Speed and congestion

Driving to and from Cornwall for Easter reminded me that much of the congestion and inconvenience we see on dual carriageways and motorways is due to lorries passing one another. We saw one lorry pull out to pass another that had just pulled in front of it, after taking an age to go by…

What’s the problem? Perhaps speed limiters and perhaps allowing lorries to pass at all on busy roads.

I suppose speed limiters were introduced because drivers were perceived as using speed irresponsibly but we’re all paying the price now. If I recall correctly, large vans are next for limiting, so we’ll soon witness transits fighting past each other at a rate set by the tolerance of their limiters. And all the cars will have even more occasion to tailgate, change lanes, undertake and barge around trying to make progress…

What if cars were limited as some extension of road pricing? I expect we would see people try to maintain their limited speed through hazards, with all the extra risk that would entail.

We see mass civil disobedience every day, across the country, as people ignore the national speed limit and, increasingly, silly 50 and even 40 limits on country roads. Automatic speed enforcement does nothing to improve attitude and therefore behaviour: it probably makes matters worse.

This doesn’t seem a sensible way to go on. The current situation seems bad for the environment, safety, individual health, business and the credibility of the law, of which more in another post.

Here’s my set of wild policy ideas:

  • Remove all vehicle speed limiters: they are counterproductive.
  • Follow Germany’s example in using electronic signs to forbid overtaking by lorries completely during congested periods.
  • Rebalance road safety towards education and engineering, reducing the emphasis on enforcement, particularly through automatic means.
  • Restore the use of the 85th percentile rule in setting speed limits. This implies raising the national limits and removing many of the nannying 50’s recently introduced.
  • Enforce the law differently: have trained policemen out there educating drivers and collecting good evidence for more serious prosecutions, such as careless, dangerous and reckless driving. Have support staff in the office, preparing cases from video evidence and voice recordings on behalf of traffic officers.
  • Increase the penalties for offences arising from bad attitude and offer coaching to offenders at their expense as an alternative to heavy fines.

We should probably also ask whether mollycoddling driver aids are really a good idea if they enable people to pay less attention for greater perceived safety. I refer to radar anti-collision devices, active cruise control and lane departure warning systems. Wouldn’t it be better if people paid attention and took responsibility? Radar cruise control seems particularly egregious: sooner or later people will use it to speed in thick fog and get away with it, for a time.

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Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. sjb says:

    A lorry very nearly jack-knifed in front of us yesterday. It drifted onto the hard shoulder, before swerving aggressively back onto the carriageway.

    Presumably the driver was distracted by something: sending an SMS perhaps? Fiddling with his GPS? Would a speed limiter have helped?