Idiots on the Roads

This rant may well be more specific to the UK than the rest of the world, but as 32% of the visitors to this site are Brits, I can live with that :-). As I have mentioned, or at least alluded to, previously, I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks driving up and down the UK’s motorways. This seems to have given me an insight into how truly awful most people are when it comes to driving.

In the south of England, I am actually now convinced less than 10% of the population have even passed a driving test. The stereotype of BMW drivers never bothering to indicate, let alone give way or maintain lane discipline, is massively accurate but needs to be expanded to include pretty much every second car on the road.

I could (almost) understand such lax habits on quiet country lanes where few (if any) cars will be going over 30MPH. It truly amazes me when people are driving like this in heavy traffic at speeds in excess of 70MPH (we wont discuss speed limits here…).

Picking today as a lone example, sadly this has been pretty much the same thing every single day for the last month, I could drag a million examples of people who are only still alive because the cars around them are better drivers than you could hope for.

This morning, I had the pleasure of driving to London, round the M25 (which is truly an example of what hell must look like) and then on to some semi-rural “A” roads. The journey to London was quiet until I got to within about 20 – 30 miles from the M25. Most days, I managed to crack 2/3 of the journey in under 1/4 of the time and today was no different.

As you get closer to London, the nutters appear on the roads. The more “normal” ones include the dozens of people chatting on their phones, while weaving through traffic at speeds in excess of 90MPH. Despite some news reports last year I only saw one woman putting make up on while she was driving and the gender mix of crap drivers was pretty much 50:50.

One of the most infuriating things for me is driving along at 80MPH, suddenly braking down to zero. Waiting 4-5 seconds then accelerating away again back up to 80. This happens pretty much every five minutes. Madness. To this day I do not know what causes this, but I have a few ideas.

Driving a long in heavy, yet fast moving, traffic, lots of people try to maintain a bit of distance between them and the car in front. The Driving Standards Agency advocate the “two second rule” which is supposed to keep you at least “2 seconds” away from the car in front, which allows for thinking / reaction time in the event of an accident / emergency.

This causes a bit of a problem for some people though. A lot of drivers on the road are monstrously impatient. When the traffic is heavy, each lane will sometimes seem to move faster or slower than the one you are in. In the great scheme of things (unless there is a lane closure ahead…) this is illusory with little difference made until the traffic thins out a bit. This does not deter some people. When they sit in the centre lane (*), every now and then they will see one of the other lanes move faster. For these, wonderful drivers that they are, this is too tempting to resist. Using the space provided by more cautious drivers (the two second gap, even at a paltry 50MPH, is a fair distance…), they switch to what ever lane seems fastest. This tends to cause the more cautious driver to slow down (often quite quickly!) so the gap between cars can increase again. The wonders of the concertina effect then take over and each car behind has to slow down (with varying degrees of “sharpness”). As this ripples back over more and more cars, the braking required becomes larger and larger until the lane stops for a moment or two. At which point, the impatient cars behind do a lane switch and the effect hits a different lane.

This tedious, annoying, tendency managed to make a 30 mile drive on a four lane motorway (four lanes in each direction) take me almost 90 minutes today. It also gave me an insight into why guns are banned in the UK…

Sadly, the alternative is cars driving bumper to bumper and this happens a lot. This is worse. In this case, the slightest distraction causes accidents – which, at motorway speeds, are pretty likely to involve someone dying. On my return journey today, similar traffic conditions to the outbound one, I passed six accidents over an 83.5 mile stretch. Four of these were recent enough that the ambulances and fire crews were on site, all delayed traffic by a phenomenal amount. The 83.5 mile journey ended up taking over four hours, when all but 12 miles were on Motorways… All in all, though, it was a pretty normal road state for a bank holiday weekend. (For those outside the UK, we use “Bank Holiday” to mean a weekend, where we get Monday off, the weather will invariably be crap – no matter how good it was the week previously – and people who can barely get their car off their drive decide to travel from one end of the country to the next)

Loathe though I am to advocate greater policing and the like, I have noticed that when the police have lots of patrol cars on the motorways the flow is massively improved. If the police had the manpower to put a patrol car every 10 miles on the motorways, I think there would never be any traffic jams or accidents! (Nor would people be hammering along at 100MPH to make up for the previous delays………)

Still, at least I have got that off my chest now. I wont go on about the man (who looked like the mole man of the simpsons) driving at 60 in the outside lane even though the other two lanes were empty, nor will I complain about the van driver who was tailgating cars at 70MPH, then when they moved out the way he stayed at the same speed… As soon as they invent cars with lasers to vapourise the car in front, I will be a happy person!

(*) As the centre lane is actually an overtaking lane not a driving lane, there are many other things I could rant about, but (for now) I wont…

8 thoughts on “Idiots on the Roads

  1. I think you’ve provided an excellent description of one possible cause of that brake-sharply-accelerate-to-80 stop-and-start on highways…..I’m keeping this for future reference.

    FWIW, I live just south of Aberdeen, and trust me, the driving up here is pretty scary too. More and more in just the last year (and I am sure this is not just confirmation bias!) Aberdeen drivers seem to have started regarding stopping at red lights as being optional, for example. And indicator lights are evidently for *other* people to use, too…not these drivers.

  2. MPH? are you guys still not done with your metrification yet? This leaves little hope for me to see it happen in my lifetime in the US.

    Anyway, this is certainly not unique to the UK. I could write mountains about the people who don’t understand that the left lane is for passing, not squatting (in your SUV, while talking on your cell phone), only to cut across 3 lanes when it’s time to exit.

  3. Luna: Indicators could have me ranting for weeks! Maybe it is not just “southerners” (although I ridicule them every chance I get…) who are terrible drivers but any one who lives / works around a big city?

    Chris: Thank you for reassuring me the UK was not alone in being populated with idiots and suicidal maniacs. As for going metric, we seem stuck in an odd situation, where both systems are used in an almost arbitrary fashion. I think it is unlikely we will go to metric road speeds in my lifetime though…

  4. Heh, yeah, the cognitive dissonance of figuring out my car’s mileage-per-liter has not escaped me.

    Trust me, TW, it’s not just southerners — although I’ll grant you, the most scared I have ever been on UK roads was in Alderley Edge. That was worse than driving in Boston.

    Drivers in Boston, incidentally, seem to have a fairly straightforward philosophy. Drivers at point A wish to be at point C, and it is totally the responsibility of any drivers in points B1, B2, etc. to just get out of their way. o_O

  5. Gee, that sounds so crowded that maybe the following technique won’t work.

    Maybe the following story will reduce the problem and discourage the tailgaters. I agree with you about moviing over. We have a 12 mile stretch of two lane road through mountains with grades and turns. I pull over even if it means pulling into a driveway where I have to come to a complete stop.

    Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad trucks ?

    Great story ! The other day a guy driving an oxygen delivery truck who was sick and tired of his job and sick and tired of big monster pickup trucks tailgating him came up with a solution as he set out for his last run.

    He rigged up a release valve trigger for several of the large tanks, so that the resultant cloud of oxygen would go directly backwards into the grille of the offending truck.

    When the pure oxygen went into the air intake of the trucks he sucker-baited, the mix was so rich and powerful that the trucks blew up their engines. I heard he managed to blow up at least four or five before he ran out of oxygen. Being a good guy, he still made his deliveries to his patients of their normal requirements.

  6. While I am loathed to see more police on the roads I’m sure it’s going to have to become necessary in order to reduce the increasing number of knuckle dragging morons that appear to be allowed to drive.

    I would like to see the introduction of instant driving bans for even the most minor of driving offences and roadside beatings for some of the more serious. Repeat offenders should be shackled to nearby lamp posts and any member of the public should be allowed kick them in the head.

    I would also advocate that those drivers that stick to speed limits and obey the rules of the road should be allowed to fit forward facing cannons to their vehicles.

Comments are closed.