In the interests of year-ending blogs and things on my mind, I think it’s time to come up with a plan to get the roads of Britain moving more effectively than they have been in recent years. Okay, so it’s actually going to come across as a bit of a rant, but the ideas I’m presenting are based on the experience of a 40,000-mile year, and utter frustration with needless time lost in traffic.
Perhaps once Brexit has played out, we’ll have more time and energy to look at implementing some transport policies that will improve driving for everyone – after all, according to the BBC, commuters are losing up to 74 hours per year sitting in traffic. Most of these ideas shouldn’t cost huge sums to put into action but, hopefully, they’ll make a significant impact on traffic flow.
As always, please comment your own thoughts at the end of the article, especially if you have ideas that would make things more bearable for the rest of us.
Introduce keep-left-unless overtaking signs
UK drivers’ lane discipline on motorways and dual carriageways is notoriously bad. Ask anyone who’s returned from an overseas drive, or who’s driving on an empty piece of motorway overnight why they see so many people driving in the middle- or outside-lane, and they’ll not be able to answer.
Our inability to keep left unless overtaking as absolutely stunning – and it has terrible consequences on traffic flow. All of a sudden, a few middle-lane hogs can render a three-lane stretch into a congested dual carriageway. Or worse…
I propose the introduction of these signs on all UK motorways and dual carriageways, preferably at mile-long intervals. They are timely reminders that anything to the right of Lane 1 is purely for overtaking, and not for sitting in for miles on end. There are such signs on the M1 near London Gateway (nee Scratchwood) services, and they do seem to work for the couple of miles that they cover. More please.
Introduce regular training for drivers
Back in 2015, I was caught speeding on the A66. My fault, it was a fair cop, as I was clocked at 82mph on a dual carriageway on New Year’s Eve. But as my licence was clean, I was offered the opportunity to take a Speed Awareness Course in lieu of my three points.
Although I like to think I know a bit about driving and cars, I still came away from the experience recharged and armed with a little knowledge that had slipped from my front of mind.
What was also quite telling was the amount of people on the course who lacked knowledge in the most basic of areas – and that you could see that they were coming away with useful and potentially life-saving information. Would it be really cost too much to make this mandatory for all drivers every, say, 10 years? Actually, it would probably generate much-needed revenue, and potentially make the roads a much safer place.
Consider re-testing at 40 and 60-years of age
Back in 2017, I re-sat the driving test for a feature on Parkers. The occasion was the introduction of the new-style driving test, which introduced following directions from a sat-nav. I didn’t go into the experience taking anything for granted and, as it happens, I found it a stressful experience.
Yes, I passed, but not without a couple of demerits – and the tester informing me that there are a few areas where I needed to brush up on my skills.
Given that most people have picked up numerous bad habits by the time they hit 40, it seems like a logical step to introduce a refresh and review. My bad habits were something I wasn’t aware of, and could cause a problem in a certain situation, and I was grateful for the reminder. I genuinely believe we could all do with the refresher, at least at 40 and 60 – preferably every 10 years.
Introduce no-overtaking zones for HGVs
I think we’ve all been stuck behind a pair of trucks elephant racing on a dual carriageway, and wondered what the driver’s thinking about. I couldn’t even begin to total up the amount of time I’ve sat behind one HGV doing 53mph overtaking another doing 52mph.
In the driver’s mind, it’s making progress, and certainly, it’s not an issue – because they’re allowed to do it. But in Europe, there are plenty of two-lane motorways that have restrictions on HGV overtaking in the interests of traffic flow – usually on inclines.
Why we don’t have them (aside from the pointless ‘Journey-time zones on the A14 and M11, which seem to be widely ignored) baffles me. If they aren’t permitted to overtake in places where they can cause the most delays, where’s the problem?
Introduce merge-in-turn signs at two-into-ones…
This is a constant source of bafflement to me. Why is it at roadworks or at two-into-ones that UK drivers will quite happily queue for miles in the left-hand lane, and not drive sensibly in both lanes up to the narrowing of the roads?
I think it goes back to the ‘don’t push in’ mentality of so many Brits, and how many would perceive anyone going up to the blockage is actually trying to gain an unfair advantage. In reality, it’s maximising space, and so as long as both drivers are cooperative there really shouldn’t be an issue. And done properly, two-into-ones that are merged-in-turn at the end will half the length of the queue.
This issue generates the most extreme form of passive-aggressive driving – HGV drivers, especially, will sit in the middle to block both lanes to stop people merging in turn. To the point, where I’ve seen this happen more than a mile from the two-into-one. Madness… And yet, when I see merge-in-turn signs, everyone can manage perfectly well. Let’s get these signs widely deployed and stop the stupid passive aggression.
Let’s re-consider the speed limits
Cars are safer now than ever before. Thanks to improved crash-mitigation technology and ever-stronger cars, the likelihood of being injured in a crash are lower than ever. Fewer cars crash in the first place, too – and when did you last read in the news about a motorway pile-up?
So, why is it that we’re saddled with a 70mph national speed limit conceived in 1965, when our cars are so capable? Stopping distances have reduced significantly, while high-speed handling is so much better than ever – even the most inattentive drivers can avoid mayhem.
Isn’t it time to raise the limit to a more Euro-standard 80 or 85mph? Most cars built in the last 40 years are more than capable of, nay optimised to, drive at 80mph – sometimes not feeling settled and in their stride at the UK’s antediluvian 70mph limit.
Given that in an ideal world, drivers would be better informed, trained and less frustrated, this higher speed limit would be the carrot that most people would happily receive for the stick of the additional training and examination I’m proposing…
Stop with the stupid pay-to-park service station rest areas
Motorway service station parking areas are a vital safety feature that many of us have needed to use over the years. A long, late drive – an overnight red-eye up north, and that all-important emergency nap can prove to be a lifesaver. And yet, if you stop at a UK service station, and choose to park there for more than two hours, you’re subjected to a parking charge. And woe betide you if you don’t pay.
Would it be too much to ask to remove these paid-for parking areas, and let people take a nap without worrying about incurring a costly and unnecessary fine?
In addition, why are motorway and A-road parking at such a premium in the UK. All across Europe, there are rest areas in motorways where people can stop, take a comfort break and do what they need to do without the full-blown stress of a service station stop. Those little aires you get in France are so useful and encourage drivers to take regular stops… why don’t we do this here?
Finally… enough, with the road closures!
Although it’s good to lessen the impact of road works, why is it that Highways England chooses to close roads and motorways in their entirety instead of narrowing them down and keeping the traffic flowing? Other countries seem to manage to avoid this situation. Night after night, week-in, week-out, our main arteries are being closed, causing untold (and illness-inducing) stress for drivers.
As you’ll see if you’ve clicked the link above, the Traffic England website is designed to keep drivers in the know about closures and major road works, allowing them to plan their journeys and avoid those nasty delays and diversions. It’s all part of the communication piece, isn’t it?
Well, actually no.
I could go on about this, as it’s my own personal bête noire, but I’ve ranted about this before, and would hate to be accused of repeating myself.