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About A Week: A Land In A Jam

Britain is now the land of the traffic jam - and there’s no relief in sight, says Peter Hinchliffe.

Yellow “eyes’’ are watching me as I drive along Wakefield Road towards the town centre.

Yellow “eyes’’ now survey most of the major roads in every town and city, helping to ensure that drivers do not exceed the speed limits.

Some motorists resent being spied on. Speed cameras have been damaged or destroyed. A minority of drivers behave as though they have a right to choose their speed on any road.

But the majority of motorists have got the message. Traffic speeds have declined in urban areas - and so has the number of accidents.

Unfortunately the speed cameras have resulted in new bad driving habits.

A series of white lines are painted on the road surface near each speed camera. The sophisticated “spying’’ equipment measures the speed at which a vehicle passes over these lines.

Some drivers - let’s be honest, the majority of drivers - have acquired the habit of braking down to 29 miles an hour as they travel over the lines, then speeding up again to well beyond the 30 mph limit.

Britain still has the lowest number of road deaths and injuries of any country in Europe, though we Brits are no longer the law abiding driving nation that we once were.

A red traffic light used to mean stop. That’s no longer the case for some road rebels. They take the sequence of traffic lights changing from green to red as an open invitation to stamp down hard on the accelerator.

On almost any journey these days you are sure to see at least one idiot failing to obey the command of a red stop light.

Maybe the frustration of contending with roads which become busier by the day is leading to an increase in bad driving behaviour.

In my teens and twenties I dreamed of the freedom of the open road. Of owning an MG sports car and driving open-topped through the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales, with the breeze fluttering my hair as I sped with a sporty roar through Settle, Starbotton and Sedburgh.

On sunny weekends those Dales roads are now chock-a-block with stationary vehicles. Sweating, frustrated drivers drum their fingers inside each chunk of go-nowhere metal.

A recent reply to an MP’s question in Parliament revealed that there are now 29,676,258 motor vehicles in Britain. On many a rush-hour morning it seems as though all of them are trying to get into our town centre at the same time.

Many a car now has to live all its life outdoors in Britain. The builders who put up row upon row of sturdy stone houses never dreamed that their residents would one day own cars.

Most folk used to make do with buses and push-bikes. Now they are affluent enough to run second-hand Jags and BMWs, and the streets and lanes where they live have become crowded car parks.

Road boffins are now working on schemes to permanently clip the wings of speeding motorists. An answer could be found here in Yorkshire.

Trials took place in Leeds of a device that detects the speed limit then automatically applies the brakes of a car to prevent speeding.

The Government put up £2 million to finance the trials and is considering ordering manufacturers to fit the device to all new cars within a decade.

Speeding motorists are becoming a beleaguered species. But it will be a far more difficult task to tempt folk who relish the freedom provided by car ownership to return to regularly using public transport.

For years and years to come the UK will be the land of the traffic jam.


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