Blog : Take one’s head and bang it on the wall

Nic Fasci

South Normanton – Leaving the M1 at Junction 28 Southbound view from footbridge. (© Copyright Alan Heardman)

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.


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.

Keith Adams


  1. It’s not as if the road is in the middle of an urban area or anything. For chuffing heck’s sake, you can drive at 70mph through most of urban Milton Keynes (after slowing down for the roundabouts) which must surely be a candidate for lowering the speed limit.

    And.. if you want an incentive to drive smoothly and reduce emissions, just think about the amount it cost last time you filled up with fuel!

  2. Emissions is just an excuse to lower the limit and mess with people. Extra fine income from cameras is also a nice side effect for the bureaucrats.

  3. Of course it’s a load of political nonsense. Being done under the cover of ‘the environment’ for a more sinister reason, on which we may speculate. Germany still has unlimited motorways in parts!

  4. Complete unworkable nonsense, most of the NOX and particulate matter is from HGV’s which run at lower speeds anyway.

    Should worry about obesity than bloody speed limits.

  5. If having to drive for 32 miles at 60mph maximum is purgatory, you have really lost your sense of proportion.
    Just be glad you are healthy – and wealthy enough to be able to drive wherever you wish. Many folk cannot.

  6. I live very near the south part of the M1 where this reduced limit is proposed, and I’m convinced this isn’t to do with reducing emissions as much as road safety and accident reduction. Listen to 5Live Drive most days and you’ll hear that J28 or J29 is slow due to an incident. The recent widening of the road hasn’t done much to decrease the occurrence of minor (and not so minor) accidents all the way up to Sheffield.

    However, it’s easier for them in charge to call for a reduction in speed limit due to EU emissions legislation rather than reduce the limit because the many of the drivers aren’t safe driving at 70 mph +. If they did it for saftey reasons they’d get lambasted for being a ‘Nanny state’ and the Daily Mail wouldn’t have the chance to blame ‘Europe’ for interfereing.

  7. This “environment” bullsh*t announced today is exactly that, Bullsh*t!
    HGV’s will still be “polluting” the M1 regardless what speed the cars are traveling at…
    & Drivers will still be driving badly no matter what max speed is being enforced.

  8. The danger here is that it will be the start of a trend, I am sure Derbyshire Bob has hit the nail on the head. The M1 experiment will be a success and it will be extended to any 70mph road where there is any congestion. Before long it will 60 everywhere for spurious green reasons.
    Perhaps if we all buy Tesla’s we will be allowed to do 70? Well until the battery runs flat anyway.

  9. A very interesting article and one I can directly relate to as I have both an undergraduate and post-graduate degree in Psychology and worked with one of the emergency services looking at ways to reduce the propensity of their drivers to be involved in crashes. There are similar studies from other researchers looking at other specific driving populations.

    As you say, driver training is vital, which includes attitudinal as well as skills-based training. However, safety needs to be the superordinate goal, not performance-related goals, and this is something that can partially be achieved through regular or ongoing re-training/ driver training assessment. Good driving could, in line with operant conditioning theory, be rewarded. I could certainly expand on this.

    Thanks for posting this.

  10. The proliferation of mobile phones/Facebook and satnavs have probably not helped either.

    I am forever behind people that watch their satnav screen and not the road, too busy texting and Face booking.

    Should all be banned and folk learn to map read properly as part of their driving test.

    I agree people can drive smarter. (jesus, that sounded like BS company jargon good job I did not include “deliverables and blue sky thinking”!)

  11. This is a biblically stupid idea dreamt up by people who must have been bullied at school and now want their revenge.

  12. I am all for a reduction in the speed limit.

    I live in the north east of England. There seems to be a custom here that one should move out of the way whenever anyone wants to drive his or her car off a slip road and onto a dual carriageway or motorway. S/he will not look for a space, but wants the space of whoever is driving along the road. S/he can’t understand that s/he needs to speed up or slow down to safely join the road, but gets angry that one carries on along one’s righ of way. Is it like this in other parts of the UK?

    At number 10, please avoid using profanity. At number seven, you do not need to use language like that which you used.

  13. Personally, these enviro types that cant deliver their blue sky deliverables should be boiled to death.

    And their wives bottoms that hang down like a Bedford diff should be whipped.

    Is that ok NO12?

  14. Agree with Nic. I’ve driven across Europe with a healthy fear of getting knocked out by a continental driver. However, driving through Germany was thoroughly pleasant as the driving discipline was second to none. It was only when we drove up the M40 that we nearly got wiped out by some twonk holding an idiot slab to his ear, attempting to change lanes whilst tailgating a lorry and nearly landing his drivers door into my face (I was driving a LHD car).

    unbelievable. Yep, full and proper driver education is required as people get more stupid behind the wheel.

    give them a Ford Anglia to take their test in… That will, literally, teach them

  15. Somebody once said in 1965(?) (I will honour Barbara Castle’s wish to remain anonymous) that the 70 mph was ‘temporary’. Will this 60mph limit also be ‘temporary’?

  16. They say guns kill, and speed. The Government in a way as acquiesced its responsibilities on just blaming road deaths solely on speed, sure its a factor but driving error is by far the biggest contributor surely? Nobody seems to have learned cell phones while driving is an offense and its just plain stupid speeding in fog.

    Look at our mentalities now, our football team loses three games on the bounce, fire the manager. I want that new PS4/GTA game/iPhone NOW. Everybody rushes why?

    We seem to have gone off topic a bit, but these issues are hand in glove, with smooth traffic flow at 60MPH you could get to where you are going instead of doing 70 and having to brake every other mile because somebody wants to leapfrog to the next junction.

    There is no manners on the road at all nowadays.

    And these proposals are maybe the thin end of the wedge.
    And they have not been thought through- no surprise there.

  17. In my opinion a very well written blog and it includes sentiments (and opinions) that I too nhave been ‘bangingf on about’ for years.
    Regarding lowering the speed limit in a bid to reduce emissions. One point I’ve not heard explained away is that as it’ll take longer to traverse this 32 mile section of road at 60 instead of 70 MPH, vehicles will be pumping out their noxious fumes in the area for almost 5 minutes longer! What effect will that have on the commulative exhaust emissions and air quality?

  18. A really entertaining, informative and well-written article – a piece on the need for attitudinal as well as skills-based driver training as suggested by David 3500 at 9 above would probably be an equally interesting read…

  19. Firstly, thanks for a great blog and of course you and so many contributors are right – this is absolute nonsense and the ‘thin edge of the wedge’. In ten years time all motorways will be 60mph maximum in the interest of ‘clean air’ and this we will all remember is the first example. Makes me want to go and buy a really oily 7.9 V8 Chevy, strip all the exhaust off and belt up and down the M1.
    With regards to driving I would like to see (in my perfect little world):
    Driving test as it is but 50% harder to pass and a second stage to include the RoSPA Advanced test with a FAIL of that component meaning a FAIL of the test.
    If you passed at BRONZE level you have 28 days to get a SILVER and if you got a SILVER you have 28 days to get a GOLD.
    I would also introduce a 5 year ban for tailgating under any circumstances, a 20 year ban for using media communications whilst driving and a 30 year ban for been discourteous to another road user. AND the judge who gave the idiot a 12 month ban for driving with his knees wants to have his driving licence revoked for at least a hundred years.
    As most regulars know I am a man of moderation in all things. Carry on.

  20. I am sorry Nic, but are you really in a position to blog about emissions and congestion when you admit to a 75- mile commute?

  21. Sorry Darren – I don’t get your point.
    Hundreds of thousands of people have to commute huge milages in order to earn a crust. I have to do 30,000 or so a year running my business. Well, I do have a choice I suppose – I could go into the church, or be a local gardner, a volunteer worker……..?

  22. The author admits to commuting 150 miles a day, that’s different to driving in the course of your work.

    If you have to drive 75 miles to your starting point for work, I think you ought to locate nearer?

    The whole country would be at a stand-still if we all found employment a vast distance from where we reside.
    I think we have a shared responsibility to help keep the roads moving.

  23. Darren
    I wish that the worlds problems were so easy to solve. Taking you advice:
    We ignore career prospects with one’s established company!
    We ignore negative equity in the property and the fact that where we work is 22% more expensive than where we live!
    We ignore the three grown up children and the five grand children!
    We ignore the ageing relatives that we pop in and see/help every other evening!
    We ignore the fact that we actually live in a beautiful area – and where we work is not beautiful at all!
    We ignore all our close friends built up over 30 years of relationships!
    But – hey ho! We’ll move nearer work so that we are ‘greener’. That’ll feel good!
    I can see that working!
    Incidentally, I’m talking from experience as I was in exactly that position in the mid 80’s! Thankfully I didn’t take your advice and move nearer work but I did foolishly buy a new economical car to do the travelling. The second day I turned up in it the company made me redundant!
    With respect, your last point is irrelevant. We exist as an educated society because we DO NOT all do the same thing! You are right though IF we did – society would collapse fairly quickly!

  24. Is Edmund King the right man to speak for the ordinary motorist?

    Sorry I should have said spokesperson but I am robustly opposed to anything PC.

  25. The M25 has lots of roadworks with 50mph limits backed by average speed cameras so with the errors on speedos most of the time you are doing 45mph with people who do not increase the gas going up hills.this of course results in traffic bunching drivers are spending more time looking at the speedo than the car in front,It is unusual for the southern section Dartford to Gatwick turn off not to be on the traffic news, For some years traffic on the M25 would just stop and then start again for no apparent reason.Turns out someone 5 miles ahead of you touches the brakes and the clowns who do not have a large enough gap hit theirs harder with a ripple effect until traffic stops,Mind you leave a gap someone will pull into it and slow you down and if you dont leave a gap there is often a clown who will pull into it anyway

  26. As most will have worked out, part of writing what I did was a way of “venting ones spleen” in a light hearted manner given what I deal with on a daily basis (plus what I do write is waht a lot of people think, I’ve just got really lousy fiters between my brain and my fingers/mouth sometimes and it just comes out – but, boy, do I feel better for it because in todays society, we are in an unfortunate position on being “persicuted” for speaking out thoughts to a wider audience for fear of offending/upsetting people and groups when all it relates to is common sense – you know that stuff we’re born with and then gradually have it smashed out of us over time…….).

    It has also triggered what I had hoped it would – a debate on something that on the surface is a “noble attempt” to add a whole collection of perceived benifits to different groups but under it all has a worrying trend that is coming at us like a tidal wave.

    Darren is absolutely and 100% spot on in what he said about moving closer to my office – and this was considered a great length and so were the costs involved and then the wider picture that he doesn’t know about in the role that I do at work and where I need to be located around the UK on a fairly regular basis. Having to be either at the top of our wonderful country in Fraserborough in Scotland, or N.Ireland or Wales, or the east coast or down on the South Coast working with our manufacturers kicks my 150 mile round trip into insignificance as it’s not always 5 days a week commute so I would say that I am 100% able to comment on the whole emissions thing as it’s what I do along with my colleagues and manufacturers around the world. Studying and conducting the whole emissions test process for one engine can take weeks to achieve and is costly and expensive to do. Multiply this by a family of engines and gearboxes, tyres etc the costs can run into hundreds of thousands of pound.

    There are some days where my “commute” is done by foot because I have a manufacture right in the town that I live in (so classed as 0 emissions – however we breath out CO2 and so we do actually exhaust gasses as we live and a cyclist for example can spit out up to 80 to 100 g/CO2/km when working hard. Walking I think can knock out up to 50 odd g/CO2 if memory recalls……….), other days it can be 20 miles or 50 and so on. I hope that has given Darren something to go on and not feel that I am completely arrogant to the whole situation.

    I actually enjoy my commute here there and everywhere as it gives me time to “relax” and look at vehicle/manufacturer/driving habits and trends which all add to my development as an engineer involved in all aspects of the motor industry and help keep you guys safe in the process I believe.

  27. @12 AMc – It’s not just a problem in the North East. We have more than our fair share of lane-hogging snails in the South as well.

    Seriously though, if you see a junction coming up what’s the problem with making an assessment of any traffic likely to join and, if it’s clear, moving over to the middle or outside lane to make some space ? It’s not about claiming ‘right of way’ but more about how safe, smooth and relaxed you can make your own journey.

    I’d recommend advanced training to every driver. It’s amazing what we think we know but don’t. Best of all, if you go to the IAM it’s so cheap it’s almost free !!

  28. It is fortunate we belong to a generation that has the choice of whether to drive or not.

    I am pleased you do not have the big-commute everyday Nic, and that Martin lives in a beautiful area

    Life is good for those with a driving licence, but not so good for future would-be drivers who will have to endure a much harder test to satisfy public opinion.

    I hope there are enough drivers around in a few years time to man the dial-a-ride service to ferry me to hospital when I am too tired to drive.

  29. 60 mph is fast enough for anyone, increase speed to 70 and 75 mph you take a big mpg hit and a big increase in emmissions.

  30. The speed limit on the Motorway should be 80 at least. Also lorries on single carriageway roads should be allowed to go faster than 40 mph , living on a single carriageway stretch of the A1 in northumberland they are the bane of any drivers life on that road.

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