Roadhouse Blues

Posted on 15th January 2008

Driving to work these days is becoming more and more treacherous. Today the rain was relentless, and as a consequence there was a lot of surface water. Driving over the Avon near Tewkesbury the river has flooded the fields, so that it appears both sides now have a massive lake. It also seems much more extensive than the flooding last year. However, this doesn't seem to warn drivers enough. Our drive took us almost to the first Cheltenham turn-off to hit the accident today. Just two cars, but they managed to block the outside lane while police cleared the carriageway and got them on to the hard shoulder.

Yesterday an accident just after the M42 joins the M5 caused a tailback along the the two motorways and even down the A38 dual carriageway that passes my house. Yesterday's accident took several hours to clear, and happened around 7am. As a consequence I was late into work, and likewise several hundred other motorists. That's two in two days. There have already been several others so far this year. A few years ago I remarked that in the first 10 days of driving to work, I encountered 7 accidents and twice the motorway was closed. I think the motorway only got closed once last year, but there were several accidents.

The journey I take is from Junction 4 of the M5, down passed Bromsgrove, Worcester, Malvern, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester, finally leaving the motorway at Junction 11a. My trip at both ends is just a few minutes, along dual carriageways, so the bulk of the journey can average 60-70 mph. It's a 45 mile trip and usually takes 40-45 minutes on a good day. On a bad day like yesterday it can take 2 hours.

There seem to be 3 factors that people are not getting.

Firstly, that the weather is to be respected. Driving in the rain, wind and snow or on wet or icy roads is not fun, especially in the dark.

Secondly, use the correct lane. This is especially true of road hogs who insist on sitting in the outer or middle lanes, when there is nothing on their inside. The two outer lanes are for overtaking only. Driving with the excuse that a mile or more ahead you will be overtaking another vehicle is not good enough. These people seem to believe they have every right to restrict traffic flow and bunch cars up, making the likelihood of an accident occurring much greater.

Thirdly, respect other road users. It's not unusual any more to have someone suddenly appear in my rearview mirror, decelerating from 100mph to 70mph, to a foot away from my bumper. I saw a van do it once for a major logistics company, to someone else, while driving in the rain. It annoyed me so much I actually called their "Am I A Good Driver?" hotline number and complained. Just because you can do more than 70mph, doesn't mean you have the legal right to do so, or insist everyone gets out of the way as soon as you appear. If they are overtaking another vehicle, then give them a chance to do so. Hassling them only makes the more resistant. It also means they aren't concentrating on the road properly, as they also have to concentrate on you and watch out for you hitting them when you don't stop in time.

Any one of these is a potential danger, a combination of two or all three is just asking for trouble.

Another annoyance for many people is articulated lorries. During rush hour they also cause excessive traffic build-up, which again increases the risk of accidents. On several occasions I've even seen articulated lorries drive in the outer lane of the M5 over a certain stretch where they seem to believe they have the right to use all lanes. Now that I take a colleague to work, if I spot this again, rest assured I will be getting him to take photos.

A while ago I made a suggestion that any vehicle weighing more than about 4 tons should be restricted from using any road (motorway, main road, country lane or side street) during the hours of 7am-9am and 4.30pm-6.30pm. It seems others had a similar thought as there was a government petition at one point. While I don't believe that lorries are necessarily the cause of all accidents, they do put pressure on some drivers to drive like they do. Taking heavy goods off the road might not be the complete answer, but it might help to make the roads during congested periods a little less stressful.

Obviously the the optimum solution would be for the government to properly invest in our public transport infrastructure, so that for me to get to work wouldn't take over 2 hours as it would currently do. Regular bus and train services, use of appropriate stations and decent rolling stock all need investment and improvements. But then that would also mean we wouldn't use our own transport, and would reduce the fuel consumption (reduced tax income), reduce car ownership (reduced license income) and reduce traffic congestion (reduced toll income), so I can see why the government might be reluctant to invest. However, with global warming and the rise in accidents, surely we should be thinking more about reducing our road usage. I'd rather live in a world with less pollution at the very least.


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