Motorway Safety

The nine-day Police National Motorway Safety Campaign (sponsored by General Accident, which has a vested interest) ended on July 29. Any accident is tragic and deplorable, whether it involves road vehicles, railway trains, ships or aircraft, so we sincerely hope this campaign will have succeeded in reducing the number of motorway fatalities (248 in 1986, which in sordid terms cost some £83,737,200).

General Accident commissioned a Gallup Poll which consulted only 1018 (why the odd 18?) of the millions of people who use British motorways. The results implied that too many drive too fast, too close, lane-hogging and "nodding off', and most of these dangers were blown up out of proportion by publicity to which Derek Bell MBE contributed along with television's Tom O'Connor, radio's Derek Jameson and two MPs.

But too little emphasis was placed on fog, which is the main motorway killer alongside such hazards as three-lane carriageways merging into two lanes, headlamp-dazzle where no central shield has been erected, continual road repairs causing diversions, and antiquated approach-roads resulting in delays to drivers joining motorways and thereby encouraging subsequent high speed.

Keeping one's distance from the vehicle in front and adjusting speed to conditions were central to the safety campaign, together with "high-profile policing", which we hope will not be used as an excuse to use the latest radar equipment against safe fast drivers. If keeping cars apart were taken to extremes on the very roads which were designed for safe non-stop travel, our 1700 miles of motorway would soon seem more like 650 miles!

Safety regulations are already ludicrous. For example, rear-seat belting will soon become compulsory in cars, whereas cyclists are allowed to carry tiny tots who could be killed by merely falling from their machines.

The Gallup Poll became rather hysterical in places. It brought out the old chestnut of cars requiring servicing before any motorway journey, for instance (a naughty 37 per cent of owners admitted they did not check oil and water levels before a three-hour drive, which "gives the impression of being less concemed with car condition than getting somewhere as quickly as possible"); has no-one any faith in 6000-mile servicing?

We find it hard to believe, too, that one driver in three tends to 'nod off ' during two- to three-hour stints on motorways. But if this is true, surely it is the Ministry of Health, not the Department of Transport, which needs to investigate? Mr Gallup's interviewees apparently considered driving such a stint without a break quite a feat, but surely General Accident cannot be serious in advocating car-spotting games or "slapping your face" as a means of staying awake? Carphones, dangling dollies and smoking are hazardous enough as it is.

In fact, the poll came to the conclusion that younger and older drivers are the least safe, which does not leave many safe ones! Still, you will be reassured to know that lorry drivers are safest, followed closely by lady motorists. . .

For many years Motor Sport has campaigned for higher motorway speed-limits to prevent the dangerous bunching of traffic; our petition, led by Earl Howe and Graham Hill among others, came to the rescue at a time when a reduction in the limit was being contemplated. Some are glad to note that, in spite of the ardent consideration given to increasing safety, 56 per cent of the drivers Gallup consulted were in favour of an 80 mph limit. DoT please note.