Speed limiters on new cars: what you need to know about the rules
Since the summer of 2022, speed limiters have become a mandatory feature in all new cars sold across Europe. A speed limiter is a safety device that can be fitted to vehicles to prevent drivers going above the speed limit. Though these new regulations have been enforced by the EU, the mandate will still apply in the UK.
While we’re still in the early stages of the widespread adoption of the technology, European governments have been receptive to its rollout, and it’s believed that speed limiters will help to tackle one of the most prevalent issues on the roads.
According to recent government statistics, 48% of drivers exceed the speed limit on motorways, which ultimately increases the likelihood of collisions occurring. Meanwhile, according to preliminary figures published by the European Commission, there were an estimated 19,800 fatalities caused by road traffic accidents in 2021. It’s widely believed that managing drivers’ speed will be key to reducing this figure.
Anytime drivers exceed the speed limit, they are putting the safety of themselves and others at risk. What’s more, if you’re caught driving over the limit, you could be subject to legal implications, including financial penalties, a ban from driving or even prosecution.
In this guide, we discuss exactly what speed limiters are and the role they have to play in helping to enhance driver safety. We will also explore the pros and cons of these devices, and consider what the technology may look like in the cars of the future.
What are the different types of speed limiters?
There are two main types of speed limiters; adjustable and intelligent. An adjustable speed limiter requires the driver to manually set a limit depending on the road conditions. Once this upper limit has been reached, the system works in a similar way to cruise control, but the one key difference is you will still need to use the accelerator to maintain your speed when using it.
Meanwhile, Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems are able to identify changes in the speed limit using GPS data and traffic-sign recognition technology, to automatically adjust a vehicle’s internal speed limit. Different ISA systems will work in different ways to deter drivers from exceeding the limit. Some will simply alert drivers with a visual and audible warning, whereas others will physically restrict engine torque to help keep the car within the limit. Neither type will ever engage a car’s braking system.
All speed limiters are designed to be user friendly, but your car’s manual will provide instructions on how to use the system if it has been pre-installed by the manufacturer.
What are the benefits of speed limiters?
Ultimately, speed limiters are a safety feature designed to help reduce the risks associated with driving at excessive speeds. This is a handy benefit, but the advantages of speed limiters go far beyond simply reducing the risk of fatal collisions.
- Protecting driver safety. Speed is a major contributing factor in the occurrence of road traffic accidents. It’s clear that the faster we go, the greater the chance of a fatal collision occurring. According to the World Health Organisation, a 1% increase in speed directly results in a 4% increase in the risk of a fatal crash. It’s widely accepted that staying within the designated speed limit of any given road will help to protect drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and all other road users. As reported on the European Transport Safety Council’s (ETSC) website, experts suggest that if ISAs were installed in every car, we could see a 20% reduction in deaths on the roads.
- Better fuel efficiency. Using a speed limiter could also have a positive effect on fuel efficiency and thus the carbon footprint of your car. Driving at high speeds is directly related to fuel consumption, whilst unnecessary accelerating and braking can also affect the efficiency of your vehicle. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing speeds by just 5 to 10 mph can improve the fuel economy of your vehicle by 7%-14%.
Speed limiters can help you to manage your speed and keep your driving consistent. This ultimately helps your fuel to go further, which is better for both your wallet and the environment.
- Could reduce journey time. It’s not always a simple case of the faster you drive, the quicker you arrive. Driving at a consistent speed, whilst staying within the limit, could actually reduce journey time, with a number of factors at play. Firstly, if all cars were to stick to the speed limit on any given road, we would see improvements in the flow of traffic – similar to how smart motorways work. In addition, we’ve already explored how higher speeds directly result in more collisions, so safer driving will reduce the risk of your journey being affected by an accident along the way.
- Avoid financial penalties. When caught driving over the speed limit in the UK, you will be liable to pay a fine. The minimum fine for speeding is £100 and you’ll also receive three points on your licence, providing you don’t have the option of attending a speed awareness course. If caught speeding on the motorway, you could be fined up to a maximum of £2,500. Having a limiter installed will help to protect you from facing any expensive fines by encouraging you to remain within the limits on any given road.
- Improving driving habits. Similar to how a black box can help to fine-tune the driving skills of motorists by monitoring their behaviour, speed limiters can encourage us to fall into better, safer habits behind the wheel. Having this technology in place can also allow us to focus on other aspects of driving, such as our positioning on the road and monitoring the behaviour of other drivers.
It’s important to remember that even with an ISA, you still need to be aware of your speed. However, knowing you will be restricted to a particular speed may allow you to maintain your focus and avoid constantly directing your gaze down to the speedometer.
What are the potential concerns?
With the technology still in the early stages of its universal rollout, there are still several aspects which critics would highlight as potential downsides.
- The system can be switched off. Though ISA’s will now be installed in all new cars, drivers will still have the option as to whether they choose to utilise the technology. To try and encourage more drivers to leave it switched on, the technology will automatically be enabled every time you switch the engine on, meaning drivers cannot permanently disable it.
Giving drivers the option as to whether they use the system or not certainly detracts from the authority of the mandate to include them in all new cars. However, it’s believed that in the long-term, there is a view to remove this choice for drivers, meaning speed limiters will be active at all times.
- It could result in more aggressive driving. Tailgating remains a common issue on UK roads, as drivers look to influence the behaviour of others. So long as only some vehicles are fitted with speed limiters, it could encourage more reckless and aggressive driving by motorists who aren’t restricted by the technology. With speed limiters likely to become increasingly common among all cars, it’s expected we will encounter fewer problems in relation to speed differentials going forward. But until the technology becomes a universal feature in all vehicles, it’s important to highlight this as a concern.
- Overriding the system could create distractions. When using an ISA, the upper speed limit will be automatically set and adjusted depending on the type of road you’re on. However, even when this limit has been set, it’s possible for drivers to override the system by pressing down firmly on the accelerator.
Speed limiters are designed to allow the drivers to override the system, in the event where a little extra speed is required. However, if the driver persists to exceed the speed limit beyond a few seconds, the system will sound a visual and audible warning to remind them of the limit. The alerts will continue to sound until the driver returns to an appropriate speed. Whilst this is intended to act as a safety feature, alarms like this can have the opposite effect and could take drivers’ attention away from the road.
- The technology isn’t perfect. Studies show that even the most advanced ISA systems are working to a 95% accuracy level. In some cases, the system may not be able to detect a change in speed when traffic signs are obscured or inaccurate. This emphasises the need for drivers to take control of their speed themselves – using the technology doesn’t mean you will never have to worry about surpassing the speed limit.
- Complacency and overconfidence. Following on from the previous point, drivers who rely too heavily on speed limiters could start to become complacent and fail to take responsibility for their driving behaviour. Situations such as roadworks or heavy traffic could mean the speed limit is temporarily different on a particular stretch of road, and relying on an ISA system could encourage unsafe driving in the circumstances. Any in-car technology used to enhance driving safety should always be used alongside the driver’s best judgement.
The future of speed limiters
The legislation that was passed in 2022 was an important milestone in the continual drive to enhance motorists’ safety. But critics would argue that mandating the inclusion of speed limiters in all new cars doesn’t go far enough to addressing this key issue that affects road users around the world. However, authorities are widely suggesting that this legislation is far from the end game.
We already know that all new cars that come onto the market must now be equipped with a speed limiting system. But the EU’s rules also state that manufacturers have until 2024 to fit speed limiters on existing models in their showrooms. This highlights the authorities' clear stance on how speed limiters will play a key role in the future of driving safety.
What’s more, while currently the systems can be temporarily disabled by drivers, it’s expected that this feature will disappear in years to come, and permanently enabled speed limiters could be an aspect of driving we will all have to get used to.
It’s worth noting that current legislation dictates car owners do not need to retrospectively fit a speed limiter if their car doesn’t already have one. However, if you plan on purchasing a car in the near future, chances are that a speed limiter will be installed already.