The sixth of January, described by some as the most ‘depressing day of the year’. Unusually for me, the first day back was a total joy. My first few meetings were pleasurable, bordering on fun. Wading through the mountain of emails was easy, as I’d not let them bug me over the two weeks I had off. Even my usual 75 mile commute (yes, I drive a 150 mile round trip each day) to and from my office up and down the M1 wasn’t too bad. It was a non-life-threatening, non-stress inducing, non-steering wheel biting, kind of day.
A genuinely pleasurable experience, then. Had I woken up in a parallel universe? Where was everyone and why was I able to spend so much time at 70mph in the inside lane for the first time in months instead of doing 60mph in lane three?
Oh, I know, people were driving sensibly, smoothly and being considerate – possibly a collective New Year’s resolution to be nice to fellow road users. Santa may have supplied them with new rear-view mirrors, or that little stalk that sticks out behind the steering wheel called an indicator, or the ability to look beyond the end of their bonnet! It was a joy, and my fuel consumption was dramatically improved – way into the mid-50s which is not normal at this time of year at 70mph! Yes, 70mph.
All I needed to complete my perfect day was a mat, some burning herbs, a couple of small finger cymbals and go ohhmmmm for a bit to complete my day.
So imagine my dismay when I read of the proposal that someone, somewhere in a position of power (who probably doesn’t get out of the office much) has proposed that between junctions 28 and 35a of the M1, a Maximum Mandatory Speed Limit of 60mph should be implemented ‘in place of the national speed limit in order to mitigate adverse impacts on local air quality‘ for 12 hours a day between 7am and 7pm.
Not for the safety of the M1 users, you understand. And not to ease congestion (as has been demonstrated on the M25, M42, other sections of the M1, where huge amounts tax payers’ pennies have gone to widen and improve the road networks at peak times, or if incidents crop up during the day). No, the new speed limit would be for ‘improved air quality’ for about 32 miles or so.
Are these people on the same planet as us? Do they not appreciate what vehicle manufacturers do during the week while they are designing their cars and engines to meet the next round of legislation that is thrown at them relentlessly? What is the point of our beloved manufacturers doing what they do and investing millions each week/month/year to make our vehicles cleaner, while making them safer, and then have a complete load of tosh like this thrown into the mix?
Do these people not realise that the stuff coming out the back is usually cleaner than what goes in? I and others ‘like me’ spend hours in emissions labs around the world making sure everyone meets the requirements of what was Euro 4, now Euro 5 and, starting from now, Euro 6 standards implementation!
So, 32 miles of purgatory, and for for what? So some ‘green tree-hugging hippy’ can claim air quality is ‘better’ along with some time and motion minion thinks that it will, ‘increase motorway capacity’, ‘smooth traffic flows’, ‘provide more reliable journey times’ and ‘increase and improve the quality of information for the driver’.
(I fully appreciate and acknowledge that I may have now offended someone or a group of people somewhere and my ability to be politically correct has just set sail with after-burners on full reheat as someone somewhere has just muttered ‘Clarkson-ite’ under their breath).
I think by now you get the idea that I’m a tad incensed by it all – and the calm Zen-like status I had before reading the article on the BBC’s website at 6pm has now fizzled out.
If you want to smooth traffic flow and reduce emissions – then you need to look at the root cause – the driver. Their right foot is in direct control of the lump of aluminium, iron and steel thing that sucks, squeezes, bangs and blows several thousand times a minute! Their right foot is directly connected to the thing located between their ears in their skull and information is distributed accordingly depending on the information that is taken in by their eyes. And as we know, different drivers have massively different levels of skill behind the wheel.
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION is the key here.
If you educate someone to drive in a manner that prevents them from being like ‘stressed Eric’ every time they get behind the wheel, this filters down to other road users around them. Believe it or not, because they become less aggressive, this in turn propagates and, before you know it, the chances of ‘wave theory’ diminishes. People who are normally hopping on and off their brakes while tailgating, have a gap in front of them that allows them to (hopefully) plan ahead and traffic flows freely and happily.
I’ve been banging on about driver education and training for years and how people should conduct themselves while driving. I take pride in how I conduct myself behind the wheel on the roads, or on the track. I actually care about it and, if people were taught how to drive properly – not just to pass a test, I strongly believe that a lot of the congestion and incidents would simply fizzle away. Because people would take responsibility for what they are doing and involved in.
The psychology of driving is a wonderful thing to study. I have invested a lot of time and effort in my role at work, investigating and studying this through observations and text. I have to drive and test vehicles in situations that would not normally be found on the road, at speeds that can be up to three times that of our UK national speed limit. And yet, I have to deal with a never-ending wall of legislation which is brought in to cater for advancing vehicle technology imposed on the automotive industry, by someone who also probably never gets out of their office much.
Need examples? Cyclists who try to pass you on the inside as you turn left, have given us enormous, oversized rear view mirrors. Or drivers who seem to think that the requirement to rotate your head through 90° before changing lanes is an inconvenience and why should they wear out their neck muscles? So instead, you get a highly annoying little orange light to warn you that there is someone in your blind spot.
I help to educate drivers and motorcycle riders and have developed some training packages to keep us safe on track and out on the public roads and have good friends who run driving schools, so this has inevitably got under my skin. I’m somewhat passionate about it, and I find myself getting worried and wound up when people or organisations attack drivers or riders, because they think it’s the correct and just thing to. Legislators are not helping the situation and the amount of driver aids and electronics that give drivers this feeling of invincibility, when all the car does is cocoon them and flatter them, is taking away driver judgment.
The words ‘the car didn’t save me’ after an incident terrifies me. I have heard it when fishing someone out of a ditch, because they’d not been driving to the road conditions and their ability behind the wheel couldn’t transcend the laws of physics. The skill of driving has been eroded over time and we find ourselves in an ever increasing nanny-state.
Improve driving standards, teach proper road-craft and responsibility and with a bit of sensible thinking and application: ‘ta-dah‘, a better driving experience for all will be achieved. This will, in turn, help keep emissions down, as people drive more smoothly, progressively and still get to their final destination in good or better time. And believe it or not, they’ll be less stressed through not chewing on the wheel every 30 seconds and flooring the throttle every time they see a bit of space in front of them. That’s because they won’t be standing on the brake pedal when this gap disappears suddenly because the person in front is doing exactly the same! Oh, and this can all be achieved at the National Speed Limit!
Using emissions as an excuse to reduce the speed limit is unbelievably frustrating. During the last decade, emissions from vehicles have been reduced dramatically. Back in the pre-Euro 4 days, exhaust emissions were measured in grams per kilometre. In the Euro 5 era, this changed to milligrams per kilometre, MILLIGRAMS! Not shovel loads, milligrams! Doesn’t this hint at how vehicle emissions systems have evolved and cleaned up over time?
A good while back, some clever person worked out that it would take something like 50 or 60 modern-day Fiestas to get even close to producing the amount of emissions that a Fiesta from the 1980s would produce. The same could be said for any vehicle of a comparable make through the ages – even with heavy duty vehicles like trucks and buses. Stop wheeling out old stories of the old vehicles from a bygone era, look at what we’re achieving now. Even if you come across an older vehicle with lower emissions standards, a new car is probably sucking up the gasses, chewing it around and spitting comparative daisies and fairy dust out of the back!
Most new vehicles have an interstellar top gear to help keep emissions as low as possible. At 60mph, some vehicles will labour and force the driver to change down to keep up with the flow and stop the car from ‘chugging’ (there’s a good old-fashioned word for you). You drop to fifth, and the annoying gear shift indicator that’s been forced into cars, now pings up telling you to change to sixth – and round you go again…
I’m not totally against the whole managed motorways thing, it’s a good idea and it does work really well because it does introduce a bit of lane discipline and planning. But to blanket the M1 for 30-plus miles 12 hours a day, seven days a week is just plain stupidity. For peak hours at both ends of the day, fine, but on a Saturday or Sunday when it’s quiet or in off peak hours? Come on; get a grip boys and girls!
Conspiracy theory coming up: is this a thinly-disguised plan to lengthen travel time between London and Leeds so that a case can then be made for HS2 to reduce travel times by shunting people from cars to a phenomenally expensive train line that no one really wants? Or am I simply reading too much into this and should I shut up and conform to what we are told to do?
But I really, really, really, wish people would concentrate on the real issue here – challenge the driving test; challenge post-test training; challenge people – full-stop – on their driving skills; and most of all, challenge attitudes. You want to experience high emissions at the road side? Pop over to India and visit the centre of Mumbai, where a few lung-fulls of air will see you get your full quota of yearly hydrocarbon exposure in 30 seconds.
What will they come up with next to combat this emissions situation? Cars that drive themselves, thus surrendering even more driver skill over to the car, where it can read the road conditions, and – God forbid – brake for you should you potentially be about to plough into another car from behind…
Oh, hang on…
Rant over! Back to going ohhmmmm for a bit.