How new rules on our roadways put the brakes on Yorkshire drivers 50 years ago today

Speeding on motorways has been a problem for generations but the most powerful measure against it took place exactly 50 years ago. Today is the anniversary of the 70mph speed limit being introduced.

When first opened there was only an 'advisory' speed limit of 70 MPH on motorways. This did not appear on signage until later.
When first opened there was only an 'advisory' speed limit of 70 MPH on motorways. This did not appear on signage until later.

The road issues on December 22, 1965 were surprisingly similar to the ones that are faced today. The difference is that the number of people being killed on our roads has fallen dramatically following the introduction, thanks to the 70mph barrier.

The Yorkshire Post’s reporters, during this week in 1965, wrote that “too many young people are finding themselves in court” on motor offences. A bigger cause for concern, though, was the regularity of crashes taking place on the motorways.

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While many people will be feeling the chilly temperatures today, it was a more treacherous time back in 1965 and that weather contributed to the crashes. Fog was a major factor in the problems of the autumn and things took a turn for the worse in December 1965.

The M1 motorway

On the day of the speed limit being introduced, the Yorkshire Post carried details of just how grim the roads were. It reported that 17 miles of the M1 were closed for nearly two hours and “snow and cold brought chaos”. Factory workers in York had walked out of work because it was too cold for them to do their jobs.

Amid that frosty backdrop came the 70mph speed limit, but the response from drivers was warmer. This was seen as a sensible measure and, in those days, many cars did not have the power to travel at high speed anyway.

The limit was initially introduced by transport minister Tom Fraser, of Labour, on a temporary basis. Barbara Castle, also of Labour, confirmed the limit on a permanent basis in 1967 when she was transport minister.

Vehicles have changed dramatically since the current national speed limit was set in 1965. Technological advances also mean that cars are significantly safer than they were.

The 70mph limit has stayed constant amid those changes. Those who work in road safety, however, still think drivers should respect that figure and not try to push the boundaries.

Sue Snoddy, chair of the West Yorkshire Safer Roads Delivery Group, said: “Our lives seem to be lived at a faster pace than ever and on a daily basis people seem to be rushing from A-B. Our key message to motorists that the speed limit on any given road is the absolute maximum that one may drive.

“It does not mean that is always safe to do so, nor is the speed limit a target speed to achieve. It is not about driving at 70mph at all times. There has to be consideration for other factors such as weather conditions - rain ice or darker skies and also other road users.”

The statistics across Yorkshire highlight the importance of taking care. The most recent statistics for road casualties painted a grim picture in some areas and hard work is being done to try to improve matters.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said: “Our message to motorists across West Yorkshire is that the difference of a few miles an hour can mean the difference between life and death.

“The faster you are driving, the less time that you’ll have to stop if something unexpected happens. We know that nationally, speed is one of the main factors in fatal road collisions and we’re committed to making our roads safer for everyone.

“If you kill someone because you’ve been exceeding the speed limit, or even just driving too fast for the conditions, not only will you face the full legal consequences, but worse than this you’ll also have to live with the long-term emotional consequences.”

The introduction of the 70mph speed limits means that those consequences are not as likely to occur as they once were. That means that today’s anniversary is one that should be celebrated.