October 10, 2010

General Musings for the week - 10th October 2010

Today's musings will be a lot about driving.

Over the years I have done quite a lot of driving. I commuted regularly to work in the car when I lived abroad. In my earlier work years I had a job which involved a lot of driving around the country, and even now whilst filming I find myself behind the wheel of a vehicle on the way to set or studio.

The one thing that universally amazes me is the number of extremely incompetent drivers on the road.

It isn't just an English thing either, it is a worldwide thing. There are a large number of people on the road who should not have been given a driving license at all. I am convinced most of them got their license in a raffle.

Egypt was probably the worst. How they have never had a Formula One World Champion I don't know. The taxi's I took in Egypt on a business trip for two weeks had a switch for an accelerator ('on' or 'off') and never stopped at a single red stop light. In fact - conversely - the only light they did stop at was a green light on the way to the airport for the flight home!

But back home in England things are only slightly better. My main gripe is motorway driving.

Generally I am quite a placid driver. (This wasn't always the case, but age has mellowed me somewhat), I don't tend to mind too much when people ahead of me brake for no reason. I'm not too bothered if drivers tend to make turns without indicating, assuming I can sense they are wishing to turn through some application of 'The Force'.  I even give drivers a large amount of leeway at traffic lights when the light turns green and they sit contemplating their navel for a while before deciding to pull away.

But on the motorway I expect a certain level of competence.

Motorways are - by definition - areas of higher speed. There are fewer constrictions (and restrictions) in place and it is expected that traffic will move along at a reasonable rate. So why is it that many motorists take the attitude of 'I am doing the speed limit and therefore it doesn't matter if I am sitting in the outside lane'?

(At this point I must make a small semantic point to my non-UK based readers. I know in many countries (such as the USA) the concept of passing someone on both sides of the road is allowed. In the UK it isn't. Overtaking maneuvers can only be made to the driver's side of the car in front (i.e. the right). Doing otherwise is considered an offence).

Study after study has shown (and the UK's Institute of Advanced Driving has agreed) that traffic flow on motorways would be greatly improved if people stayed in the furthest left hand lane whenever possible). The problem with this is that many drivers in the UK equate this with 'The Slow Lane'. It is deemed to be the lane that the goods vehicles use and should be left for them alone. As a result a large number of UK drivers will sit in the middle lane of a three lane motorway doing a few mph below the mandated 70mph speed limit. They will do this even though the inside lane may be completely empty.  This - coupled with the law forbidding passing someone to the left - means that traffic is then squeezed into the extreme right hand lane to pass the car in the middle lane. At heavy traffic periods this results in tailbacks, slow downs and traffic jams. All because someone didn't have the intelligence to move to the empty left hand lane.

Generally when I am driving I will keep as far to the left as possible. When I approach a car that is in the middle lane I will indicate, pull out behind it, then pull to the right of it, over take it and pull back across to the empty left and lane and continue. In about 50% of the cases the driver in the middle lane will then realise that he/she is being an idiot and move across to the left hand lane. But in 50% of the cases they won't. Oftentimes it's because they are driving whilst talking on their mobile phone - something else which is banned in the UK.

My route to work at the moment takes my onto the M25. Normally the M25 suffers from appalling traffic problems - many of which are as a result of the phenomenon I am describing here - but at the time I drive it (5.30am), traffic is usually fairly light. Most of the M25 that I travel on is, in fact, 4 or 5 lanes wide. And guess what? People still sit in the middle lane (or the one immediately to the left of the outside lane) and cause the same issue! In that case you have two or even three empty lanes of traffic with a line of cars in the right hand lane waiting to overtake a slow moving vehicle.

Many years ago I was on an urban bypass (which is usually a dual-carriageway road with two lanes either side of the carriageway). The road was empty apart from myself and a police cruiser who was about 600yds ahead of me. The police in the UK always stay left and always cruise at speeds of 5 to 10mph below the speed limit, this encourages people to keep their speed down as, psychologically, nobody likes overtaking a police car. I checked my speed, knew I was still legal and pulled out to pass. Through a combination of reasons I found myself sitting in the 'passing lane' for about 1 mile as I attempted to pass the police car. After a while the police car noticed this and flashed a warning message in his rear window (a neat little idea, LED scrolling message panels) "Stay left, please", it said. Why can't we have more of this on the motorways?

Surely it isn't beyond the whit of man to educate about (and enforce) a practice which states that driving in any lane other then the extreme right hand lane is unacceptable unless passing traffic ahead? They seem to have done it in Germany where the passing lanes are miraculously empty even on two lane autobahns.

Or am I wrong?

In other news the laws governing street racing in the UK are to be relaxed. This could pave the way for city centre based races and broaden the appeal of motor racing in the UK. Would love to see a race around my local town - it has roundabouts everywhere! Alternatively Bernie Ecclestone's dream of a London F1 race comes a step closer.

Video of the week. The trailer of the new Simon Pegg/John Landis film 'Burke and Hare' is now on-line. The movie opens here in the UK in a matter of weeks so the lateness of the trailer is a little surprising. However it looks very funny - and I'm in there in a couple of places!

BONUS: This post is being released at 10:10 am on 10/10/10 (UK time). I like that.

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