Motorway madness

Motorway madness, driving, busy roads

Not sane

Motorway madness?

I know that this term has been used to describe multi vehicle smashes, most often when drivers get lost in the fog. Well they’re not really lost just unwilling to slow down when everyone around them isn’t but it really is too thick to keep going at motorway speeds.

What are motorway speeds? Why is there a 70mph limit? Why do so many people drive at more than the limit? And so many well below the limit?

Let me begin with the 70mph limit introduced in the 70’s. At a time when oil production was falling and a recession led to the three-day week to save jobs and energy introducing a motorway speed limit seemed a good idea in principal. No mention was made of safety issues except for a minority and the major marketing by the government was based on reducing fuel usage. In fact, due to the three-day week there were a lot less vehicles using the motorways so the net reduction was probably more due to that rather than the new speed limit. Strangely, it was originally only proposed as a short term measure but the safer roads lobby managed to produce figures backing up their claims of less crashes or at least less deaths from crashes at the lower speeds and the limit has remained. While this is true it doesn’t mean that the limit of 70mph had any basis or substantive evidence from any research that it was safer than allowing cars to go as fast as their drivers dared to go. And in fact, it was a figure plucked from thin air. Who by seems to have been lost in the mists of time.

Motorway driving, driving, light traffic

So from the technological point of view the cars of that era were probably less than half as safe as today’s vehicles and many of them would have struggled to maintain a constant speed of much more than 70mph anyway. Up to date cars with all the latest features like proximity warnings, lane keeping assistance systems, collision warning and auto braking systems, vehicles in blind spots warnings and the ability to maintain a cruising speed above 100mph are so far different from those old Ford Cortinas, Escorts Vauxhall Vivas Hillman Avengers and of course the original Mini that there is no real comparison.

Fuel economy in a modern vehicle also means that even at higher speeds and with larger engines they will use less fuel than their 70’s counterparts. The fly in the ointment or the elephant in the room as far as todays cars being safer and faster is concerned is that the drivers are no better trained today than they were back then. In fact they are not trained at all and have never been and there are no plans to introduce anything other than voluntary training courses and even those you have to find for yourself.

Truly mdaly deeply, higway madness, driving me insane

Why on earth do successive governments, having been warned consistently by the major and minor motoring organisations that this is a critical piece of legislation waiting to be introduced only listen to people who propose stupid measures like an overall 50mph limit? While this measure, if it gains any traction, will no doubt be introduced it will only have the effect of more low speed crashes bunging up the motorways and more banned drivers who cannot keep their foot off the gas pedal. The only safety result will be less fatalities but this can be better achieved along with almost zero incapacitating injuries by introducing a countrywide 10mph limit. Yes I did say that to get your attention because only at those speeds can you be certain that a fatal or life threatening injury would be due to a monumental combined set of unusual circumstances.

complicated signs, road madness, difficult driving

Consider this scenario for a moment:

  • Driving standards are dropping due to the complexity of modern roads and driving conditions
  • The driving test does not test even half as much as a competent driver would need in terms of skills to remain safe on the road
  • There is no testing for skid control, no useful testing for emergency braking and no high-speed testing

And yet once gifted the magical full driving licence a person who was a learner two or three minutes ago, and who might have never driven above 40pmh all the while they were learning can join a motorway and accelerate to 70mph and over. That is the true madness of the motorways.

© Rick Grain 5 December 2016

Images courtesy of Pixabay

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Red light spells danger

Red light, stop, stopped, no go

There are a couple of blogs which have been screaming at me to write them for years now and I really should get them both out there so here is my take on traffic lights.

When the light goes to amber as you approach, your speed and likely reaction times should govern whether or not you can safely stop. The reaction time doesn’t include checking your mirror the see how closely following traffic is because you won’t have time for that. If you are driving with the habit of checking behind you as you approach traffic lights you would know if you can brake heavily (i.e. no-one behind you) or if you would need to consider the tailgater who would be unlikely to avoid crashing into you. Either way this governs whether you opt to stop as much as how much space you actually do need to stop.

oops, rear end, no brakes, no brains

Traffic lights generally are timed pretty well to allow you to come to a halt from the speed limit at gentle deceleration aided by the brake. This is probably true for 30mph and 40 mph limits but only if you see the amber light as the signal to stop. If, like a lot of idiots, you think this means “hit the gas pedal there is plenty of time”, one day you will arrive to find me in front of you. I would most likely have been already moving because I was braking but not stopped just as my light changed to red/amber so I lifted the brake foot and carried on over the line now accelerating under a green light.

My dash cam will show that I crossed the junction stop line on a green light and your insurers will get the full bill for my repairs and any injuries I suffer. As this has happened twice to me recently and only because I have lightning reactions did not result in a crash, I have not been able to test the option of claiming off someone else’s insurers without going through my own insurance company. (This means you won’t lose any no claims discount)

Ask any traffic cop or fireman about the last time they had to dig someone out of a wreck because some moron jumped the light and you might reconsider thinking you can just make it and stop rather than risk your life or kill somebody you don’t know.

Red light, stopped, jam up, run the red

I must say here that I live in the West Midlands and drivers in this neck of the woods seem to see traffic lights going to red as some kind of personal affront as almost none of them take any notice of the amber. I’ve lost any kind of count of the number of times I have rolled gently to a halt at the red light only to be passed in the next lane by more than two other drivers going at it hell for leather. They must have seen the lights changing from more than sufficient distance away to safely stop yet they carry on anyway.

Last word on this is to traffic agencies responsible for timing the lights on faster stretches of road. There is a set not far from where I live on a 60mph limit road and even on maximum possible braking I cannot stop within the time allowed. Fortunately it is mostly not an issue because hardly any drivers can manage to get above 40mph on the approach but even that speed means the time allowed dictates you having to almost perform an emergency stop and the red will already be glowing before you stop.

® Rick Grain 3 December 2016

Images courtesy of Pixabay

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Slippery Roads

Frosty roads give me a chance to use the 4wd option and it does make driving a whole lot easier when the roads change from yard to yard. As the early morning sun glistened off the snowy appearing surface, you might think this could be time for a little driving fun but as it had rained at first, then snowed and finally froze the white appearance hid a lethal problem. For more about starting the day see my blog Frosty morning driving

Given the test results of that initial 100 yards I go into one of three slippery driving modes: Number one is the standard wet road mode which is to leave a longer gap and maintain observation further ahead to ensure I can slow down, in the event of the traffic suddenly stopping, at a steady rate of reduction rather than becoming part of a problem for those following by hard braking on a slippery surface.


Second mode is best called snow mode as soft packing snow can be driven over quite quickly which policemen hate but on a busy motorway I have had the outside lane to myself to blast along while the inner two lanes are doodling at 40mph or less. While that may seem chancy you have to remember that we often have that kind of discrepancy between lane speeds and as long as everyone stays in the near side lanes there is as little risk as normally occurring speed ranges.

Number three mode, which I’ll term ice mode is the slowest due to the inherent danger of having almost nil grip. Snow on top of frozen water is the worst except for black ice but both require top attention and concentration so if you are driving in ice mode do not answer a phone even if you are hands free and don’t engage with passengers as you don’t need any distractions. For ice mode, you test more than in the first few moments of driving and pay particular care to road cambers especially on corners as these can see you off-roading at best or wrapped around a lamp post or tree at worst.


Black ice does present a slightly different challenge in addition to ice mode normal options, which is simply that often black ice appears in small patches on fast trunk roads, usually in low lying stretches due to them being frost pockets, so if you hear a traffic announcement warning of black ice do not immediately hit the brakes to reduce speed but do so gradually and don’t make any sudden movements with the steering wheel. If you feel the car is slipping, then maintain a soft but firm grip and don’t turn the wheel at all until you feel confident of the grip.

Images from Pixabay

© Rick Grain 13th November 2016


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Frosty morning driving

Frosty driving

Frosty morning

Frosty mornings

Autumn approaches and the leaves begin to turn. The morning dew covers the grass and the cars with water droplets that catch the early sun. As the days shorten and the night grows longer the falling average temperature leads to the first frosts of winter.

Driving starts when you open the car door and if your thoughts aren’t with what you are doing the road surface may take control before you even touch the steering wheel. Two things you need to do when a light rime replaces the soft water covering your car. First observe the surroundings, look at the road surface and then start scraping. Second, after the glass and the mirrors are clear, drive off as normal. Do not drive as if the road is covered in ice, unless you have already determined that it is because frost does not equal hard ice.

If you drive as if on eggshells you will notice a couple of things fairly soon. One is that everyone else is not doing what you are doing and are driving much faster than you are and the next thing is you’ll be late for work or your destination will seem farther away.

You need to find out if the road is slippery and the easy way to gauge this is to drive normally at first to discover the limits of grip that your tyres have and then you can adjust your style to match the conditions.

Driving out of my road is an everyday occurrence which means I know how sharp the bends are and how steep the small hill is up to the first stopping place where I join a larger road leading off the estate. By the time I have come off the first bend I know the amount of traction my vehicle has on the frosty road and can then drive safely within that limiting factor.

Here’s a thing – actually you will have more grip than you think you have for a few reasons. One is that frost turns to water usually purely because you drive onto it. I know that might seem an odd notion but it is simple physics. The pressure of the tyre and vehicle cause heat to be generated which at slow speeds melts the ice particles. Don’t believe me? Again, try observing other vehicles driving over frost and see the wheel tracks behind them being melted water rather than frost. Another reason is that your tyres have gaps between the tread designed to allow water to escape from beneath the tyre.

This pattern also allows the frost, which is actually soft, almost like snow, to move out from under the tread into the gaps again caused by the pressure of the weight of the vehicle onto the frost particles. A third reason that most people don’t take into consideration is that when you compress soft water, i.e. icy particles, they harden and doing this with the tread blocks of a tyre as you corner gives you grip you don’t have on a wet road. The process is overlooked and I wouldn’t recommend relying on this to corner faster but the tiny walls of hard packed frozen water help to stop slipping sideways at slow speeds.

The final reason you have more grip than you think you do is so basic that I’ve not heard anyone explain it but think about this for a minute – how fast do you drive when you set off at the beginning of your journey? Are you flooring the gas pedal and taking the turns at the edge of grip? Not unless you are slightly insane. What everyone does is to drive within yours and the vehicle’s limits, in fact not just within but with a safety factor somewhere approaching a tenth of how fast you could drive on normal dry road if you wanted to. Because of this you mostly do not drive any different from normal which is why that is how I begin my journey and that, more than any other factor tells me what the driving conditions are because by the time I have taken those first turns and driven away from a hill start position I know that I don’t need to slow down at all for my normal rush hour commute which is driven at way below the capacity of my driving style and the cars ability to stay on the road. Of course, there are a very few days when driving normally is unsafe but the fact remains that I have tested the grip and know how to drive the conditions that prevail.

There is one concession I make which is, as usual, not for my driving but the half-awake drivers behind me. To give them more time to react I brake a little more softly and keep looking in the mirror to check out the reaction times of those following.

Black Ice

Black ice does present a slightly different challenge which is simply that often black ice appears in small patches on fast trunk roads, usually in low lying stretches due to them being frost pockets, if you hear traffic announcements warning of black ice don’t immediately hit the brakes to reduce speed but do so gradually and don’t make any sudden movements with the steering wheel. If you feel the car is slipping, then maintain a soft but firm grip and don’t turn the wheel at all until you feel confident of the grip.

Any low lying or unsalted roads can have black ice and the most lethal is on a hill where there is a slow running spring allowing water to seep out onto the road surface very slowly and in really low temperatures turn to ice. This may not be invisible like true black ice but can readily be disguised if the rest of the road surface has a light frost covering.

Remember this; if the road surface is in doubt or you run onto a frosty surface you didn’t expect slow down sloooowly.



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Driving for others

Man not driving

Driving for others

Over time my experience of driving has changed and some may say for the worse particularly my intolerance for those drivers who don’t have the necessary skills to exist on anything other than an empty road.

It isn’t that some people are timid or prone to exaggerated carefulness, although that is undoubtedly frustrating for those caught up in the miles long queues behind them, it is more that some folks seem to think you should be driving on their behalf. To explain by way of an example: My morning commute sees a few places where I have to create a space in order to join one road from another at a junction. As these are mainly side roads there aren’t too many other drivers waiting and I try to pick places where there is a good possibility of having space from one direction or another and sometimes both. The scenario plays out as I cross an empty lane and gently wait for the some kind person in the other line of traffic to gesture that I can get in front of them. This also plays when you are turning left into the nearer lane and the steady stream of traffic requires a little help so just a tiny slowdown gives a gap for you to fill.

Morning rush hour traffic is generally good for this as there are many people doing the same thing throughout the journey and as one good turn deserves another I would create the same space or flash up a waiting driver to indicate I will give up space for him or her.

This is not where you are driving for others but merely allowing other people the space to drive for themselves. The problem shows up where a waiting driver doesn’t know that they can go into a space and sits waiting for you to flash or otherwise indicate they can cross in front of you or take a space in front of you.

Classically where there is a driver turning right across in front of you into a road on your left and another waiting to cross your lane to take up a place in the opposite lane from that same road. Most people would see the opportunity to cross behind the vehicle turning across into the side road if the opposite lane is empty or even if it isn’t might pull forward to be ready to take a space when available, but the ones who want you to do their driving for them sit and look pathetically at you hoping you’ll give them permission to drive their vehicle for them. I’ve had occasion to flash someone up to go across, usually having to flash them several times before they get the message, which generally means they have missed the gap that was approaching and now are firmly planted across my lane waiting for someone the other side to take pity on them. I don’t generally do that anymore because if they aren’t ready they aren’t going to be in place when they need to be.

Chief culprit for this lack of driving skills is sadly taxi drivers. A cab company next to our factory has by no means the worst drivers but if I am approaching the turn into the service road and they are waiting to turn out across in front of me I will flash them to proceed. I have my indicator going to clearly show my intentions and they have clear sight of an empty road to turn into but I often have to flash them three or four times before they understand.

As I get older I feel the lack of years in front of me and often now won’t flash someone more than once and if they don’t take the hint I carry on assured that I will get there much more quickly than if I am generous and helpful.

I am sure that many of these drivers will be asking me silently, or maybe cursing me loudly for not letting them out but to them I say simply that I have my own vehicle to drive so why would I want to drive yours at them same time?


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Driving time

Driving time and cyclists

This is a repost for this blig with additional commentary regarding cycling and cyclists

This is not about the time you are on the road or how to find space in your diary but more properly I should maybe have entitled this Drive timing.

This is borne out of a few minutes driving the other day which highlighted how a very short space of time can make a huge difference to anyone’s day and also brings into question how much does luck factor in whether or not you are involved in an incident.

It was a typical morning as I left the drive to start the journey to work. Up the road to the corner and a swift check to the right (having been caught out once already) swing left and continue up the close. Then from the right a neighbour came off his drive without looking as if he would stop before I reached him. I slowed at the same instant as he slammed on his brakes stopping only a couple of feet into the road. Having decided he was going to let me past I waved generously and carried on. A few turnings later and his journey took a left whilst I had gone to the right.

The right choice

Now this piece of the track took us both towards the main road up parallel roads. I should explain the reason I used the right hand of two routes was because it was a lot easier to exit the road I took due to no parked cars obscuring the view of oncoming traffic and I had often also noticed that, for no explicable reason, this road was usually also free of oncoming unlike my experience of the other road.

So while we were both headed in the same direction but on different roads I expected to be ahead of my neighbour when I exited onto the main road. Imagine my surprise when, just as I approached the road end, a numpty brained cyclist came into view cycling on the pavement straight across in front of me! As I already had my foot on the brake and was probably only moving at walking pace it was not any problem not to run over him. He sheepishly lifted a hand in thanks for my magnanimously leaving him capable of motor functions and continued.

I speculated quietly to myself on his parentage and obvious lack of intelligence and after a car or two went past got out onto the main road then after a few yards noticed the cyclist doing the same thing to my neighbour who even more generously rolled back a couple of feet to give him room to continue to be a hazard to pedestrians for whom the pavement is intended.

It hit me then that if I had not slowed to avoid running into my neighbour as he rashly came off his drive I would have in fact been that fraction of a second earlier at the road end and would have, I believe justly, been parked on the top of the cyclist and ringing the police and ambulance to sort out the mess he would have made of the front of my car. Instead of that scenario, we were all going to get to work roughly when we had intended when we all started our respective journeys.

Driving time

Time to think about what might have occurred and to ponder why the hell adult cyclists think they have any right to ride on the path. We have enough idiotic regulations governing cycle paths, cycle boxes at traffic lights and cycle crossings which are all paid for by motorists who pay a lot of money for the privilege of using the roads and the cyclists, meanwhile, ride anywhere but in the cycle lanes. That fails to address the other issue of jumping red lights which cyclists think they can get away with because they ride on the path.

Time spent behind the wheel or pushing the spokes around on a bike is more dangerous than sitting on the sofa so using the senses to ensure safe driving or cycling will reduce the danger and maybe keep you alive.

Ohh and just as a bye the bye, I spent the first twelve years of my driving experience on two wheels powered by my own muscles before getting an engine (Royal Enfield Crusader sports) and after a short stint avoiding dipsticks got my own carriage with a wheel on each corner. (That was an Austin Healey Sprite MkII in powder blue if you were wondering)


So just in case any town planners with excess zeal about making roads safer for cyclists should be reading this I would politely ask how many miles you have ridden on a bike and if the answer is any less than 50,000 miles then contact me before you dream up any more hare-brained schemes which won’t work because cyclists mostly don’t share your romantic ideas of cycling.

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As a lot of my driving posts are rambling accounts of this and that it occurred to me to read them. Now I know that regular bloggers and people like journalists and such know the value of the post writing edit but I’m not a journo nor am I a serial blogger so this technique of writing is not ingrown or natural. Hence this new blog which includes a lot of already written pieces patched together.

So speed then hmmmmm……

Well I know that when you start to drive you “feel the need for speed” which is why a lot of young people are now being targeted by insurance companies to have a “black box” to determine if they drive outside of a set of parameters. These being set by whom? Some individual who has years and millions of miles of experience? No probably not. It is more likely that they will be set by some “speed kills” adherent or possibly even a committee of “experts”! As anyone who has ever set off to sea knows you can’t drive or sail or fly by committee. One person has to be in charge and that is the person at the controls.

Now I don’t want anyone thinking that I know better than them but I do so there. No honestly you need to find your limits and those of the vehicle you are driving and there is only one way to achieve this feat and that is by actually doing it. No other option is available, you must know how you react and think and you must know how each movement you make reflects in the vehicles response.

So by trying to go faster you can find the limits of both yourself and your car/van/lorry/motorbike or bicycle. That is not to say just get in or on and go blast the countryside away. How silly would I be to propose that?

But think on this; if you take a vehicle and go round and round a race track enough times you can keep going faster and faster until you or the car cannot manage to stay in control. Then you can go back and change a few things like line into corner, braking point, turn in point or ultimate speed until you achieve balance and the fastest lap time. Now change the vehicle and you have to start all over again with one massive but. You already have learnt or taught yourself how not to over-react which means a part of the re-launch does not need to be re-learnt.

This is how experience (that word again) is built and for any new driver the need for speed has to be tempered by the need to know what speed means and you only get that if you constantly test yourself. I still do this even though I long ago stopped needing to go the fastest because on roads the fastest is not necessarily the quickest. To explain, if you try and go 50mph in a 30 mph limit you will be forever slowing down behind drivers doing 30 and if you test this out for yourself over a given journey you can soon see all you are really doing is using fuel to gain mere seconds.

I used to drive from Margate to Bracknell every fortnight. Starting at around 5:30 am I would easily hit 95mph from the start of the A299 dual carriageway right through to the M2 at Faversham. Trying to keep up to that speed or close to it when you are on a two lane Mway means you keep coming up on HGV’s overtaking at 58mph, the resultant slowing and speeding up again uses more fuel than doing 70mph because you catch up with less slow moving folks and you lose less speed anyway and don’t accelerate for as long. So on to the A 249 to head south and pick up the M20 now on three lanes again but having now the extra traffic heading towards London at around 6:30 then you get onto the M26 and back to two lanes again and more slow moving trucks as they are now beginning their daily routines so I guess an average speed for that 6 mile or so would be around 65 mph and this is where you can check out the time gain. I’ll come back to that but to continue the journey, join the M25 at J5 and now for the fun time. This is where you really learn about motorway driving. If the motorway is moving you will find lots of people trying to go the fastest they can in the outside lane but on the M25 it probably isn’t as the weight of traffic keeps it slowing down and speeding up so you will probably get better average speed in the middle lane and from there you can drive in the correct lane when not overtaking i.e. the nearside lane. To be honest as you are going faster than the 3rd or now even the 4th lane you are technically undertaking, a manoeuvre absolutely decried by police chiefs who haven’t learnt a thing since they left the advanced driving course they went on when they joined the police. But it isn’t your job to police the roads and you cannot be held responsible for all the idiots who are hogging the outside lanes and going slower than you and let’s be fair here, it has only got worse since the introduction of 4th lanes. Now we have the police with the ability to pull over drivers in the wrong lane and giving them a spot fine, only marginally different than pulling them over and suggesting they take driving lessons with the added bonus of inflating treasury funds, we might see this changing but I seriously doubt it until driving is not allowed on motorways until you have passed an additional test

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