Saturday, 20 December 2014

A 50mph limit on an empty motorway is hardly a 'smart' move

THE roads were eerily empty when I plodded over the Pennines last Friday night.

Perhaps the four-minute warning had been issued and – totally oblivious, given the radio on my Peugeot 306 doesn’t work – I was about to be wiped out in a Russian nuclear missile strike. Maybe there was a particularly riveting repeat of I’m A Celebrity keeping everyone off the roads. Either way, on a Friday night commute which cris-crosses eight counties over 200 miles the traffic jams I normally encounter were nowhere to be seen.

So you’d think I’d have storming progress, then? Erm, no. Even though the roads were so sparsely populated I was overtaking a lorry every other ten minutes, there were still long stretches where I couldn’t go one measly mile an over 50. The culprit, the average speed limit preceding the new ‘smart’ motorway sections, is one of my real pet hates of motoring.

I love the idea; rather than have every Audi or BMW fly into the fog at 75mph and wreaking havoc on your morning commute, someone flicks a switch and lowers the limit to 50mph in an instant, massively reducing the odds of a pile-up. The powers-that-be spent ages calling them ‘managed motorways’ – largely because they always managed to make you do less than 70mph, but nowadays the idea is they’re ‘smart’ because they’re brimming with technology to make life safer.
All of which would be great apart from the one thing even the greatest gizmos can’t control – the highly evolved monkeys controlling the machines.

Why, when the limit is 50mph and clever cameras control all three lanes, is there still a prat in an Audi A5 doing 70mph (who, incidentally, never seems to get flashed)? Why do the lorry drivers, who seem to be on autopilot at 55-60mph, do everything in their power to get past?  It’s not just the motorists either – why, at stupid ‘o’ clock in the morning on an empty motorway with nobody working, is the speed limit still switched to the lowest possible setting? All that does is encourage drivers to switch off and listen to The Archers

Last month the Department for Transport announced the M62 and the M53 will be smartened up in their entirety, and chances are once they’re finished they’ll have a crack at the other ones too. While I’m all for clever roads that can alter their speed limit according to the conditions, I’m genuinely dreading having to spend years on end crawling along empty motorways while they’re doing the work.

Saving lives with adjustable speed limits? That’s a clever idea. Forcing motorists to spend years doing 50mph along an empty motorway because everyone in a position to change it back to 70mph has turned in for the night?

That’s not very ‘smart’ at all.

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