12:33pm Wednesday 12th October 2011
By Christopher Gray
A striking feature of the Department for Transport’s announcement of plans to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph was the statistic that 49 per cent of drivers currently exceed 70mph.
More striking still, I thought was the following sentence in the department’s press statement: “Ministers believe that raising the limit to 80mph would mean that millions of otherwise law-abiding motorists would be brought back inside the boundary, restoring the moral legitimacy of the system.”
In the context it is very surprising to find ‘moral legitimacy’ spoken of by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond and his team. It is an odd argument indeed to say that because the people break the law, the law must be changed.
Probably as many ‘otherwise law abiding’ drivers like to use their mobiles. They are now being clamped down on by the police, though, at long last. Lorries are proving a useful new weapon, allowing officers a bird’s eye view of malefactors.
In other circumstances lorries are a menace on the road, being involved in many accidents on the busiest routes through Oxfordshire, the A34 and M40.
The Oxford Times’s archive contains dozens of reports and pictures of these. The two photographs above are among the most recent. One shows the A34, with drivers delayed for many hours, as it was on September 30, the day after Hammond delighted the Tory conference with his call for a raised speed limit.
“Hundreds of millions of pounds of benefits for the economy” would follow from a speed-up, he claimed.
The other picture was taken six days earlier on the M40 just north of the A34 interchange. Vast sums would be saved, you might think, if drivers were not regularly being caught in such long and infuriating jams.
So frequent are these on the A34 north of the Botley interchange — I saw another on the afternoon of October 2 that seems to have gone unreported — that one wonders why the 50mph limit, recently extended to the Wytham turn, does not continue as far as the M40.
It is to be earnestly hoped that the Department for Transport does not consider the A34 to be a “high standard, near-motorway dual carriageway”. Buried at the bottom of the press release mentioned earlier is the statement that the department is “also considering the case relating to the increasing the speed limit” on these.
Preventing lorries from overtaking by confining them to one lane — as has been done as an experiment on the A34, near East Ilsley — seems a good idea. Back in May, Didcot county councillor Bill Service suggested that the outside lane should be barred to lorries all the way along the road from the M4 to the M40.
A former lorry driver himself, he explained that overtaking trucks caused traffic to slow, frustrations to boil over and, ultimately, accidents to happen. “One brake light going on causes the concertina effect. — everything backs up, someone doesn’t see it, and then find themselves swerving to avoid a collision.”
Alas, his sensible suggestion was pooh-poohed by the Highways Agency. A spokesman said it would be impracticable: “You could get a whole string of HGVs stuck behind one very slow-moving vehicle.”
You know, I think I’d rather like to see that.
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