Highways England could increase the speed limit on motorway road works to 60mph as early as this year, following trials that showed that higher speeds reduced drivers’ heart rates.
The Government-owned company said that it is ‘seeking an opportunity’ to raise the limit through some parts of road works – and potentially throughout whole stretches – where the scheme can be designed in a way that keeps it safe.
It is testing different speed limits within the same set of road works, so that instead of having the standard 50mph limit throughout a whole stretch, there could be a 55mph limit or a 60mph limit.
Parts of the M3 smart motorway scheme were in the trial
However, chief executive Jim O'Sullivan told Transport Network that, 'as much as I don't like it', Highways England had been unable to engineer a way to have higher speed limits on the controversial M5 Oldbury Viaduct scheme, which has a 30mph limit through a contraflow section.
As part of a wider initiative that began in September last year to assess the benefits associated with increasing speed limits through road works, Highways England has conducted two trials to how drivers respond to higher speed limits.
Thirty six participants were recruited to take part in each of two trials (on the M5 and M3) and were provided with dash cams and watches incorporating heart rate monitors and GPS trackers, to monitor their reaction to driving at 60mph.
During these trials 60% of participants recorded a decrease in average heart rate in the 60mph trial zone and 56% showed a decrease in average heart rate at 55mph.
More extensive trials that assess safety implications and journey time benefits for drivers travelling through road works have also taken place since September last year on a section of the M1 and the A1 Leeming to Barton scheme.
Highways England said that depending on the trials, the change could come into effect on many new schemes from 2017, ‘subject to us being able to ensure it can be done safely’.