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.
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.
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.
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