Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Motoring abroad can drive you mad!

I'm not talking about road signs or even which side of the road one drives on, and I'm certainly avoiding the big subject of motoring politics as passions can run high once people start to debate government spending, pollution, the environment, the wider economy and our 21st century mobile society.

What I'm talking about is just the basic insanity of the way things are done on the roads in every country.

Take Spain for example. There is a new road section that was designated as a motorway. This was hyped as a way of speeding HGVs between two major cities. Predictably enough, the new motorway was immediately turned into a 'payable section' presumably to recover the cost and generate some profit. At face value this makes sense and seems fair - why shouldn't HGV's and other drivers pay a small amount in Euros to save them a lot of time?

The trouble is of course that many HGV drivers, or their companies, now don't use the motorway just to save those few Euros. What has happened is that all the HGVs now use a relatively small rural road that runs parallel to the new motorway and that goes through several villages and small towns. While the motorway sits largely empty, apart from some tourist traffic in season, the local road by contrast is a veritable death trap with 55 tonne, 15-metre long HGVs bumper-to-bumper in convoys that can sometimes stretch half a kilometre or more.

No prizes for guessing that this doesn't stop many drivers from attempting to overtake these vast long chains of HGVs with the all-too-often result that their cars end up reduced to a pile of dust. That's saying nothing about the near impossibility for pedestrians to cross some town centre roads now, as they've become a veritable continuous moving wall of HGVs.

It's hard to see a continuation of this situation as anything other than madness.

Such crazy situations are not the exclusive property of any single country. Take France as another example.

France has some of the best roads in Europe and some of the strictest driving rules including some of the lowest alcohol limits in the EU. Yet it also has one of the highest accident and fatality rates. The number killed on French roads each year is roughly double that of the UK.

Why is this? Well, for many decades people have claimed that driving standards in France, Spain and Italy were much lower than those in Northern Europe. Highly controversial stuff and I make no judgement, but it is interesting to see that the French government is now openly questioning the 'macho' and low-driving skill culture that accompanies much road use in France. They have even decided for the first time to introduce eyesight tests as part of the driving test following a case where someone almost totally blind was found to have passed.

Yet in all countries by focusing on the absurd the authorities continue to alienate the vast majority of road users of all types; including expats, who welcome sensible laws and restrictions. I know of one police random vehicle roadside check recently that fined a British expat because the screws that secured his number plate were plastic. Apparently they should have been metal. In another case an expat was fined because his wing mirror had a small crack in it and another got off with a stern warning because his licence plate on a towed trailer was not displayed at the correct minimum height.

In the case of the plastic screws the driver was told "if you live in our country you need to respect our laws". Nobody I hope would question that statement but in view of the totality of the challenge faced by global societies in the domain of transport policy and road safety, does this sort of action help anyone?

All over Europe these major road transport issues are of concern to people. I don't have the answers any more than anyone else but I am sure that cracking down hard on things such as plastic screws on number plates will play no part in the solution. What do you think? Do you have any experiences to share?

1 comment:

alcoholics said...

The government of France is doing a good job in enforcing their law on drink driving on the road. The allowable alcohol limit is only 0.05 mg/ml and that is the lowest in EU. The best advice for motorists is to never drink alcohol and drive while in France.