorways, including lane discipline campaigns and reducing live lane incidents on smart motorways, would arguably have a greater effect than cutting speed limits.’