Tag Archive | "uk roads"

The Point Of Motorways

Unless your editor has got things tragically wrong, the idea of motorways was to speed up traffic and journeys by virtue of wide roads and direct routes. Generally speaking, travel on these routes is pretty joyless but they do serve commerce and convenience.

On 5 December 1958, the eight mile Preston bypass (pictured – now part of the M6) opened. It was closely followed by the M1 which runs north–south and was the first inter-urban motorway to be completed in the UK. 1958 really was the start of the motorway age of motoring.

That Britain’s growing band of motorists increasingly found they were able to stretch the boundaries of work and leisure when unthinkable journeys of the past gradually became the norm. There was no speed limit either although, obviously, cars of the time could not routinely achieve the average performance of cars today.

At the time, nobody was truly aware of how fast – in a growth sense – motoring would move on and despite all our motorways and major trunk roads today our highways network simply hasn’t kept pace.

The other thing that’s happened is the European Union. We now have a body of people from all over Europe telling us what to do. One of the things they want us to do is to slow down and clean up the air. Despite the fact that car manufacturers continue to work tirelessly to produce ever cleaner engines we have now reached the stage where the Highways Agency has revealed that a thirty four mile section of the M1 – spanning Derbyshire and South Yorkshire – would have a maximum speed limit of 60mph between 7am and 7pm seven days a week from 2015 onwards as part of a drive to meet European Union clean air targets.

As a motorist I have my own views on this which have no place here but in a very recent poll over two thirds of motorists wanted the Government to apply the brakes to plans to lower speeds limits on motorways on the basis that it simply defeats the point of having them.

Motorists are already doing their bit for the environment by buying greener cars in record numbers and the Government needs to respond in kind by making our roads better rather than introducing measures that will only contribute to making our motorways even slower.

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Could Ultimate Car Control Be Taken From You?

A few days ago Motor Blogger queried the intentions behind technology whereby your car could be controlled by others. You can refresh your knowledge here. Now there’s a new, or additional, threat – depending on your point of view. It is called Intelligent Speed Adaptation.

It seems that seventy five percent of European drivers are concerned that the use of Intelligent Speed Adaptations (ISAs) will compromise safety, according to new research. Last month, the European Union announced that they were considering rules for new cars to be fitted with ISA technology. This would be capable of detecting speed limits through cameras or satellites and automatically applying the brakes of your car without so much as a by-your-leave. Even existing vehicles could be forced to have the technology fitted, no doubt at the owners expense.

Seventy-eight per cent of motorists don’t want to see the retro fitting of ISA technology onto older vehicles. The research also shows that fifty-seven per cent of drivers feel that ISAs would not have a positive impact on road safety – avoiding crashes, deaths and injuries and so on.

However, there is overwhelming support for the science when car control remains with the driver. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents would prefer ISAs to operate with warning messages with no control of the vehicle. That does make sense.

Respondents do feel that there are some benefits to ISAs. Fifty-two per cent see a reduced likelihood of speeding convictions and less money spent on traffic calming measures such as road humps. Thirty-one per cent of respondents – presumably older, more experienced ones – feel that, if enforced, ISAs should be restricted to younger drivers, newly qualified drivers and drivers with previous road-related convictions.

Certainly this high-tech stuff could help to save lives but it’s clear that drivers remain dubious about the benefits of the technology. More research into the benefits would help to reassure the public that this will improve road safety.

In short – we don’t trust it. We suspect – with good reason – it is yet another way to control drivers. The real answer is of course to ensure that drivers are trained properly in the first place.

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Is Your Journey Worth It?

The other day Motor Blogger had to drive to the coast. Fortunately it was in a Jaguar XF (pictured) because the weather was foul. At times the rain was torrential, necessitating a very careful approach to driving.

By the time you read this the UK will have experienced one of those storms we see only about once a decade. Nevertheless, people still have to go about their business but, in severe weather, it is essential to pose the question to yourself – is my journey worth the risk?

If you really have to go out on the roads then there are certain things that can be done to at least counter in a small way the effects of driving under the influences of rain and wind.

First off – it is crucial to plan the journey. Is there a route with less exposure to the weather and less risk of fallen trees? Choose a sheltered route if you have the option. Strong winds are not constant, they are usually gusty so ensure you keep a firmer grip than usual on the steering wheel.

As you may have found in the past when crossing high bridges and the like, there is often the risk of crosswinds. It’s possible to get the same effect from overtaking high-sided vehicles. There can sometimes be a strong gust as you clear the lee of the lorry.

Remember too that others are suffering the same issues. Give cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses more room than usual. They get blown around by side winds easily. It’s not even unheard of for pedestrians to be blown about or even blown into the path of on-coming motors.

Watch trees and bushes on the roadside – their branches can show you how strong the wind is and what direction it is blowing. BY looking well ahead, you don’t need to take your eye off the road and you can see any windy patches before you get to them at which point speed can be lowered until the vehicle is slow enough to cope with the gusts and associated handling issues. Wind can get under a car and reduce its handling and braking significantly. Keep an eye on what is happening to other vehicles – seeing when they are affected will give you advanced warning.

Heavy rain obscures the view, often despite the best efforts of windscreen wipers. As MB found the other day, there comes a point when it becomes prudent to stop at the first safe opportunity.

With wind and rain comes debris. Leaves make a road slippery and branches or even fallen trees are an obvious hazard. The trouble is – a driver doesn’t know they are there. All that can be done is to be aware and anticipate the worst. Or not make the journey at all!

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The Dangers Of Fog

The recent horrific pile-up involving around 130 cars on the A249 Sheppey crossing in Kent is a shocking reminder of the dangers of driving in fog. Some experts have mooted that the design of the bridge may have contributed to the numbers involved in the crash, but the police and eyewitnesses believe that fog was to blame.

We are all given a wake up call by events such as these and should, you would think, learn lessons from it and yet the sight of a car following way too close behind the car in front is an all to frequent occurrence. At this time of year fog could make this sort of stupidity even more unbelievable.

The fact is – we never learn. Hundreds die on our roads each year yet some drivers continue to believe that they are inviolate. Tailgating, the lack of fog lamp use, not slowing down in the rain or leaving much larger gaps in icy conditions – the very basics of safe driving – still occur with alarming frequency.

In their defence for once, successive governments continue to try to educate but it seems to have only a minor effect that soon wears off. A couple of years ago after a particularly nasty crash in the West Country it was suggested that there should be a mandatory reduction in speed limits in adverse conditions. This is law in France and it works.

On our motorways and main arterials digital signage is used to control speeds and this is monitored by cameras but elsewhere no such scheme exists. Governments are wary, quite rightly, of interfering too much but our roads are becoming increasingly crowded. Certainly our cars are much safer than even a few years ago, but who wants to crash regardless?

The solution seems to be in education from the outset. Learners of all ages should really have to go through thorough training on all roads, including motorways. It is at this point the tenets of safe driving should be instilled and become second nature. If drivers were taught correctly in the first place, we would need fewer nannying laws to prevent dangerous driving. At the time of posting this the government is talking about making changes for new drivers. The suggestions include raising the drive age, an extended period of learning that includes day and night driving and a ‘probationary’ period after the test has been passed.

It just makes sense. Making the learning more comprehensive and teaching beginners about the dangers of tailgating and making allowances for the prevailing conditions is the only way forward or we will continue this desperate annual round of road tragedy.

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Highway To High-Tech

Unbeknownst to most of us, our poor benighted road system is soon to become home to Britain’s first high-tech highway. In just a few short weeks we will see our automotive future. What you may think about it is a different matter.

Essentially the deal is this: A fifty mile stretch of the A14 between Birmingham and Suffolk will be fitted with electronic gadgetry which will communicate with modern cars. The system has the potential to monitor traffic, warn of obstructions and perform many other tasks but, and this is more concerning, it could also have the ability to artificially limit a car’s speed. Clearly this won’t happen now as it would result in drivers believing there was something wrong with the motor – but it is possible.

The cars will communicate with the gizmos which will allow them to build up a picture, by way of a central computer, of congestion and the like. Much in the same way that satellite navigation works, the technology could establish the build-up of a traffic jam and calculate alternative routes.

There’s a theme building here. Manufacturers, as we all know very well, are building autonomous cars that can drive themselves. They will leave the driver free to do – what – whilst the car takes care of itself. The thinking is that accidents could become a thing of the past thanks to the science of automotive engineering. We are already seeing crash avoidance technology on cars today. Clearly the intention is for this auto technology to merge with roadside systems with the intention of controlling traffic entirely.

Rather disingenuously, the various bodies involved in this are talking up the benefits of, say, having the machine find a parking space for you whilst remaining rather more tight-lipped about control.

This is the usual route of persuasion. The carrot on the end of a stick. They will say – ‘Look how we can help you’. In fact, for anyone who likes cars and driving it is a clear and present signal that the days of carefree motoring will be over in a matter of decades. Nobody has any objection to making cars safer but it the loss of individuality and the freedom of the road that will suffer. Cars will just be transport; shuttles to get people from A to B. What a dull world that will be.

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Goodbye Sealant Hello Spare Wheel

In an enterprising development a well known organisation has come up with a novel idea for dealing with punctured or damaged wheels and tyres caused by potholes and other road menaces. They are calling it a spare wheel.

Yet it is not a humorous matter. For quite a while now manufacturers have taken to leaving the spare out and replacing it with a can of sealant. This is to enable them to either (or a combination of) save on manufacturing costs, make more room in the car and sell it as a space improvement or reduce the overall size of the vehicle; for example, city cars.

A tin of sealant is fine as a ‘get-you-home’ for, say a slow puncture but – as is more likely – it cannot fix a blow-out or sidewall damage. If this happens the driver is stuck and so, inevitably, is his family of young children. Not good. Certainly, cars are much more reliable these days and wheels and tyres are stronger and better made but it still happens and usually at the worst time.

The organisation – and they will no doubt soon be promoting the service – plan to offer an almost universal spare wheel (similar to the one pictured) when their service is called out. This takes the form of a seventeen inch wheel with adjustable mountings which should allow it to be fitted to any car that uses five studs on the hub. Effectively it is like the more standard space-saver wheel fitted to some cars already and will work with all but the largest and smallest cars.

The wheel is strictly a temporary measure and a speed limit applies but for the stranded motorist it will be heaven-sent as it avoids the need for a tow and additional time lost on a long wait. Sufferers will need to cough up a two hundred pound deposit on their plastic but this will be refunded once the stricken driver goes to a tyre depot to effective the repair on the original wheel. That’s a fair deal for the organisations’ members.

This is an issue that has been angering motorists for some time. Amazingly, up until recently, it was not incumbent on dealers to even tell customers there was no spare wheel. They got to find out the hard way. Clearly it behoves the new car buyer to establish this small but important fact before signing on the line that a vehicle is so equipped or at least is fitted with a space-saver, which are fine. Buying a car is supposed to be a pleasure and it is little things like this that spoil the party.

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Highway To Hell

Jam today; more jam tomorrow. Not a statement that says everything is going to be OK but rather one that foretells forebodingly of our future as motorists. Unlike the Jetsons our future driving lives will not be spent whizzing about in space-age airborne vehicles but sweltering in our cars as we wait to move forwards by ten metres.

Those of you who are French and have long memories might remember a traffic jam outside of Paris in 1980. A combination of bad weather and thousands of drivers returning from holidays in the South resulted in a snarl-up around one hundred miles long. In the wait that followed many roadside snails died and a pall of garlic hung in the air.

Elsewhere, a scant three years ago on China’s Highway 110, a massive set of road works reduced the road capacity which eventually became overwhelmed by assorted vehicles until the queue stretched for over sixty miles (pictured). Some unlucky souls where blocked in for twelve days. Seems incredible but it is true.

Both of these countries are big and have huge road networks yet still these things happened. The British Isles are not big but they are crowded. They have a road network which, thanks to poor management and massive underinvestment by successive governments, is now not fit for purpose.

Things, to paraphrase D:ream, can only get worse. The Department for Transport have produced a report called ‘Roads of the 21st Century’. This apparently is meant to see into the future and what it sees is not good. For the next couple of years they reckon that traffic levels will remain fairly constant. However, with the predicted economic recovery after that they calculate that the number of cars on the road will steadily rise by nineteen percent by year 2025.

In a further fifteen years they have estimated that figure will rise to forty three percent. That is, give or take, around fifteen million more cars. That, incidentally, is just their middling estimate. Their worse case scenario is, erm, much worse. This inevitably will lead to greater congestion and more misery for motorists.

The Report believes that fuel-efficient cars will bring down the price of motoring (pause while we all stop laughing because here in the real world they will counter this with higher taxation) and the population will rise by an additional 10 million by 2040 – hence more cars on the road.

Of course, this is based on economic recovery and there are no guarantees of that despite the recent hopeful noises, but at least it has spurred the government into the investment of £28billion’s worth of road projects. We’ve mentioned this before on Motor Blogger. It is very laudable but is only a drop in the ocean if the report’s figures are to be believed. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime keep emergency food, drink, blankets and a portaloo in the car just in case.

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The Spare Pound In Your Pocket

Schimpf! Do you recognise that sound? You have in fact heard it before. Quite often in modern times as a matter of fact. It is the sound of the thin end of the wedge being slipped between you and what‘s left of your money.

In that disingenuous and backdoor way that governments have of dishing out some more bad news on the back of good news, the Treasury, by means of its Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, has announced that a section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is to be improved and subsequently tolled.

This came as part of the spending review proposed last week which included plans for some £28billion of ‘once in a generation’ projects to modernise our road system. The decision to carry on with the mooted tolling option was slipped in on page 74 in an appendix.

The AA have already said that this will not go down well with motorists. In their opinion and no doubt in our opinion too, motorists have already paid for the roads so why the heck should they pay for them again? To answer this criticism, the government have said that there will be a non-tolled road for local traffic.

So that presumably means that every other driver who might have to travel that way will surely avoid this road because it is for locals only! The government might as well hope that the economic situation will shortly be sorted out by the passing of some pink flying pigs (Their preferred option). There may well be some well-heeled people or folk on an urgent mission who might cough up but I think the government might well find that the local road will suddenly become very busy.

The minister confirmed that this very congested stretch of road will be upgraded from a dual carriageway to three lanes either side. This is a good thing as it is a notorious route. The bad news is that it will cost a quid to use it. This is them being a bit clever. One pound, as everybody knows, does not go a long way. They presumably hope that most will say’ ‘Well, it’s only a quid’ and chuck the coin in the bin.

The other reason that it was quietly announced and is a relatively low fee is that the government is very nervous about their cunning plan. They wonder if motorists might take umbrage that they are again being targeted. The answer is of course a resounding and blindingly obvious yes.

Unquestionably there is a need for the many congested areas of our highway system to be refreshed and renewed to keep the traffic flowing. Tax payers know that this will cost huge sums of money but they also know that the roads have been chronically under-funded for decades as ministers bereft of economic ideas continue to plunder the road pot.

It is no mystery why that which we all once knew as ‘Road Tax’ is now commonly called ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’. See what they did there? Make no mistake – they might be reticent about introducing this now but it really is the thin end of the wedge. If motorists accept this the exercise will be repeated. And repeated.

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More Motorway Misery

It is the view of the pessimist that, just when you think that life can’t get any worse, it does. It would not be unreasonable therefore for the average motorist to be pessimistic about the state of our roads. Thought they couldn’t get any worse? Read on:

In order to save money the Highways Agency – subject to a shrinking budget just like the rest of us – has decided that road maintenance will be reduced and that works that have previously be undertaken at night when the roads are quieter will now be done during the day as a cost-cutting measure.

To be fair, it has rather been forced upon them by swingeing cuts to funding. For the period 2014-15 their budget has been slashed by twenty percent, down from £883m to £663m. A new government spending review is due out shortly which is believed to contain further cuts for the year following. Presumably the Chancellor comes up with these ideas whilst wiping succulent grease from his chin after another slap-up feast at the Mansion House at our expense.

Contractors will be asked to make substantial savings and they in turn will have greater freedom to do the work when and how they please. The word ‘how’ is the worry here because tightening budgets could lead to inferior work and materials as contractors strive to maintain profits.

This is also likely to mean a return to large scale traffic jams as road lanes are closed at peak times. Motoring organisations say that this could cost the economy millions. Essentially, the approach will be to lower all standards to the barest minimum of safe levels.

This means that works that needs doing now will be put off until when and if ‘it is most cost effective’ to fix them. These measures are being put in place despite the fact that our major roads and motorways are already causing problems. Speed restrictions are being introduced on some main roads because of the poor condition of surfaces.

There is talk that, where work is essential on a three lane highway, that only the inner (where wear and tear is greatest) and middle lanes will be repaired. Outer lanes may not be touched whilst there is ‘any residual life’ left in them.

Thanks to the lobbying of car-hating organisations and views of the latest Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLaughlin – which differ so much from his predecessor – the government has put the notion of an 80mph motorway limit on the back burner.

As it turns out, this might probably be just as well if our major routes are going to continue to deteriorate. So enjoy the coming Summers, trapped in mighty tailbacks with squalling, overheated kids whilst some workmen apply loose chippings and a bit of spit to the road surface. This is your driving future. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

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New Driving Rants

Picture this. You are driving down a typically British rutted two-lane road. You know that you are approaching a serious pothole and that you’ll need to move to the crown of the road to avoid it. In the distance you see a lone car approaching at about the same speed as you. You just know, don’t you, that the car will arrive at the pothole at exactly the same time, thus requiring you to hold your line and drop a wheel in. It’s no good slowing down because the other bloke will think there is something amiss and slow down too.

This is just one of things that make drivers steam with impotent rage and frustration. You know all the usual ones – middle-lane hoggers; people who don’t indicate and so on but there are others starting to appear in the great lexicon of motoring misery:

The Economist. This is the chap (it’s usually men – ladies tend not to notice lights until the last second because they are doing their hair) who begins to slow down to a crawl at least one hundred metres from a red traffic light. Why does he do this? Is he on an economy drive? Does he really think that manufacturers mpg figures are achievable? Or does he believe that by doing this he will arrive at the lights just as they change? It’s a mystery. Who are these anoraks?

The Plastic Glove. These are available on garage forecourts. Often, through sloppy handling, pump handles can pong a bit and it gets on your hands. For the rest of the day people around you will be saying in a vague sort of way, “Can anyone smell petrol?”. This is why plastic gloves are provided free in dispensers on the pumps. So why is it that when you want to buy petrol the dispensers are always empty? This happens all the time. If you are a passenger in someone else’s car the holders will be overflowing with the things but never when it is you who is filling up. Where do they go?

The Access Road. These ramps are supplied for cars leaving a side road to join a main road. The idea is for cars joining the major route to filter into the traffic. The average road speed on the main drag will always be considerably higher than that of the entering traffic so why do people persist in maintaining the side road speed as they drive down the ramp and enter the traffic stream? This causes all sorts of mayhem and may well occasion the ‘domino-effect’ on the through traffic. It can also cause the hapless followers to come almost to a halt and have to desperately accelerate at the last minute! Who taught these people to drive?

The Truck Trap. You’ll recognise this one. There you are, dutifully driving along on the inside lane, when you come up behind a lorry. You shift a gear, prepare to indicate and accelerate and….the guy behind you pulls out to pass and traps you behind the truck. All the other vehicles behind him have seen this and are making their move! Trapped! Doomed to travel miles behind a lumbering lorry which, almost inevitably, is carrying smelly farm slurry. Whatever happened to good road manners?

There we have it. All these things are as inevitable as the changing of the seasons and the tides of the sea. If you have any new bad motoring experiences, why not share them with us?

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