Could EVs change speed limits?

4 minutes

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  • The number of electric vehicle drivers has increased by 7,000% since 2013
  • The speed limit on motorways could rise to 80mph 
  • Transport is currently the leading cause of CO2 emissions in the UK

What impact could electric vehicles have? 

Increased number of electric vehicles could help bring down the UK’s CO2 emissions – transport currently accounts for 23% of total emissions

But another – less well known – change electric vehicles could have is increasing the speed limit on UK motorways. It’s been suggested the national limit could be increased to 80mph.

Will the speed limit rise due to electric vehicles?

One of the main restrictions on increasing the speed limit on motorways is the amount of pollution it would potentially cause. Vehicles emit higher levels of CO2 when driving at faster speeds . A reduction in these emissions due to more EVs would lessen the environmental impact of a higher speed limit.

Discussing the potential change, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“I think there is an argument for looking at our speed limits, both in terms of higher speed limits and actually lower limits - 20mph outside of schools.

“When it was last looked at in 2011, it was thought the carbon emission addition would be too great. But since I am a driver of an electric car myself, I got to thinking about whether that would still be the case. I think there is an argument that once you have increased the level of electrification and therefore decreased or entirely removed carbon, that you might look at those things again."

Will electric vehicles impact road safety?

Some people may take some persuading. Jim O'Sullivan, the Chief Executive of Highways England, said there had previously been resistance, as 70mph was “socially embedded” in the UK. This is despite cars being much safer and faster than when the limit was introduced in the 1950s.

Electric vehicles are no more dangerous than a petrol-fuelled vehicle. Increasing the speed limit however has raised some concerns over safety, as higher speeds could leave drivers with less time to react and potentially increase road accidents.

How many people in the UK own electric vehicles?

Around 246,000 people in the UK own electric vehicles as of October 2019. This number has increased from 3,500 since 2013 – a massive rise of nearly 7,000% over six years.

 

How to increase the number of electric vehicles in the UK

While the number of electric vehicles is increasing, EVs only represent around 1% of the total cars on the road in the UK. Considering the government pledge to stop the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, a significant shift in both the infrastructure and attitude toward electric vehicles will need to happen – and quickly.

 

Increase number of charging points

Worries about the cost and number of charging points available are some of the main reasons Brits are reluctant to invest in an EV, according to a 2019 study by the Transport Research Laboratory.

The Department for Transport have proposed that all new houses will include a charging point, so future home owners may have less boundaries to owning an electric vehicle.

An increase in street charging points would also help, as over 60% of people don’t have access to a garage or drive where a charging point could be installed. 

 

Lower upfront cost of electric vehicles

Prices of EVs are generally higher than petrol and diesel cars. This balances out with cheaper running costs and maintenance but the upfront investment is still a hurdle to ownership. 

EVs start at around £8,000, however, they could be comparable to petrol and diesel cars in as little as six years.

 

Increase government grants

Government grants for electric vehicles can make affording one easier. The Plug-In Car Grant could give you £3,500 off the purchase price of a new, low-emission vehicle. Increased incentives – or increased awareness of these incentives – could help more people make the switch.


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