DESPITE the explosion in urban traffic calming in recent years, it’s well known in road safety circles that rural roads present a bigger danger. The higher speed limits and varying road conditions have greater potential to wrong-foot drivers.
Unlike in cities where considerable sums of money have been spent on speed humps, chicanes and other such evil devices, out in the sticks the measures are often no more advanced than a motion sensing sign that flashes up the speed limit or warns you of a bend or junction.
As annoying as theses blunt instruments are, and doubly so at night when you’ve been momentarily blinded by the flashing signs, enforcement has until now been limited to traditional speed checks and the patchy placement of localised average speed camera networks.
Regarding the latter, you’ve no doubt seen an arrow-straight country A or B-road punctuated by a few miles of average speed cameras. The limit is usually woefully low for the conditions and everyone is bunched up together in frustration. In reality this is little more than a sticking plaster for a much larger issue: few people appear to know how to drive responsibly on rural roads.
It’s with worrying regularity that local news outlets report on single vehicle accidents on country roads. The upturned car in a ditch and car versus tree or dry stone wall scenario are sadly all too common. Worse still is the two car collision resulting from a botched overtaking manoeuvre. Again illustrating that it’s not necessarily speed that kills but a simple lack of skill.
So what is the big new idea from those in power to reduce the accidents? It’s been decided that more speed cameras and even lower rural speed limits will be the new master plan. Worse still, those in Whitehall have given local authorities increased responsibility for devising their own policies.
When some local authorities can’t even get the legal maximum height of a speed hump right or fail to provide adequate signage to flag up a speed limit, what hope is their for a sensible approach to reducing casualties? If left unchecked by genuine experts who really know what works and what doesn’t, there’s every chance that we’ll see mile after mile of otherwise safe roads neutered by 30 and 40mph limits, Average speed cameras planted like trees in a sustainable forest and retina-burning flashing signs on every bend.
And don’t forget that this thinly veiled safety programme -the real motive is to slow traffic to a crawl – will cost considerable sums of money. But it will happen, and it will be at the expense of arresting the crumbling state of the road network, clearing trees from obscuring road signs and improving sight lines at junctions and bends. That mid corner pothole destined to unseat a motorcyclist will still be there long after the last speed camera has been installed, and the once gleaming cats eye lane markers will remain filthy for at least another year or five.
Of course, the better long term solution would be to invest more in driver training and education. Raising standards would go a long way to eliminating many of our current problems, but as long as drivers believe they are entitled to a licence as opposed to it being something you earn little will change. Yes the programme would cost money, but the human cost would reduce as more drivers kept it on the Tarmac. The current policy of slowing everyone down to the level of the least skilled only leads to resentment from those who take driving seriously and opens the door to wandering minds as we trundle along in a speed limit induced coma.