As a member of the Automobile Association (AA), I regularly fill in questionnaires asking for my opinion about my driving experience. I fill them in because a) one is entered into a £500 draw every time you complete one and b) I cannot resist giving my opinion in great detail if I’m asked for it.
There were lots of questions about speed and cameras, allowing drivers to use the hard shoulder at peak times and whether certain driving conditions were ‘safer’ than they were five years ago. However, I really felt that the questions about motorway behaviour were loaded and I found myself wondering who had commissioned them.
I don’t think driver speed or congestion is ‘safer’ than it was five years ago and I’m not convinced that driving fast is necessarily a dangerous thing. Driving like a total arse is dangerous, as is being hesitant, not indicating, driving erratically and tailgating. Tiredness causes accidents and sitting in traffic jams causes loss of concentration, which causes accidents. If drivers are keeping their speed down it’s because they’re shit scared of speed cameras which, incidentally, would be better located outside schools, shopping areas and residential streets. But they wouldn’t generate enough revenue there, would they… The National Speed Limit was set in the sixties and has never been revised, despite the dramatic change in road use and car design. This needs to be objectively assessed.
As a frequent user of the motorways, I have noticed all sorts of sticking plaster solutions for dealing with congestion, one of which is allowing drivers to use the hard shoulder at busy times. Hard shoulders should be kept clear for emergency vehicle access at all times and not used to relieve congestion, end of story. It’s all very well saying that electronic signing can open and close lanes as necessary, but what if the electronics fail? What if there’s been a disaster which has taken out communications? The more we rely on computerised controls, the more infantilised drivers become and the more unlikely to respond appropriately to changing situations.
Variable speed limits on trunk roads have proved extremely effective at dealing with congestion, as have the information signs which give warnings about road conditions and future difficulties. But this should never be a substitute for common sense and there have been reports of drivers having accidents in fog because there was no sign telling them to slow down because of fog.
I will rant on about common sense and personal responsibility until the End of Days and this doesn’t mean that I am opposed to safety measures and technology as a tool to facilitate safety, but it mustn’t ever be used as a substitute.
My first suggestion would be to insist that all new drivers take a few hours of instruction on a motorway before they are allowed on the road. This could be conducted AFTER they have passed their general road test, but BEFORE they are actually granted their licence. There should also be a module on dealing with emergencies and RTA’s and the opportunity to view the videos and have the talks from the police BEFORE they have been hauled up for speeding or committing any motoring misdemeanour.
Secondly, road haulage is causing significant problems in terms of drivers unfamiliar with UK roads, as well as the sheer volume of vehicles. What about providing an extra lane specifically for lorries when roads are being widened? On numerous occasions I have missed signs or exits because I have been boxed in by lorries who simply can’t see me and despite being a ‘dynamic’ driver, it’s terribly intimidating.
If the motorways are indeed safer, I suspect that this has more to do with the reliability of vehicles, the efficiency of braking systems and advances in car design. If only we could redesign some of the drivers.