ALAN CASTLE: Driving like a maniac doesn’t help safety on our ancient A1

IT has always been clear to me that the single carriageway is a major factor in the appalling accident record for the A1 through Northumberland, with its bends and blind spots.

Police and other authorities have alternatively claimed that crashes are down to bad driving in most cases.

I would argue that mistakes are caused by the sudden deterioration of the road when you can drive from the south coast to north of Aberdeen on dual carriageway, except in Northumberland and a small part of Berwickshire.

However, driving south to a business meeting on Friday I saw one of the worst cases of bad driving that I have witnessed in years.

As I came to the end of the Felton dual carriageway section, I noticed a green van coming up at speed behind me. He could not overtake on the single carriageway section because of oncoming traffic but when I looked in my rear mirror all I could see was the front of the van.

As we approached the southern entrance to Felton, I could not see around the slight bend ahead, at the point where there is a right-turn section in the centre of the road.

But that did not stop our van man, who pulled out to overtake me before passing a lorry in front.

He crossed two sets of double white lines before gaining the other side, just in front of oncoming traffic. I would hate to think what could have happened if there had been a vehicle waiting in the centre of the road to use the turn-off.

But Friday is a busy day on the A1 and we soon caught up with our dangerous-driving friend, as the vehicles in front and oncoming traffic were stopping him overtaking. Not to be halted by the road markings, however, the kamikaze pilot behind the wheel then overtook more vehicles at the Oak Inn bend and disappeared.

And that was not the end of the fun on the A1 on Friday. A short time later on the Morpeth bypass, I was passed by two cars doing at least 100 miles an hour.

Speeding like this has its dangers. If a car is approaching so fast, any driver who starts to pull out may suddenly find himself in danger.

On the return journey to Alnwick I was amazed to see a convoy of police cars heading south. My passenger counted them. Eight police outriders on motorbikes, five or six police vehicles and, in the middle, a vehicle going at speed and moving other traffic to the side.

It was the main topic of conversation at our Friday night hostelry discussion group.

One thought it the transfer of a very dangerous prisoner. Another thought maybe a high-ranking government minister or member of the Royal family was involved, or even some dangerous chemical or radioactive material being transported.

Then a late-comer said he knew. A friend-of-a-friend had seen the convoy coming up Denwick Lane. “It is to do with the Olympic torch when it comes to town,” he said.

My friends at the Gazette confirm that this was indeed the case, as the torch relay organisers need to ensure the route is well-mapped on the ground and that timings are right.

Whether it demanded such a large police presence for a dry-run is questionable, but I concede that this is, after all, the Olympics.

But this was not the end of my A1 saga. As we all know, road works are again being carried out on the A1, notably at Alnwick bypass.

I had to meet a friend at Felton on Sunday. I pulled up the slip road to head south and at the top was a 50 miles per hour sign. As I turned the corner onto the A1 and travelled just 20 yards I passed another sign telling me the speed limit was now 60.

This is why so many motorists ignore road signs, because more often than not the work has been done and there is no one there, or there are miles of cones and not a workman in sight.

Roll on the day when we can finally drive down the A1 in this neck of the woods without being confronted by the signs of constant patch-up jobs and the disruption they cause.

Or perhaps I’m just dreaming again.