Sign of the times

As our roads have become increasingly crowded and standards appear to have dropped, while driving is now more an act of survival than an enjoyable experience. Examples of selfish behavior are everywhere, from failing to indicate and blatant bullying to lapses in observation and criminal acts of lane hogging.

It’s this latter ‘activity’ that’s a significant contributor to the gridlock on our motorways. Once smooth flowing, most highways have been reduced to choked two-lane roads with an extra hard shoulder. When was the last time you saw the ‘slow lane’ being used properly?

And yet, for all the flashy electronic signs that now litter the motorway network, how many are doing more than displaying nonsense about a phantom hold-up 20 miles away? There might be the occasional ‘Watch your speed’ or ‘Keep your distance’ but you’ll rarely see the lesser spotted ‘Keep left after overtaking’. The faceless operators behind the system can’t even be bothered to turn the signs into giant clocks – at least the French offer that basic service on their roads.

But why bother supplying genuinely useful information when you can beat the road user over the head with more eco nonsense dressed up as so-called helpful public service announcements. Next time you’re stuck in a queue that nearby oversized electronic waste of space could be telling you that you should have taken a train.

Granted it’s only a suggestion at this stage, but don’t forget that the Millennium Dome was once ‘only a suggestion’. And bidding for the 2012 Olympics. And onshore wind farms.

It’s not as if we choose to get stuck in a traffic jam, is it? I don’t go out on a weekday searching out a good, long motorway tailback just for fun. I, no doubt like the rest of the travelling country, want to get from A to B with the minimum of hassle. People demonstrating good motorway lane discipline would help this cause, as would road works with evidence of people, you know, working would also be nice.

So to have this wagging finger, albeit in digital form, ticking me off for supposedly being part of the problem and not the solution really isn’t helpful. If the car I was in had a spare wheel and not one of those useless puncture repair kits I’d be hurling it at that dumb electronic screen. And I doubt I’d be the only one.

There are many reasons why I choose a car over a train; I like the comfort of a car on long journeys, the ability to stop when I choose for a break and that, barring mechanical difficulties, I can control the pace and dictate my arrival time. Cost is another obvious factor. That peak time rail travel is arm-and-leg territory and off peak travel can be patchy or slow are the final nails in the coffin.

All of which brings me to the conclusion that those in power, despite what they say in public, are trying to make driving socially unacceptable. It’s clear that artificially high fuel prices have reduced some travel but people haven’t stopped completely, so the polar bear huggers are trying the emotional blackmail route.

It’s not going to work – at least for me. Not because I’m some clichéd motoring hack dinosaur that’d rather walk than share a carriage with the great unwashed. No, it’s because the alternatives to the motorcar still can’t match it for convenience, flexibility and cost. Swapping the stick for a carrot approach from Government would be a start, too.

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