TRANSPORT COLUMN: No bad roads, just bad drivers

A recent trip in the car revealed some of the things which make motoring less enjoyable now than it was.

It has been suggested that the availability of satellite navigation makes road signs unnecessary. We found that they are often obscured by trees, hedges and undergrowth, because, although the highway authority has the responsibility of providing them, apparently nobody has a responsibility to maintain them.

There are stories of large lorries trying to go down narrow lanes because their drivers are following the directions of their satnav, while completely ignoring signs indicating that the lane is not suitable for large vehicles. A friend tells of innumerable cars being damaged because they have taken a short-cut in his village, which is, in fact, a bridleway. Local residents find tourists, or others unfamiliar with an area, irritating because they are trying to find their way, or look for a road name, and are therefore going more slowly than the following drivers, familiar with the area, would like.

A resident of the Scottish Borders recently said that she hates the A1 because people do such silly things on it, thus reminding us that there are no such things as bad roads, only bad drivers. Examples of bad driving by professional HGV drivers are demonstrated all too often on the A1, particularly between Alnwick and Berwick, where the present speed limit is 40 mph for such vehicles, except on the short dual-carriageway section.

Lorries are supposed to be physically limited to 56mph (their limit on motorways), but evidence on the A1 is that speeds exceeding 60mph are not uncommon when unhindered by the general traffic flow, such as in the late evening. A recent television programme showed how unscrupulous people can disable the speed limiter and the tachograph (the lorries’ black box) so there is no record.

Grahame Boyes, in the Companion to British Road Haulage History, says ‘exceeding the speed limits in order to gain commercial advantage, or for the driver’s personal convenience, is...typical of the industry’s culture’.

It has been announced that the limit for heavy lorries is to be raised to 50mph on single-carriageway rural roads, on the grounds that following motorists will be content to remain behind the lorries rather than try to overtake them dangerously. Some hope! Overtaking will take longer at a higher speed and the resulting smashes will be worse.

The sad thing is that the bad drivers kill, or – possibly worse – severely injure, perfectly innocent people coming the other way.

Raising the lorry speed limit to 50mph on rural single-carriageway roads would be best accompanied by the reduction to 50mph of the limit for all vehicles on such roads so there would be no reason for overtaking at all. Blame could thus be better established.

Whatever the limits, the key to safety is enforcement. The official answer is that the safety cameras do that, but we all know that, while they may slow the overall traffic flow on the open road, they have little effect in catching individuals, and that nothing beats a patrol car for effectiveness.

Where the cameras do have an effect on individuals is in 30-limit areas. The best siting for cameras would be beside the speed-limit signs, so that anybody passing a sign too fast would know that they are going to be photographed. Otherwise, the signs which show the speed of the approaching vehicle are excellent and alert drivers to the situation so that they can take corrective action if necessary.

The best solution of all, of course, is to have a sharp bend immediately beyond the speed limit sign, as in the picture.

Advance warning of speed limits is desirable and three of these should be spaced at 100m intervals before the actual speed-limit sign to give drivers plenty of time to slow down. To avoid confusion, they should represent the sign in grey, rather than colour, and have count-down markers.

At the time of writing, we await the result of the referendum with bated breath. A Yes vote may have some interesting effects on transport in Northumberland and the Borders, because this area will become even more marginal than it is at present to both England and Scotland for investment purposes. There have been promises, promises, on both sides of the border to dual the A1, but will it happen?

If Scotland remains part of the UK, it would make a lot of sense for the local rail services in Northumberland to become part of the Scotrail franchise. In that way the local stations on the north line in Northumberland are most likely to see their level of service improved.

There were services of the sort currently being campaigned for until the early 1980s, when they were withdrawn because they were uneconomic. The trains, consisting of an uneconomic diesel locomotive and coaches, required high levels of staffing. Now, with economical electric units operated by Scotrail to Dunbar, would be a good time to review the situation, and the bidders for the next Scotrail franchise have been asked to look into it.