Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Quicker = safer

I like to drive fast, but that doesn't mean I leave my brain at home and mow down everything in my way. Getting safely out of my car at the end of the day is as important to me as it is to anyone else. But I'd argue my commitment to fast driving improves my safety.

I'll only go quickly when it's clear to do so. But in constantly trying to go as quick as conditions permit, I am totally focused and when at the wheel, my mind doesn't wander and my attention doesn't stray. There's no 'what am I going to have for dinner?' or 'wasn't that show funny'. I'm scanning the environment.

I'm checking out the road surface for broken tarmac, gravel, mud, leaves, frost or black ice. I'm on the look out for possible obstructions or hazards, trying to anticipate anything: is that car going to pull out? do those wheelie bins mean there's a slow moving refuse truck up ahead? Is that van a mobile speed camera? Can I see the verges clearly enough to be sure a deer isn't going to run out unexpectedly? There's a lot to think about and that's only possible with total concentration.

My car doesn't get treated as a take-it-for-granted appliance. I keep it in tip top mechanical condition - I won't be caught dead with under inflated tyres unlike the hundreds I spot every day.

Of course, the quicker you go, the faster you need to respond, but the slower the speed, the longer and more tedious the journey, and the more likely the driver is to get distracted. I'd much rather the roads were full of switched-on drivers who take a pride in their car control, than a herd of multi-tasking zombies with the cruise control set at sixty.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Speed Cameras

As a keen driver it pains me to admit I don't actually mind speed cameras. I certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for their introduction and I welcome the installation of every new one I encounter with the same level of enthusiasm as I would a pile of dog shit or piece of graffiti. But, I admit that they can be useful.

Used correctly they make school crossings, urban areas and dangerous roads safer places. If I fail to notice a nine-foot high yellow camera in plain view, chances are I wouldn't see a kid playing by the roadside either, and I think it would be fair to say I was too distracted, blind, unimaginative or stupid to be piloting a car-shaped missile.

The one problem cameras do cause, especially on faster roads like dual carriageways, is panic braking where drivers notice at the last minute and hit the brakes sharply, or brake automatically just because they've seen a camera. This often causes the following driver to increase the distance between themselves and the car in front so they brake too, and on a busy road the knock on effect of this is a chain of over-braking. If one driver isn't paying attention, or simply runs out of room because everyone has been driving too closely, someone gets rear ended.

I used to notice it regularly on the A14, where there are many cameras, causing the flow of traffic to repeatedly come to a stand still, and regular jams while the frequent accidents were cleared.

A new system of SPECs cameras which monitor average speed is operating on the A14 now and it has largely eliminated the stop/start issue and accidents are far less frequent. The camera partnerships probably don't make quite so much money but the A14 is a faster moving, safer bit of road to use.

Mobile camera units and hidden speed cameras on the other hand are the devil's work. I'm sure they make lots more money, but I see lots of panic braking and near misses as a result. Their occasional presence does not create a safer environment, they simply extract a toll for shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted.