Motorway menace: are you guilty as charged?

You know that stat about motorways being far and away the safest roads on which to drive? Turns out it could be a lot more to do with luck than judgement.
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Brake, the road safety charity, has unearthed some discomforting stats: six in 10 UK drivers indulge in risky tailgating – driving way too close to the car in front – while a similar number break the speed limit by 10mph or more on motorways and 70mph dual carriageways. But while the majority of us ’fess up to tailgating – which can land you with a £100 on-the-spot fine – almost all of us are worried about being on the receiving end: 95% are at least occasionally concerned about vehicles too close behind them.

Safety concerns

Brake – which carried out the research with insurer Direct Line – is urging all drivers to keep at least a two-second gap between themselves and the vehicle in front, extending this to four seconds or more in wet weather or poor visibility – on all roads, not just motorways. It says drivers should also keep within the posted speed limit at all times, including temporary and variable limits. Brake recently backed government plans to roll out speed cameras on stretches of so-called ‘smart’ motorways. It wants ‘average speed’ cameras to be installed across the motorway network.
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Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “Almost all drivers are concerned about the danger posed by other people tailgating on motorways, and yet a shockingly high proportion admits to driving too close and speeding themselves. “There are no two ways about it: ignore the two-second rule or the speed limit on motorways and you’re putting yourself and others at risk of a horrific crash. Traffic laws are not just for other people: all drivers can help make our motorways safer and prevent needless tragedies by committing to keep your distance and stay under speed limits, including temporary lower limits.” Simon Sheldon-Wilson, traffic management director at the Highways Agency, said: “Safety is our top priority and we are committed to continuing to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. “Congestion on the strategic road network is estimated to cost the economy £3 billion each year, 25% of which is caused by incidents. That’s why we remind drivers of the dangers of tailgating and support Brake's advice to keep a safe distance from the car in front and to adhere to fixed and variable speed limits.”

M-way manoeuvres

Motorways have lower crash rates per mile travelled than other road types thanks to the way they are designed and the fact there are fewer unexpected hazards,
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But when crashes happen, fatalities are more likely because of the high speeds involved. Crashes on 70mph roads are more than twice as likely to result in death as crashes on roads with lower speed limits. Total stopping distance if you slam on the breaks at 70mph is 96m – longer than a football pitch. You’ll travel 21 metres in the second it takes for you to decide to brake and your foot hitting the pedal. At 80mph, though, stopping distances are 27% greater than at 70mph (make that 122m rather than 96m). And, it seems, speed kills. In the USA, states that raised limits from 65mph to 75mph saw death rates rise by 38% on the roads concerned. And in case you want to cite Germany’s no-limit autobahns as an example of motoring Elysium, note that the death rate on these roads that is 75% higher than comparable roads in the UK. Higher speeds on motorways lead to increased fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Vehicles travelling at 80mph use 10-20% more fuel than those travelling at 70mph. So what’s your thinking about bad driving, motorway safety and possible solutions? Let us know in the box below!

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