Overtaking lorries are an underlying menace

What is the single biggest hazard that motorists face? The never-ending roadworks? The constant diversion signs? Boredom caused by the streams of fatalistic, slow-moving traffic crawling along perfectly serviceable major roads, apparently under the illusion that this is all they can do?I am a bit suspicious about the roadworks, largely because they always take so long, so few people seem to be working on them, and the coned-off sections tend to be three times as lengthy as they need be.

What is the single biggest hazard that motorists face? The never-ending roadworks? The constant diversion signs? Boredom caused by the streams of fatalistic, slow-moving traffic crawling along perfectly serviceable major roads, apparently under the illusion that this is all they can do?

I am a bit suspicious about the roadworks, largely because they always take so long, so few people seem to be working on them, and the coned-off sections tend to be three times as lengthy as they need be. Is there a conspiracy to make use of our roads so unpleasant that we will avoid using them as much as possible?

Ridiculous, you say. Still, one of the inspectors to the secretary of state for transport recently recommended refusal of the planned Thames Gateway Bridge because “it might encourage people to travel”. Perhaps this is an example of a more general principle at the heart of Whitehall. The diversion signs are more of a mystery. They are everywhere, and proliferate even on the rare occasions when you are not being diverted. I can only assume that someone made far too many of them, and they were sold to highways authorities on the cheap.

The other week my esteemed colleague Charles Roberts, now resident in France, pinpointed the dangers caused by heavy lorries tailgating him aggressively when he was going as fast as he was legally allowed to.

This is a problem here too, largely because the speed limits are hopelessly out of sync with what is safe. Here the tailgater is less likely to be a heavy lorry than one of those oversized vans that know exactly where the speed cameras are.

There is a different problem with heavy lorries in this country, and after driving over 500 miles in a couple of days last week it is my nomination for Single Biggest Hazard.

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It manifests itself most often on dual carriageways. A heavy lorry comes up behind another HGV, which is going very slightly more slowly. It signals and pulls into the right-hand lane. This is done regardless of what may be coming up behind in the faster lane, how dangerous the manoeuvre is and - critically - how long it is going to take to overtake the other HGV.

When I was taught to drive, and for many years afterwards, we did not overtake if someone coming up behind was moving faster than us. It was not only dangerous but inconsiderate.

The result of the dramatic change of attitude is that the right-hand lane of dual carriageways becomes packed with vehicles that would like to go faster but are blocked by an HGV struggling to overtake another HGV.

The lorry being overtaken could slow slightly to ease progress, but I have never seen it happen. Mile after mile they drive along,

blocking both lanes until one manages to edge just enough in front to go back into the slower lane - if you're lucky.

To make matters worse, because a queue develops in the outside lane, waiting to overtake, other drivers undertake and then try to slip into the outside lane, causing further delays.

As well as being extremely irritating and thus provoking accidents through frustration, this whole procedure is highly dangerous of itself. But why should HGV drivers worry? If they collide with a car, they're not very likely to get hurt.

I apologise to considerate lorry drivers if this upsets them. But there seem to be fewer and fewer of them about. The defining mark today is selfishness - and rank bad driving.

If we were serious about road safety, this sort of behaviour would be top of the list for elimination. But we're not, are we?

IT'S BLACK TO BASICS FOR GETTING THE MESSAGE ACROSS

Following the fiasco over Great Yarmouth's giant hi-tech street screens, described as a “catalogue of errors” by councillor Trevor Wainwright and in more graphic terms by many other people, it is believed that the town is going for something even more ambitious.

A secret working party is working secretly on a plan to install large blackboards in place of the screens. This will enable important

messages to citizens and visitors to be chalked up on a regular basis by dedicated blackboard operatives, as they would be known.

Len “Kissme” Hardy, a consultant, said this would avoid all the problems inherent in anything hi-tech.

There would be no batteries needed, and they were going to be using state-of-the-art chalk that was eco-friendly and virtually carbon-neutral.

Asked if there might be difficulties for the blackboard operatives in reaching the screens, Mr Hardy said they also had the latest ladders, although there were obviously health-and-safety issues.

“Of course we won't be able to use them in the rain,” he added.

“But I don't see that as a problem. We will have insurance.”

Mr Hardy said the real attraction of the scheme, apart from its simplicity, was the fact that it could be set up in such a way that no-one would be able to find out who was responsible if it went wrong. “Of course, that's been done before,” he said. “But it's tried and tested. You have my personal guarantee.”

A SHUT AND OPEN CASE

A spokesman for Houseago Inc, the world-famous Norfolk diversification corporation, said last night that the discovery near Erpingham of warehouses full of suitcases packed with holiday wear and sun cream were “nothing to do with us”.

He admitted that while it was true that millions of items of luggage went missing from airlines every year, there was no connection between that and the lucrative secondhand clothes operation recently included in the Houseago portfolio.

“We have our own suppliers,” he claimed. “Some of the items are very high quality - almost new. We're also moving into making and distributing our own sun protection lines, though our supply line on that is a bit shaky at the moment.

“But our sealable clear plastic bags go down very well.”

Investigation into ownership of the Erpingham warehouses is planned, but has not taken off yet.

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