I have followed with interest discussions and debates in recent years in respect of dualling the A1 and straightening sections of the A697.
I have great respect, admiration and sympathy for those campaigners who have lost a family member or loved one as a result of a road-traffic accident and, like them, would agree with any measures to try to ensure that no-one else suffers in the future as they have.
However, I do not think that dualling the A1 and straightening parts of the A697 alone will avoid future accidents.
I naively thought the recent announcement that parts of the A1 will be dualled was a direct result of campaigns for improved safety, but the consensus of the national press is that most of the projects are in marginal constituencies and are merely an inducement to try to get their candidates re-elected at next year’s General Election.
The MP for Berwick in his column for a local newspaper summed up the announcement by saying that while the proposed works on the A1 would cause some inconvenience, it will be worth it because he will no longer feel frustrated at being stuck behind a lorry that he cannot overtake.
I have over 30 years experience in investigating and settling insurance claims arising from road traffic accidents (RTAs) and, while working for liability adjusters, averaged over 30,000 miles a year.
The majority of RTAs are as a result of a momentary lapse in concentration or a minor error of judgement, but a number are due to downright dangerous driving.
That the A1 is single carriageway does not in itself make it dangerous, nor is a bend on an A-road. What does pose a danger is how motorists drive along those sections of road. The MP for Berwick feels frustrated when following a lorry. That is entirely the wrong attitude.
Why should he feel frustrated?
He cannot overtake safely so should accept the situation and drive accordingly. Frustration like his soon turns to trying to overtake at the first possible opportunity rather than waiting until it is entirely safe to do so. It is this kind of attitude which causes accidents.
I drive on the A1 regularly and when travelling at 55 to 60mph, lorries behind catch me up a rate of knots and those in front disappear into the distance. Heaven knows what speed they are travelling at.
There may be fewer accidents on a dual carriageway, but those that do occur are usually far more serious due to the higher speeds involved.
I noted from the travel news recently, during the first really bad weather of the winter, that sections of the A1 and A19, all dual carriageways, were closed due to accidents involving ‘multiple vehicles’.
From my experience, driving along dual carriageways for mile after mile, hour after hour, is just boring and your levels of concentration drop, sometimes dramatically.
Driving on a single-carriage A-road does make you concentrate on your driving much more. Straightening an A-road merely means that traffic travels much faster and accordingly arrives at the next bend at a greater speed than normal so the danger is just moved to a different stretch of road.
Motorists need to be educated more in road craft and safety and punished for dangerous driving. Some of the driving I see locally is appalling.
Travelling back from Hepburn Woods one time, I noticed a lorry on the A697 indicating to turn right so I pulled up quite a way from the junction with the main road. It is a good job I did as the lorry, fully-laden with timber, turned into the side road at speed and the driver was using his mobile phone.
Similarly, the driver of a wagon which delivers bread to local shops is regularly seen driving while using his phone.
But worst of all was an incident two weeks ago, when a coach from a local firm pulled out of Weetwood Avenue onto Weetwood Road without stopping and checking that nothing was approaching from the left.
He pulled out directly into the path of an oncoming horsebox and had to mount the pavement on which I was walking to avoid a collision and, yes, the driver was on his mobile phone.
It is not only drivers of commercial vehicles. Just lately, with the recent bad weather, it is all too common to see cars and those big pick-ups being driven in Wooler early in the morning with the drivers peering through a small space on the windscreen which they have cleared of ice or mist and with the rest of the windscreen, all side glass and rear window, still completely covered and opaque. The phrase ‘an accident waiting to happen’ springs immediately to mind.
I will whole-heartedly support any scheme to improve local roads and so reduce danger to road users, but I object when such schemes are proposed merely to benefit a local politician or political party.
Also, such schemes should be thought out and implemented thoroughly.
To dual the A1 to the border with Scotland is merely shifting any problem 20 or 30 miles up the road, but it will then be outside our area and no longer our problem.
Surely it should be dualled all the way to Edinburgh. If the A1 is dualled, can you imagine a tractor towing a trailer fully laden with grain trying to cross it? Or a queue of traffic waiting in the outside lane to cross the opposite carriage to get to Seahouses or Bamburgh?
It will take an awful lot of flyovers and underpasses to make the A1 safer than it is already.
I must admit that personally I do not think the A1 in our area carries enough traffic to warrant it being made into a dual carriageway.
I would much prefer to see measures implemented to make what we have safer whether it be with a much higher police presence, cameras, re-education of offenders etc.
Travelling on local roads, you would think that the only danger is posed by motorcyclists, because those are the only warning signs I notice at the side of the road.
I think the national road network is far too important to be left to the whims, prejudices and personal gain of politicians and political parties. The road network should be solely under the control of an independent organisation such as the rail network and the National Grid, and not run by some faceless civil servant but industry specialists who can deliver properly-considered projects on time and at the right price.
That way, we will avoid local politicians saying they want this or that doing in their constituency, but look at the picture as a whole and for the benefit of everybody not just their constituents.
Church Street, Wooler