The “basic speed limit” for English motorway roadworks will rise from 50 to 60 mph, the government has confirmed. Highways England, the organisation in charge of the country’s motorways and major A-roads, says the limit will only change where “it is safe for road users and road workers”.

According to the government-run company, the decision has been taken as a result of “feedback” from drivers, who said they were frustrated at not being able to go quicker. And the organisation says “extensive” research showed the change would not only save drivers time, but also improve safety as more drivers will stick to the increased limit.

The Highways England findings showed using 60 mph limits through roadworks across eight road improvement sites resulted in drivers saving an average of “up to almost 3,780 hours” in journey time. And although Highways England confesses average speeds increased during the trial, more drivers stayed within the speed limit than when it was set at 50 mph.

And Highways England says some of the road projects that trialled the 60 mph during for eight or 10 weeks over the last 18 months have been so confident in the increased speed limit that it has been rolled out across more miles of motorway or retained until the work was completed. Such locations include the M1 between junctions 13 and 16 in Northamptonshire and the M6 between junctions 13 and 15 in Staffordshire.

“All of our research shows that road users benefit from 60mph limits in roadworks, said Highways England’s chief executive, Jim O’Sullivan. “They have shorter journey times and feel safe.

“Road users understand that roadworks are necessary, but they are frustrated by them. So testing 60mph has been about challenging the norm while ensuring the safety of our people working out there and those using our roads. We have a huge programme of work planned, so being able to use 60mph where safe will continue to improve everybody’s experience of our roads.”

UK motorway services roadworks cones

Meanwhile Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, welcomed the change, saying drivers would be pleased with the raised speed limits.

“We know road users want speed limits in roadworks to be no lower than necessary to maintain safety,” he said, “so 60 mph in roadworks wherever it is safe to do it is a welcome step.”

Although 60 mph will become the “basic” speed limit for motorway roadworks, it is likely that some roadworks will retain their 50 mph limits. The 60 mph limit, therefore, will only apply where traffic signs show that limit, so drivers cannot assume a 50 mph sign now 'means' 60 mph.

M6 roadworks on major UK multiple lane highway