Friday, 9 September 2011

Motorway and dual carriageway driving in the UK


Some of you will know that I have had the delightful companionship of my other half for a week, and some will also know that I have been to 3 interviews in as many days in 2 different locations in the UK. Naturally, this involved a lot of driving, which in itself created food for thought (in addition to stress).

The Motorways I found myself on this week were (in numerical order): M1, M4, M5, M6, M11, M25, M32, M62. I also frequented notable A-roads in the form of A14, A50, A500, and there was one thing that became blindingly obvious to me as I traveled, and that was the difference in traffic levels varied greatly depending on if the road was part of a pan European E-route.

Such routes are designed to make it easier for individuals driving long distances through one or multiple countries with navigation (fair enough) and for some reason the UK (and Ireland) refused to have E(number) signs on these routes (goodness knows why). But one thing was clear, the amount of lorries and traffic was vastly higher on an E-route compared to a non-E route. This is in turn exampled by the fact that many E-routes have variable speed limits on them, to ensure traffic flow in typically congested parts.

I, as some of you know, that while being a liberal, I am highly conservative about driving rules. I have long had these opinions, and they were backed up the teachings of my uber conservative driving instructor (who actually turned out to be helpful in my A-Level Politics revision, through debating issues). I have even been known to cause a highly unusual phenomenon, 'passenger-rage' as a result of driving to the rules.

Experience has taught me that driving at or below the speed limit tends to ensure that your vehicle tends to stay moving for a longer amount of time, and allows greater anticipation windows should you need to change speed or direction.

This is where the usefulness of varied speed limits becomes useful. Their whole function is to keep traffic moving. No-one likes to sit in traffic jams, and we all like to keep moving when we travel, as its less stressful and more relaxing. It also means, that when varied speed limits slow you below the typical 70mph for a car on a motorway, it takes you longer to get to the point where you might need to stop completely, and it means there is more time for the authorities to manage and clear the blockage to ensure traffic can flow as freely as possible past the incident location. What could be the problem?

It strikes me, that the more of our motorways that have the option to vary the compulsory speed of travel, the more consistent the flow of traffic will be. My driving instructor used to say 'there's no point in going faster than 70mph on the motorway, as it just means you hit the traffic sooner,' which rises your stress levels, which isn't healthy.

We all want to get where we need to go in a safe and stress free manner, and with our increasing dependence on electronic navigational devices, reducing the need to store local knowledge of roads in our heads, or the ability to read a map, (two things that still bewilder me today, in the cases of out of town routes, and cities you've lived in your whole life), varied speed limit signs assist us with information about the traffic conditions ahead. This gives us as road users preparation time, bringing the 5Ps (Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance) truly into play, allowing us to look at our options of alternative routes.

I believe that the greater the information we can receive through roadside signage about travel conditions ahead, and the radio, the lower our stress levels as road users will be.

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