Traffic queues on the M6 motorway near Manchester, northern England March 19, 2012. Britain is to examine the potential for privatising parts of its road network as it looks at ways of upgrading the nation's infrastructure, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT POLITICS)

Former World champion racing driver Damon Hill has spoken out against UK government proposals to increase the speed limit on British motorways from 70mph (112km/h) to 80mph (128km/h).

The winner of 22 Grands Prix and a Formula One title said he hardly ever drove at more than 112km/h because “it's too stressful”.

Hill, who retired in 1999, said: “Most people aren't safe to drive over 55. The speed limit going up to 80mph makes me shudder.

“People mostly drive too fast on the motorway and too close to the car in front. They think they know what they're doing and they don't.”

Former transport secretary Philip Hammond has said the current limit is 'out of date' and a higher one would bring economic benefits.

The rise to 128km/h will be the first change to Britain's speed limit since 1965.

Hammond said the number of people drivers breaking the law was undermining the principle of policing by consent.

“If 50 per cent of the population are routinely breaking the law it's actually the law that needs looking at.”

But Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Increasing the motorway speed limit would not help the economy and would increase costs for drivers.

“It would also add to pollution and increase road casualties. Responsible motorists know that driving steadily at or below 70mph is most fuel-efficient, reduces jams and is safer.

“Opinion surveys show that the public will only support increases if they come with full enforcement, which is not possible in the current economic climate without a massive increase in the number of speed cameras on our motorways.

“This is an empty gesture that in the end would not benefit anyone.”

AA president Edmund King disagreed: “Eighty miles per hour in a modern car in good weather at a safe distance from the car in front is perfectly safe. Driving at 50mph tailgating the car in front is not.

“Eighty miles per hour is already accepted by most as the de facto limit so it is better to legalise this limit and enforce it. The best speed limits are limits that drivers understand and respect.

“If people think they can speed on motorways and get away with it, they are more likely to speed on urban roads.”

“The irony is that with the record fuel prices motorists are slowing down, not speeding up.”

An AA poll in March 2011 of 12865 AA members showed that 63 percent felt the motorway speed limit should be increased.

The Road Safety Foundation, however, says Britain motorway network is unsuitable for an 80mph speed limit. The foundation actually went out and inspected all 6950km of motorway, and found that only half the network had adequate barriers which would provide protection for drivers who lost control of their car.

The problem has been exacerbated by poor motorway maintenance which has seen crash barriers left unrepaired after a previous accident, decreasing their effectiveness.

In addition trees in some parts of the country have been planted too close to motorways, increasing the potential risk to motorists

Nevertheless, the UK's most outspoken petrolhead, Jeremy Clarkson, backed the speed increase.

An 80mph limit is good for the economy, polar bears and your soul,” he wrote. “It is also good for parents who will get home quicker to stop their children becoming glue sniffers. The limit should be 180mph.” - The Independent