Blog : The worst places in Britain to be a driver

Ian Nicholls

Traffic jam - and I'm still miles from home!

Journalists are always banging on about Britain’s best roads, usually some windswept highway in a sparsely-populated area, miles away from civilisation.

We all know, though, day-to-day motoring is not like that. It usually involves traffic, speed cameras, cars pulling out of junctions in front of you, getting stuck behind a silver Nissan Micra, the same colour as the driver’s hair, doing sub-40mph speeds, and being tailgated by a German executive car whose driver is more important than you.

So, where is the worst place to be a driver?

I would like to nominate the area around Flitwick in Bedfordshire where I spent the first 21 years of my life. When I moved to Norfolk in 1987, it was still relatively rural. I could drive AKX611F, my Morris Mini MkII, my first car, around the area without too much hassle. I recall going down the hill at Wilstead towards Bedford on the A6 at 80mph, and feeling thrilled. Well, it was a lot for my Mini!

Whenever I return, I am shocked at how built up the area is – it’s like a suburb of London. The A6 is peppered with speed cameras and, in Flitwick itself, a car goes around photographing illegally-parked cars and fining the owners. They are illegally parked because there is nowhere to park…

The joy of motoring, I think not.

Mind you, AROnline is, of course, an interactive site, so perhaps our readers know better?


Ian Nicholls
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  1. Parking enforcement is becoming a money making machine and a job creation exercise for inadequate men who like the uniform. You dare to be one minute late in an almost empty car park where I live and you get a £ 50 fine, same as now Morrisons do not allow to return to their car park within 4 hours, even if you are dropping someone off and picking them, or you face an £ 85 fine. I think it’s high time, except for double yellow lines and disabled bays being used illegally, parking restrictions were abolished and companies like APCOA and Parking Eye forced out of business.

    • Tell me about it. Recently got a parking fine for unloading a fully liveried van in a loading bay, because I left the vehicle ‘unattended for two minutes’.

    • Assuming that the car park you refer to is private you received a ‘parking charge notice’, not a fine. The same applies to the Morrisons car park.

      The thought of removing all parking restrictions other than double yellow lines and disabled bays seems a little extreme. It is likely that I would never be able to park outside of my house, and I would have to spend a lot of time (using a lot of diesel) driving around to find a free space.

      • Yeah, is it a *Penalty* Charge Note, or a *Parking* Charge Notice? The latter, as I understand it, is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    • And Manchester has just acquired its own sink hole on one of the main arterial routes into the city–it could easily swallow a bus. Oh! and United Utilities are promising that it will take at least a MONTH to fill and re instate the services!!

  2. Belfast is a shambles.

    Years of underinvestment in both the roads and public transport are taking their toll now.

    It was recently found to be the most congested city in the UK.

    Potholes are marked on the arterial routes by yellow spray paint, so you know to avoid them.

    Bus lanes have been haphazardly thrown up around the city, in many places in the centre they’re so inconvenient that even the bus drivers wont use them.

    A “rapid transport” initiative has been watered down such that it is now just going to be a bendy-bus on 3 roads – 2 of which run into the constituencies of either side of our clowns at Stormont, the 3rd should hopefully get lost tourists to Titanic a bit easier.

    However take a 30 minute drive out of the city and you have some fantastic driving roads, something not lost on the many motorbike road races and rallies that take place regularly.

    Therefore it is a dichotomy. Do I buy a sporty car for the twisties, or a comfortable commuting car for the daily grind? It’s probably why I’ve alternated between sporty numbers like GTV and Celica to wafters like the Xantia, Accord coupe and 9-3 (latter 2 autoboxes, makes commuting a lot easier).

  3. @ Will M, rail transport in Northern Ireland is supposed to be awful. The service from Londonderry to Belfast takes two and a half hours, the Enterprise to Dublin is notorious for late running and low speeds and the few commuter services out of Belfast are totally diesel. NIR makes Northern Rail look like the TGV in comparison.

    • Absolutely, it is a shambles. We had the local equivalent to the Beeching cuts (as described in a fantastic article recently on the site), which closed many branch suburban lines and smaller stations on main lines.

      Then years of underinvestment (money had to go elsewhere in the bad old days…) and the rise of the motor car (especially in darker times when public transport could be stopped, people relied on cars or on shared taxi cabs which ran predetermined routes).

      Even the motorway network shows signs of where there had been grand plans to replace the network, put on hold for the most part. The M2 suddenly turns into the M22 for example, which was to run to the Maiden City, while several miles to the north a different section of M2 runs for a couple of miles to bypass Ballymena (and until a few years ago stopped abruptly under a roundabout junction).

      The M12 is nothing but a glorified spur off the M1, where it was planned to be a ringroad around the new town of Craigavon (which was to be a local Milton Keynes). For years the west facing spurs were not built, despite a bridge being present, when they were finally built they joined the M12 at an awkward small roundabout (in the middle of the motorway!).

      The M5 which was to run to Carrickfergus but stopped at Hazelbank, only now is the complete A2 to the satellite town being dualled.

      The A8(M), previously an alignment plan for the M2 with a road to the Larne port, left as a couple of mile stetch between two non-motorway roundabouts. Again, only now is the complete A8 to Larne getting dualled.

  4. I’m originally from Birmingham and am very ashamed to say that I nominate my home city for one of the worst places to drive in Britain as almost without fail every time I go back there (quite often) I inevitably come across at least one complete clown who clearly got their driving license of out a cornflake packet

  5. Cheshire for road surface quality, Staffordshire for apparently cynically planting speed cameras near its borders to maximise revenues from people living outside the county.

  6. London!!!!!!! Pot holes; speed cameras; bus lanes; stressed and aggressive drivers; congestion; congestion-charging; car-wrecking speed-humps; tourists looking the wrong way when crossing and then walking into the road; the introduction of 20-mile-per-hour speed limits right across some boroughs which has increased journey times even further; the prohibitive cost of parking (in parts of Westminster, it is £1 per 15 minutes); and the over-zealous traffic-wardens who even ticket ambulances when they are parked up in the middle of 999 calls. Apart from the sight-seeing, a truly awful motoring experience.

  7. Keswick today, people crossing roads with their dogs, oblivious to the traffic, then there are the ones who seem to pull out of junctions on the A66 without looking( saw one near miss today that could have been serious), and the fact many of the tourists are oblivious to the fact motor vehicles do actually exist in the town.
    Also the parking, £ 1.30 an hour, even more than some car parks in Newcastle, and rigorously enforced with the prospect of an £ 80 fine if you’re the slightest bit late. However, still an excellent place for a meal, for shopping and sightseeing.

  8. As nice as Whitby is to visit driving around it is some of the most stressful I’ve ever done.

    A totally confusing one-way system makes it almost impossible to get from 1 part of the town to the other without driving all the way out & back again.

    Add to this some “2 way streets” that can hardly take a small hatchback the only access to most of the B&B’s & almost no free parking anywhere means you’ll be taking 20 minutes to find a parking space within 10 minutes walking time of where you are staying. Some people end up parking so they are blocking a road so you have to sit on your horn until someone makes way. I don’t know how the emergency services cope.

    A sat nav is totally useless in these situations unsurprisingly.

  9. On the other hand a very pleasant driving experience is the A7 in the Scottish Borders. Not only is the traffic light, there are some improved sections where you can quite happily sit back and enjoy the ride. Also in Hawick, they have such things as free car parks, which seem to have vanished in England and means your day out is pleasanter as you don’t have to worry about getting a massive fine for being a minute late.

  10. Anywhere surrounding the M25, junctions 8-16.

    On the rare occasion that traffic on this stretch of motorway is flowing, the Highways Agency switch on those wretched variable speed limits. This causes the driver of the [insert post-Millenium Peugeot here] in front to brake erratically to the (unrealistic) speed limit displayed, disrupting what was before a busy but fast moving flow of traffic.

    Lancaster, for its hopeless one-way system, comes in a close second mind.

  11. I went to Whitby last week and used their new park and ride facility, however at £2.30 per PERSON not per CAR its a steep price to pay for a family day out. However it took the sting out of driving in and out of the town which is now congested beyond belief.

    Cheshire is now ruined as they have declared war on the motorist by reducing every NSL down to 50 and every 40 down to 30 and stuck cameras in all these areas. This is dangerous as you end up watching your speedometer and not the road.

    The other issue is that at some times there are simply too many cars on the road. It never ceases to amaze me how many pensioners ‘HAVE’ to be on the road during the morning rush hour. They aren’t going to work, they just want to be first in the Supermarket for their free coffee!

    Public Transport in many towns and cities just can’t be relied upon to use for work, for example in Wigan the last train to Kirkby leaves at 6:30, no good if your shift finishes at 7pm!

  12. The A77 around Ayr, it’s totally unclear which part of the road is 70 mph or 50 mph and they have average speed cameras which makes life hard and you could quite innocently think the speed limit is 70, as the speed limits are unclear, or even speed up to over 55 mph on the 50 mph stretch when it’s quiet and be landed with a fine for breaking the average speed limit between two cameras.
    Meanwhile drug dealing, anti social behaviour and violent crime are a bigger problem inside the A77, but hey ho let’s nab someone for breaking the speed limit on a generally good, fast road.

  13. Oh where to begin!
    Portsmouth – only two ways in / out of the city. If an accident happens on one you may as well stay the night as you will not be going anywhere quickly.
    Winchester / Salisbury – terrible one way systems. Notable lack of parking.
    Lincoln – too much traffic for a small city. Level crossing barrier on the High Street down for at least 30 minutes per hour. Bypass is not all dual carriageway leading to some real pinchpoints.
    A4146 Leighton Buzzard to Hemel Hempstead. The surface in parts is worse than third world and the council appear to have no interest in fixing it. Absolutely lethal in winter.

  14. Gateshead, extremely complicated junction where the Tyne Bridge ends, which is congested continually, and the so called Felling by pass is just a collection of traffic lights and constantly snarled up. Also while the Gateshead Highway is decent enough once you get past the A167/A184 junction, it abruptly ends on the Durham Rd, which is one real slog of traffic lights, bus stops and parked cars to the A1. Also the otherwise fast A692, which heads out to the A1 to the west, can become a massive bottleneck when the Metro Centre is closing.

  15. Further to my earlier post about Birmingham, I also nominate the town that I call home these days, Northampton , it seems that successive local administrations (all of which appear to have no clue about traffic management) are slowly doing their best to turn the whole town into one massive car park, seriously, it’s been known around these parts for traffic light failure to actually considerably IMPROVE traffic flow.

  16. Whitehave, Cumbria, the town has a by pass of sorts( built in the 1930s, but with houses on either side), but which grinds to a halt regularly at peak times and should there be a breakdown or an accident, 4 mile tailbacks aren’t uncommon. There are plans for a relief road for the A595, which should remove the majority of traffic from the Loop Rd, but this is some years off.

  17. I live on the Isle of Man and every time I go to the UK I can’t wait to get back home. I left 30 years ago when Bolton to Birmingham was an hour and a half on the M6. Come over here- no speed cameras, no limit on the Mountain Road and plenty of parking. Sorry, unless it’s TT when the latter doesn’t apply!

  18. Stockport can decent into gridlock if the M60 between junctions 27 & 1 has trouble & sometimes even other problems clog the roads off.

    The road near the market place can back up a long way when this happens.

  19. I gather Rome still suffers from terrible congestion, motorists ignoring traffic lights, pollution from badly maintained older cars and the strange habit of people sounding horns in traffic jams to vent their frustrations.

  20. Reference the photo at the top of the article, anybody spot the one vehicle moving while the rest just fume? If you use a car then you are not stuck IN a traffic jam, you ARE the traffic jam!

  21. I’m sure in Cumbria, temporary traffic lights are put up for job creation purposes as many of the roadworks have nothing going on and seem to drag on for weeks. Somewhere every day in the county, a major road has a set of roadworks and the A69 out of Carlisle has been jammed solid for weeks on end by overrunning roadworks. Now with the football season starting next weekend, the A69, which passes Brunton Park, is going to be very interesting as football traffic adds to the misery.

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