Friday, 4 April 2014

Dear Mr McLoughlin, I want to tell you about driving in Germany ....

Dear Mr McLoughlin

Since you are Secretary of State for Transport in Her Majesty's Government, I thought you might like to read about my recent motoring trip to Germany.

I left Worthing early on a bright Sunday morning only to be quickly slowed to 40 mph (64 kmph) by Average Speed Check cameras on the A23 / M23 where rather indeterminate minor road improvements are being undertaken. The lanes remain wide and it is unclear why a 40 mph limit is necessary, over a stretch extending to several miles.

They do have road works in Germany, usually involving road building, but they don't use Average Speed Check cameras - ever. Instead of cameras the Germans slow traffic by narrowing the lanes and erecting low temporary barriers at the sides. This has the wonderful consequence of making you want to slow down, quite voluntarily. Normally, the reduced speed limit in these zones is 80 kmph (50 mph).

Of course, your cameras have the incidental advantage of producing a revenue stream from fines. The Germans don't seem to be into such things.

Onto the M25 as I head towards the Channel Tunnel. Here you have created major delays with 50 mph Average Speed Check cameras. You don't seem to be involved with road building. Instead, you are erecting giant electronic noticeboards at remarkably frequent intervals. These are being built to withstand a nuclear blast and must be very expensive to erect and maintain. Someone is onto a good thing.

As you know, their alleged purpose is to broadcast false and fatuous messages which irritate motorists: Queue Ahead, M 987 closed between Junctions 56 and 57, Animals in Road - and when all else fails, Don't Drink and Drive.

They don't have these signs on German motorways. Occasionally, they have advertising billboards which display pointed and effective Road Safety messages. These do make your expensive electronic efforts, limited to a few words and no pictures, look rather amateurish.

But then as I looked closer, I realised that these giant overhanging gantries along the M25 are festooned with cameras. Everywhere, cameras. I was puzzled. Why do you need so many? Are you working for GCHQ? Are you gathering intelligence on me as I progress towards the Channel Tunnel (and later, return home on the same route)? Should some other Department be paying for all this work which doesn't seem to have much to do with improving traffic flow or road safety?

It was such a relief to get onto the German motorway sytem. I drove from Aachen in the West to N├╝rnberg in the East. Open roads, relatively light traffic, evidence of more roads being built, no speed cameras - maybe one or two but not enough to cause the state of anxiety which driving in England causes - drivers behaving well unlike the angry English motorists, higher though variable speed limits (and, of course, no upper limit on some sections)

It's the No Upper Speed Limit which probably freaks out people in your Department. But the context for it is a motorway system where there is not a single limit like our 70 mph, applied everywhere day and night. Instead, in Germany the speed limits are variable - 100, 120, 130 kmph and then unlimited. Around busy junctions and interchanges, it drops to 100 kmph. On open roads outside urban areas, unlimited. Some limits apply only at night.

A few cars do drive very fast on the unlimited sections and you have to use your rear mirror to spot them coming. But on a motorway, you should be using your rear mirror anyway. Most motorists settle down to what seems appropriate to a stretch of modern motorway - 80, 90 or 100 mph. As a foreigner (and 66 years old) I limit myself now to a maximum 100 mph, which does not raise my stress level whereas crawling along your motorways does.

I think frustrated or angry drivers are dangerous. You seem determined to produce them.

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