Monday, May 14, 2012

Foot Down (and The Boy Who Cried Wolf)

It looks as if the government is serious about raising the motorway speed limit . As those of us who are regular motorway users well know the de facto limit has been 80 mph for some time, with a substantial minority going a good deal faster than that. The old cliché about always having a BMW in your mirror is out of date nowadays as the hooligan executive is much more likely to be at the wheel of an Audi, at least in the Thames Valley.
I am perfectly comfortable with an 80 mph limit, especially if it is enforced firmly, because motorways run smoothly and safely when speed differentials are small. I think that it is high time to fit mandatory speed limiters on 3.5 tonne vans, too. Many of these have a top speed of well over 100 mph and drivers very often use it.
And while I am on the subject, I would like to see a penalty of the utmost severity on those responsible for making the multi-million pound network of electronic motorway signs utterly useless, by allowing a high proportion of  their messages to be out of date or simply wrong. Time and again I pass a sign warning of a speed limit or a queue only to find that the road is perfectly clear. Every inch of the motorway is covered by CCTV but nobody bothers to turn off the warnings. As a result most drivers simply ignore them. And don't get me started on patronising rubbish such as 'Take Extra Care Through Roadworks' - well, well, I had never thought of that. 
I haven't dealt with a speeding case for a good five years, partly because of the inexorable rise of the fixed penalty ticket and partly because my area concentrates all traffic cases into 'gateway' courts for administrative convenience, driving another nail into the coffin of local justice.

30 comments:

  1. Firstly, in our area we sent all our motoring offences to Ludlow Court (now closed), which was a cruel punishment. All those motorway offences on the M5 north of Bristol, to the M6 south of Manchester together with M40 around Birmingham went to this small court which was at least an hour away from any motorway, with only a branch line of you wanted to travel by rail.

    Is it any wonder so many "clients" didn't turn up.

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  2. Couldn't agree more - the motorway matrix signs are at best useless and often dangerous. I've often seen people slowing to 50mph on a perfectly clear motorway just because the sign said so. What's wrong with the good old-fashioned Mk.I Eyeball when it comes to knowing what's going on ahead? I'm afraid I ignore them completely.

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  3. Anonymous John14 May 2012 10:32

    That press release is over 7 months old though, and I don't recall any "full public consultation" last year.
    And as for "we must also consider the huge economic benefits that can be created by shortening journey times"...

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    1. north bucks jp14 May 2012 10:55

      I can only dream about not having to deal with traffic offences in our everyday courts - we have no gateway as mentioned by BS, and I have spent many a hot summer's afternoon after a morning of remands listening to a self-defendant (because no solicitor will take him on) trying to prove that a speed gun or fixed camera hadn't been properly calibrated. Nobody has ever won that argument yet, and the guilty finish up with £620 trial costs on top of the fine and Victim Surcharge. As for the 80mph limit hike, sensible but it needs to be enforced more stringently.

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    2. The problem with these technological convictions is that if one day someone DOES prove that a GATSO or other type-approved device can go seriously wrong the number of unsafe convictions will be enormous.

      And my peeve of the day: there is a big ATS-controlled junction on my commute to work. Currently due to roadworks one turning option is blocked off, but the lights have not been reprogrammed so all last week drivers had to wait in roadworks while the lights gave a 20 second green to lanes no-one could drive on! Hours of driver time could have been saved if someone had taken ten minutes out of their busy day to switch off that phase of the lights.

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  4. I’ve said elsewhere that I’d support an 80mph speed limit only if policed by average speed cameras across the whole motorway network.

    But, Bystander, you can’t have it both ways – since “motorways run smoothly and safely when speed differentials are small” and heavy vehicles are limited to 60mph (and sometimes 56mph) isn’t that a good argument AGAINST raising the speed limit?

    Here is an interesting point: You can’t trust your speedometer. Legislation requires that it never underestimate your speed, but can overestimate by up to 10%. I measured my 2 year old Nissan Note and found it overestimated by 9.5%.

    I don’t see how the electronic dash can overestimate the speed without also overestimating the miles travelled and therefore the fuel economy – so I can see why manufacturers might aim for the low end of the legal range.

    Having calibrated my speedometer I now find that I sail past the majority of people on the motorway and especially dual carriageways. My actual 70mph would appear to be 77mph on a uncalibrated speedo. So I wonder if your “de facto 80mph” is actually what you think it is.

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    1. I think the majority of cars wouldn't be quite so inaccurate, most will be in the 2-3 mph range.

      A lot of people now drive at or around 60mph because it's more fuel efficient (I believe up to 25% more than driving at 70mph) and doesn't make a huge amount of time difference on the majority of journeys.

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    2. Your second paragraph identifies a serious failing which is not addressed by the Highway Code: that of very difficult vehicle types sharing the same road. Perhaps we should have a daytime upper limit of 80mph combined with a minimum of 60. Then at night have a maximum of 60.

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    3. Sorry! "different" not "difficult"

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    4. I think that there's something wrong with your Nissan. My 5 year old Mazda RX-8 and my 3 year old Yamaha FZ6 both provide near as damn it to spot on readings. I spent Sunday touring the Surrey roads with their motorcycle police and they told me that their standard patrol cars are calibrated every year or so and despite ultra high mileages still return readings that are accurate to within 2MPH.

      David W, it occurs to me that a speed limit of 60MPH on a well lit motorway at night is a bit pointless. If I may suggest, there are less cars, lorries, bikes and people about in the middle of the night so maybe it would be sensible to increase the night time limit if we were to have a day/night limit.

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  5. Totally agree on matrix signs. Ludicrously OTT warnings and usually wrong and therefore totally ignored.

    I note in the last Highways Agency Annual Report that they achieved their own target on
    "Deliver a high level of road user satisfaction".
    Words fail me.

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  6. Best use of those signs I ever saw :-

    " stop. You lost your trailer!"

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  7. 2nd try :-

    Best use of those signs I ever saw :-

    " NUMBER PLATE stop! You lost your trailer!"

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    1. north bucks jp14 May 2012 15:47

      And the worst use? Driving home from Scotland in April appalling weather - fog, rain and spray - and the best that the overhead message gantries at the northern end of the M1 could come up with was "Olympic Games - plan your journey and arrive in good time", 200 miles and three months away from the event...

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    2. Cutting it a bit fine with UK motorway traffic volumes, if you ask me.

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    3. Andrew McGee14 May 2012 17:25

      One that always drives me mad is 'Queueing traffic'. Usually I have lots of time to contemplate that one, becuse by the time I get to it I'm stuck in a queue

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  8. Pataphysician14 May 2012 20:22

    "One that always drives me mad is 'Queueing traffic'. Usually I have lots of time to contemplate that one, becuse by the time I get to it I'm stuck in a queue"

    The sign usually says "Queue after next junction". I find that's an instruction, not a warning.

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  9. The majority of motorway kms in Europe, (y'know, those funny countries across the Channel) are set at 130 kph, (=81 mph approx). Britain is the slowest apart from Norway. German autobahns (motorways) DO have 130 or less limits along certain sections plus a recommended limit of 130 kph everywhere. I have found few people going over the 130 whilst driving around Europe. The Danes increased their limit to 130 a few years ago without any ill effects. I didnt feel at risk on the autobahns or anywhere for that matter, apart from Italy, (also 130), where the drivers are all complete headbangers. I have never seen such bad driving anywhere in Europe and am puzzled as to why any Italian men are still left alive. So it is not speed in my humble opinion, but attitude. Roll on the increase to 80 mph, still less than the 130 kph in most of Europe. If/when it's 80- mph, policing will need to be a bit more rigorous than the 10% plus 2 figure though.

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    1. Where Europe begins and ends is not only a highly political question, but quite a tricky geographical one too. But if we stick to just the current EU (and exclude therefore Norway), no fewer than six Member States have motorway limits of 120kmh or less, and that omits those countries that don't have any motorways. Several have limits below the UK, and many apply an automatic 20kmh reduction in the event of rain which, if applied in the UK, would mean pretty much permanently lower speeds! In addition, the majority apply much lower limits on dual carriageways, and this message does seem to have got through to the Jeremy C lobby. Lastly, as regards 10% + 2, in the Thames Valley area, official guidance indicates that 99mph on a m'way leaves one eligible for a fixed penalty, with similar excesses applying at other regulated speeds.

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  10. There has been a more recent announcement (last Thursday - but first reported in most media outlets today 14 May) by Hammond confirming that, despite the results of research by road safety charities suggesting that increasing the limit would have a disproportionately adverse effect on road casualties, he was going to press ahead with trials in selected areas. The other factor not always mentioned is that the increase in motorway speed limits will be offset by a reduction to 20mph In urban areas, in an attempt to finally address the dramatic "exceedences" of the EU "Daughter Directive" limits for NOx and particulate matter, where the UK has failed signally to take action to date to address the problems in terms of public health impacts, which result in many more deaths than those caused by road traffic accidents.

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    1. Would that be Richard Hammond, lunatics having been put in charge of the asylum? On the other hand, I think Philip Hammond is more concerned with the speed of aircraft and aircraft carriers nowadays.

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    2. Does driving at 20 really generate lower pollution than 30? Some of the stuff I've seen says not - particularly if you're in stop/start mode over speed bumps.

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  11. With regard to speed limiters - 3.5 tonne vans are already subject to the speed limiter regs (56 mph). Most of the speeding vans you see, such as Sprinters, are plated at 3.49 tonnes gvw and thus exempt the regs as well as the Operator's Licensing regs. If you want to legislate for these, what weight do you go down to? You would probably have to include all vans. Is this practicable?

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  12. 80mph is only less than 130kmh by a margin o 0.77mph, so hardly significant. Here in Spain the limit is 120kmh (74.56mph), but the motorway driving experience is a whole world apart. Traffic volumes except on the orbital sections near cities during the rush hours are uniformly pretty low, and even with rush hour on urban stetches rarely achieve UK densities and then only for short periods.
    When I first arrived to live here, limits were pretty much ignored both on motorways and off, but the introduction of a penalty points system, a fines regime which is constructed entirely on the basis of the percentage excess speed and not at all on the ability to pay, coupled with greatly increased enforcement by Tráfico, most people now drive within the posted limits (except, interestingly BS, those in Audis). Oh and despite the protestations of many of your readers, an accompnying benefit has been a dramatic reduction in road accidents, especially fatalities.

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  13. "CHECK YOUR FUEL"

    "BE A COURTEOUS DRIVER"

    Brilliant.

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  14. Could 'Man on the Village Green' please list these countries with a lower limit than the UK and their length in kms. From my investigations the lowest would seem to be Norway at 90kph (55 mph) in which case one wonders why they bother spending money on them at all.
    Here is my list: -

    Countries with 130 kph (81.25 mph): -
    Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, with Poland at 140 kph (87.5 mph), Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia

    Countries with 120 kph (75 mph)
    Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Netherlands (130 on some motorways), Portugal, Spain, Switzerland.

    Countries with 110 kph (68.75 mph)
    Norway at 90 kph. with ourselves at 112 kph

    I can't see the rest of the EU having any significant kms of motorway. I may be wrong, however.

    My point remains valid, namely the majority of kms of European EU) motorway, have a limit, mandatory OR advisory, of 130 kph. Perhaps he wants us to use the Norway motorway limit instead. Is Denmark now dangerous having raised their limit ?

    And Yes, I have passed French police enforcing their 130 limit. I was not fined or stopped.

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    1. The distance converter on my laptop gives 81.25mph as equal to 130.759kph, and the reverse conversion of 130kph = 80.77mph as I quoted earlier. Given the tiny differences I guess that in the real world, as opposed to the mathematical one, the two speeds 130kph and 80mph are equivalent. Traffic volumes in the English part of the UK at least are far higher than on most European motorways.

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  15. rex_imperator18 May 2012 18:27

    Driving north on the A1 near the junction with the A14, the sign regularly says Grantham 46 miles, 45 minutes. Even though the roundabouts have been replaced with a superb range of tunnels and flyovers, I have never ever been able to do this. My problem is I drive when others are allowed access to the road (cars, lorries, workmen, cone layers.

    As to 80mph and speedos - I have had my cars' speedo's calibrated professionally (don't ask why) and all were in any case within 3 mph anyway.

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  16. I keep expecting to see one that reads "ALWAYS WEAR A VEST"

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  17. Bring back the Red Flag Act. Of course it would have to allow for a woman instead of a man to carry the flag, or perhaps (who shall cll me sexist?) one of each.

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