> Policy summary
Three simple road transport policies to enhance the experience of road users in the UK: raising the speed limit on motorways, introducing countdowns on traffic lights and reforming the vehicle registration system.
> Policy explanation
Road users are the poor relations of Britain’s transport system. Encumbered with ever more irritating obstacles and road signs, entrapped by ever more sophisticated spy and camera apparatus, and taxed at astronomically high levels, the average road user could use a few breaks. The experience of vehicle ownership and usage should be altogether less burdensome.
The first policy would be to raise the speed limit to 80mph for cars on the open motorway. The current limit is hopelessly out of date and barely observed. Advances in car and road safety have been huge in the time since the 70mph limit was invented, and it is time this obsolete level was changed to something approaching realistic. Dynamic limits on motorways during hours of congestion are the absolute norm already, so there is no sense in which this could be construed as irresponsible. This policy would also support the introduction of variable speed limits to reflect conditions on the road, although they are generally (but not compulsorily) advised on most stretches of motorway these days. Those who wish to continue to drive at 70mph would be free to do so.
The second policy would be to abolish amber on traffic signal. This quaintly confusing “Ready, Steady, Go” signal could quickly be replaced with proper signalling of the time, counted down in seconds, until the lights are to change. This improved level of information will help all traffic at junctions, as well as pedestrians, and it will stop unnecessary revving of engines and vehicle creep in anticipation of the lights changing.
The third policy would be to change the vehicle licensing and number plate systems. The number plate system is an almost purely state command and control system, with bizarre and unmemorable registrations being doled out at the state’s illogical whim, whilst it profits from undermining its own system with “cherished” numbers.
If the state gave out email addresses in the same way, it would make you have to have the year 01 in it, even if you were born in January 2002, and if you were born in Luton or Northampton, the address would have to start with a K. The second hand car market makes it pointless to have the vehicle’s origin suggested in the number plate anyway.
The whole daft system needs to be scrapped and replaced with vehicle registrations at the choice of the vehicle owner, just like choosing an email address. There would be a higher annual charge for the fewer numbers and digits used. The licensing system would be merged with the number plate system with a single yearly charge to abolish the need for tax discs. In other words a seven digit registration such as NEWCAR1 would cost £110 or £175, depending on the size of the engine, minus the administrative savings. The registration CAR 1 would cost, say, £310 or £375 per year. Random seven letter registrations could obviously be generated for those who do not wish to choose their own, as it is appreciated that some people do not like to make a choice, even when offered one. All existing registrations would be charged at the £110/£175 rate until non-renewal or transfer.
Furthermore, anyone should be able to manage payments and documentation for renewal over the internet, without having to send a clutch of important documents to be lost in Swansea. DVLA systems already integrate with insurers and the MOT system, so cross checking documents is no longer necessary.
> Political risks and opportunities
The political opportunity here is to get votes from frustrated road users who will understand and support clear, simple and commonsensical road policies. These are the sort of policies people will think “I wonder why we didn’t do this years ago?” about.
The political risk it that one will get bogged down in arguments with road safety and environmentalist fanatics, for whom anything which does not make life harder for road users cannot be contemplated.
> Questions for ConservativeHome readers
- Is 80 mph the right upper limit for motorways, or should it be 90mph?
- Have you seen traffic light countdowns being trialled anywhere in the UK?
- Does anyone consider the current car number plate system logical or comprehensible?
Raising the speed limit on motorways would cost practically nothing as national speed limit signs were designed with potential changes in mind. The benefits in reduction of congestion and journey times would be of some benefit to the overall economy.
Changing traffic lights from the amber system to a countdown system could be done in the course of normal maintenance to signalling systems. The software required to operate the LEDs should really not be very costly. Indeed, countdown systems are quite common in countries such as Thailand and India, so they cannot be too expensive.
The number plate system would deliver efficiency savings via the abolition of tax discs and the bureaucracy that comes with them. The annual registration fee would be aimed at being revenue neutral after the cost savings with an equivalent bonus to the Treasury for income generated by plates with a lower number of letters and numerals to that gained today by the sale of “cherished” numbers. It would not be the specific aim of this policy to change the different initial rates for different car engine sizes.
Overall, these policies are designed to make road usage and vehicle ownership a more human and user-friendly experience, with greater consumer choice.