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The European Commission believes that legally enforceable speed limits should be introduced throughout the European Community, with a harmonisation of the differing national speed limits so they can be based on common criteria. It has adopted a Communication(1) for the Council of Ministers which sets out the arguments for the introduction of Community limits. Detailed legislative proposals will follow later. Introducing the Communication, Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis, member of the European Commission responsible for both transport policy and the environment, said that there were compelling reasons for Community limits. "Stricter limits would save lives and reduce the burden of pollution. The ideas put forward in our Communication are a balanced approach to a difficult problem which needs to be dealt with at a Community level." Fixing Community limits The Commission sets out the main elements which it sees as the basis for Community rules: - Speed limits should apply on all roads in the Community and to all types of traffic. - A "normal limit" of 120km/hr for cars and motorcycles could be fixed for motorways, but this might be modified to take account of the construction of the motorway, the volume of traffic, pollution emissions and noise. On motorways which are well clear of urban areas, do not carry large volumes of traffic and have a good safety record, the legally-enforceable limit might be higher than the normal limit. On the other hand, those motorways which carry large volumes of traffic, are close to or run through urban areas, are constructed with many access points or run through areas which require increased environmental protection, could be subject to maximum speeds below the normal limit. (1) COM (86) 735 - 2 - - Limits on all other non-urban roads should be fixed at levels lower than the normal limit on motorways. This would help in two ways - by encouraging traffic to use motorways, where safety standards are higher, and by reducing polluting exhaust emissions significantly on roads other than motorways. The Commission notes that the existing differential in speeds between motorways and other non-urban roads is 30km/hr in the majority of Member States. - Coaches and heavy lorries should be subject to speed limits which are significantly lower than for cars and motorcycles, reflecting the increased impact energy and braking energy of heavier vehicles and also their reduced manoeuvrability - critical factors for road safety. - Limits in urban areas, where there is already a wide degree of harmonisation, should be maintained. The present situation Speed limits for cars in the Community range from 100 to 140km/hr on motorways, from 80 to 110 on other non-urban roads and from 48 to 60 in urban areas. Legally-enforceable limits apply everywhere except on German motorways, where there is a recommended maximum speed of 130km/hr for cars and motorcycles. Buses and heavy goods vehicles have lower limits than cars outside built up areas, ranging from 60 to 100km/hr in all Member States but the United Kingdom, where the limit on motorways is 112km/hr. Safety, pollution and energy saving Speed has a significant effect on accidents and their consequences, because reaction and braking time are shorter as speed increases. Furthermore, the greater the speed differential between two colliding vehicles, the greater the impact. Research results show that for every 1 per cent reduction in average speed, fatal accidents would be reduced by 4 per cent, personal injury by 3 per cent and all other accidents by 2 per cent. However, the Commission reports that motorways have four to six times fewer fatal or injury accidents than other roads. Lower speeds outside urban areas would reduce vehicle emissions, especially of nitrogen oxides (NOX), which are among the substances responsible for acid deposition and forest die-back. Studies show that a reduction of average speeds to 100km/hr would reduce NOX emissions by 300,000 tonnes - equivalent to 10 per cent of car emissions and about 3 per cent of total NOX emissions. Some German tests indicate that a limit of 120km/hr would reduce emissions by 7 per cent. The economic effects of new speed limits are not easy to assess. As far as high performance cars are concerned, one view is that low speed limits will reduce the home market. However, the Commission notes that high performance cars have been selling well in markets with low speed limits such as the United States.