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One Change: The growing case for an 80km/h motorway limit

A speed limit is fairer than a fuel tax, which affects the less well-off to a greater degree

Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 06:00

Manchán Magan


In February this column explored the issue of reducing one’s motorway driving speed to cut carbon emissions. It was based on a report by the European Environmental Agency that showed slowing to 110 km/h could reduce fuel consumption by 12-18 per cent, and another report by CE Delft, which suggested that dropping to 80 km/h would lower CO2 emissions by 30 per cent. The rates of accidents would also decline and there would be a quantifiable reduction in the tiredness experienced by drivers.

 In the intervening months I’ve struggled to reduce my speed, though a sticker on the dashboard sent to me by the 80 Max campaign ( has helped remind me to do the right thing. During Lockdown the 80 Max team, who are based in Greystones, managed to raise enough money through making and selling masks to commission a national survey to gauge people’s willingness to reduce speed in an effort to cut greenhouse gases and Nitrogen oxide emissions. A sample group of 1,008 people, controlled for gender, age, social grade and region, were asked if they would be willing to “support a law that reduces the top speed limit in the Republic of Ireland from 120 km/h to 80 km/h (including motorways) as a move to cut these harmful emissions and create safer roads.” A surprising 43 per cent supported the proposal, according to the market research company, Opinions. Admittedly, it was a small sample group, but nevertheless back in 2003, only 37 per cent of people supported a smoking ban, and that was after decades of campaigning.

“Smoking is far more addictive than speed and yet so many of us managed to quit that habit,” says Jane Jackson, the coordinator of the 80 Max campaign. “The stakes are far higher for all of us if we don’t manage to transition to a very low carbon economy by 2030.”


Implementing such a radical change to national speed limits seemed hard to countenance when I wrote about this in February, but the extent of the changes introduced since lockdown have made it more imaginable. On March 16th, the Dutch government reduced national motorway speeds to 100km/h during the day, while Luxembourg has cut its maximum motorway speed from 130km/h to 90km/h. Both transitions went smoothly, without causing additional tailbacks and with general acceptance by society.

A speed limit is also fairer than a fuel tax, which affects the less well-off to a greater degree

In Ireland, we could cut our CO2 emissions by 2 million tonnes annually if we implemented the initiative here, according to the 80 Max campaign. This would represent only 3 per cent of our overall emissions, but it would help to make us all more aware of the impact we are having on the environment and the future health of the planet each time we get behind the wheel.

A speed limit is also fairer than a fuel tax, which affects the less well-off to a greater degree, while allowing those who can afford it continue to drive faster with impunity. The measures would, though, inevitably lengthen journey times, and this would give rise to frustration and perhaps an economic toll as businesses become less productive or efficient. Yet, “Marchetti’s constant” would call some elements of this assumption into question. This principle states that although the forms and speed of transport change over generations the time spent travelling to commute, and to gather and distribute supplies, stays constant. The average daily journey to work or to get supplies has been an hour since the Stone Age. Speeding up doesn’t save us time, it just encourages us to travel further.

So, we never really get to ‘save’ that time promised by greater speed or better roads, we just use it up to go more places more often. Slowing down is definitely frustrating at first, but it encourages us to find ways of having our needs met closer to home – contributing to local economies rather than distant metropolises.

The ideal situation would be if our government followed the lead of the Netherlands and Luxemburg in reducing national speed limits, but in the meantime it is up to us all to start implementing this tangibly beneficial measure. The 80 Max campaign is seeking pledges by citizens to reduce their speed, which should then help to encourage others to make the commitment. 

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What A Wonderful World – Driving at 80MAX

January 5, 2019

Before the Christmas holidays the SMA Communications Officer was asked to meet with Jane Jackson. Like so many of us, Jane is concerned about the impact of Global Warming.

Jane has come up with a simple but brilliant idea to help us decrease our carbon footprint while driving, as we transition from fossil fuels to cleaner transport modes. She has created a movement called 80MAX.

The idea is that we curtail our maximum driving speed to 80 kilometers per hour (In USA it would be 50MAX – 50 miles per hour).

This simple choice has major benefits:

Safer Roads,
Cleaner Air,
Fewer Greenhouse Gases and
More Money in Your Pocket.

This is achieved because there is:

Less Wind Resistance,
Less Horsepower Needed,
Less Fuel Burned

– all resulting in Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Since meeting Jane the SMA Communications Officer has made a conscious effort to keep to the 80MAX speed while driving on Irish motorways and duel carriageways such as the M50 and M1. He reports that he has noticed additional beneficial impacts. He reports that he finds driving to be less stressful; it is much more relaxing; there is far less temptation to road rage; and there is a real satisfaction in knowing that one is reducing harmful environmental emissions – up to 16% in short journeys and up to 30% in long journeys.

It’s not the ultimate solution. But it is a symbolic and practical statement about slowing down, and eventually reversing, the threats posed by Global Warming.

We encourage you to adopt the 80MAX initiative as a New Year resolution and as a YES to LIFE in all its magnificent dimensions on planet Earth. 

To learn more you may visit the website: 

And to help you realise what we mean, and to get you in the mood for the most positive and hope-filled New Year imaginable, here is the best of Sir David Attenborough’s work set to the song immortalized by Louis Armstrong – WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD:

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