Recently, I spent an enjoyable time driving to Northern Scotland. In a long couple of days, I covered more than 1100 miles, averaged more than 50mpg and consumed rather too much junk food along the way. Being off-season, it was agreeably quiet on the roads, which was something of a mercy, given how many miles were covered.
Aside from the usual bemoaning of British driving standards, and questioning – again – why we all seem to drive so slowly when cars have never been safer or more capable, I found myself almost weeping with frustration driving up the A9. I must admit that I’ve not driven the A9 south of Inverness since 1990, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much it had changed in the interim – but I was.
Major road changes…
I’m not referring to the shape and flavour of the road here. It still sweeps majestically through Scotland’s mountainous centre, from Dunblane up to Thurso, and delivers some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. It’s wide, well-surfaced, utterly well-maintained and an example of how all roads should be. No, the problem is that this magnificent road comes with a sting in its tail – enjoy it too much, and they will get you.
They being the traffic police. Or they being the courts. You see, it’s absolutely littered with average speed cameras and, as a consequence, if you even think about going over the speed limit and enjoying the amazing piece of blacktop, the comedown will be accompanied by a brown envelope stuffed with a Notice of Intended Prosecution.
Now I understand that safety is paramount, and that the inappropriate use of speed can permanently destroy lives, but is this pervasive speed enforcement really the answer? As I trundled up this road on barely tickover, daring to accelerate – a bit – come the spitefully-short dual-carriageway sections, I couldn’t help but question the wisdom and safety of such low speed limits on such a well-sighted road. Aren’t they so easy that you could be lulled into sleep by them?
There is going to be more…
Given the sheer amount of roadworks we encountered along the way, it’s easy to conclude that these average speed cameras will be coming to all roads and motorways near you. The M1, M6 and M42 are already pretty stacked with managed motorway sections and average speed cameras, but it’s the promise of so much more than worries me. Are we going to end up with our entire motorway and trunk road network covered by these?
And, if so, does that mean we’re all just going to end up even more obsessed by watching our speedometers – while driving slowly and never daring to overtake 50mph HGVs?
I think so. I think that drive up (and back down) the A9 was a vision of my driving future. And I’m appalled by the notion. Twenty years ago, the average British motorway flowed along, competitively, with 85mph being pretty much the norm. People jousted, they concentrated, they just got on with it. Now, if you’re doing 85mph, you’re going conspicuously faster than most other people and, on the whole, you’ll be frustrated/angered/enraged (delete as appropriate) by the experience. Just why are we slowing down?
If we do end up with a blanket average speed camera-enforced road network, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Part of the driving experience is to make judgements and act upon them. You read the road, interpret what’s happening, and drive accordingly. Take any element of personal judgement away, and you’re left with a mind-numbing act of processing – from A-to-B without making any decisions.
Perhaps in this dystopian nightmare scenario, we’ll just hand over to autonomous cars and be done with it. Hell, we’re practically there on many upmarket cars, which come equipped with lane-keeping assist, active cruise control and automatic braking. Ironically, I use and enjoy many of these features regularly, and they are fast becoming so good that you can cover hundreds of miles with minimal driver input. Here’s the point, though: they enhance my ability to drive long distances. I am still in charge and not beholden to the dead hand of a bunch of stupid average speed cameras.
Finally, if we must have average speed cameras instead of actual traffic police, then why not sling them in front of schools or in villages bisected by trunk roads – or just in places where people and cars can all too easily meet? Using them in roadworks is good. So, why not extend that thinking and remove them when they’ve finished the roadworks and made things safer?
On a beautiful road like the A9, this ongoing emasculation by camera is – in my opinion – an act of vandalism. If you really want to make roads safer, why not engineer cars so that smartphones won’t work in them at all? Oh, and take out the cupholders.