Tag Archives: Road safety

“It Says Take a Left Up This Impassable Mountain Track”

 
photo from Reuters

Apparently technology is making us so dumb we need signs to jolt us back to common sense. Reuters reports that Britain has started trials of special road signs warning “drivers about the dangers of trusting their satellite navigation devices (satnavs)”:

Some have reported that software glitches have sent drivers down one-way streets or up impassable mountain tracks.

One ambulance driver with a faulty satnav drove hundreds of miles in the wrong direction while transferring a patient from one hospital in Ilford east of London to another just eight miles away.

At what point, I wonder, did the ambulance driver think that perhaps he wasn’t taking the fastest route? The original story, according to The Times, involved the driver and his colleague driving

for eight hours before finally delivering the patient. After the equipment sent them north, they covered 215 miles in about four hours. The way back was only slightly shorter and took more than 3½ hours.

The device was reprogrammed, as were the two drivers. The Times comes up with a couple more examples:

Last month a woman dodged oncoming traffic for 14 miles after misreading her sat-nav system and driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway.Police said it was a miracle that no one was injured after the young woman joined the A3M, which links Portsmouth to London, on the southbound side — only to head north.

In September a taxi driver took two teenage girls 85 miles in the opposite direction after keying the wrong place name into his sat-nav. The girls asked to go to Lymington in the New Forest, Hampshire, but the driver tapped in Limington, Somerset.

I hear Somerset is very nice in September.

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Revenge of the Bollards

Is it a design fault, or is there some malice afoot in the Bollards War?

The UK city of Manchester has introduced something called ‘retractable bollards’ (non UK folk may call them posts) that sink into the ground when an approved vehicle approaches. (Sensors trigger the bollard’s retraction.) Great idea, right, since it means that buses and mail vans can get into pedestrian zones of the city but others can’t. The only problem is other drivers:

  • who assume that if a bus can get through, so can they; or who
  • try to cheat the system by sneaking through after the bus

This is what it looks like in action (thanks to Charles):

Now Manchester isn’t the first to try these bollards. Edinburgh ditched them last year after spending £150,000 when a local paper led a public outcry (I always love a good outcry.)

As you can see from the video, getting impaled on a bollard is not fun. They come back up as soon as the permitted vehicle has passed, so even the fastest driver isn’t going to have much luck. The Manchester Evening News reports some folk being taken to hospital and cars being written off. A 63-year old man died in Cambridge after crashing into one. This is all somewhat ironic given, according to another report in the paper, the bollards were introduced “on a trial basis because of the street’s high casualty rate.”

Surprisingly, many of those commenting support the bollards (variously spear bollards, rising bollards, those bollards, bollards from hell, and, inevitably, Never Mind the Bollards.) One points out the guy driving the SUV/4×4 is clearly trying to speed thro before the bollards come up. You can only imagine the conversation taking place as his partner grabs their kid and struts off (“Bollards! You bollarding idiot! I told you you’d never make through the bollarding bollards!”).

My tupennies’ worth: I think traffic maiming (as opposed to traffic calming) is a great idea but doesn’t go far enough. We need similar measures to punish, sorry deter, drivers who routinely flout the law and common decency. Why not, for example, deploy the retractable bollards elsewhere, like

  • the centre of a restricted parking space, so it would rise at the end of the designated period, impaling the vehicle if the driver had overstayed his alloted time;
  • at random points on the hard shoulder on toll roads/motorways so that cars illegally using it as a fast lane would be impaled,  or flipped over into an adjacent field

Where necessary, bollards could be replaced by other features such as

  • a mechanical arm, installed on the roadside and connected to a speed sensor, which would crush cars passing by too fast or too slow, depending on what irritated other drivers the most.
  • or cars driving through built-up areas too fast would be taken out by snipers deployed in trees/tall buildings. If necessary the snipers could be automated.
  • cars straddling two lanes or changing lanes without indicating first would be sliced in half by retractable blades intermittently rising out of the demarcating lines
  • motorbikes using the sidewalk (a particular bane in my neck of the woods) would risk having their tyres slashed by strips of spikes activated by the annoying sound of approaching underpowered Chinese-made engines.

Of course, there’s always a less, er, physical option. The retractable bollard contains a second sensor, which tells it that there’s a second, unauthorized vehicle passing over it. It doesn’t rise, but instead squirts evil-smelling goo onto the bottom of the car which renders the vehicle uninhabitable for at least a month. The driver is suitably chastened but no one dies.

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News: Turkmenistan Gets It Right

From the I Know This Puts Me in The Old Attila the Hun, Died In The Wool Conservative, Young Fogey department, a story from Turkmenistan that I can’t help feeling is a step in the right direction. News Central Asia reports (and thanks to TechDirt for pointing it out) that drivers in Turkmenistan are now forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, listen to loud music or use a mobile phone while driving their vehicles.

These restrictions were announced on 1 May 2003 under the presidential order “Rules of Traffic for Turkmenistan” but their release was delayed because the driver carrying the order from the Ministry of Defence was arrested for picking his nose on the way. (Actually I made that bit up. He was caught playing The Rubettes ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and singing the high bits, thereby also breaking another set of laws about mimicking strangled chickens while working heavy machinery. )

The government handout goes on (and all this is real if nCa is to be believed): These rules are meant to enforce contemporary world practices in Turkmenistan.

Part of the problem seems to be enforcement. The regular traffic police, which operated under the Ministry of the Interior, was liquidated last year for reasons I am not able to go into here, mainly because I am not an expert on Turkmenistan. They now work under the management of the ministry of defence which inducts military conscripts as traffic cops. This may not be unrelated to a new system of penalties to encourage people to conform to the laws. According to a system introduced in January, a traffic penalty must be paid within 12 hours, or by 8 am the next day if the ticket was issued after 6 pm the previous day. In case of failure to do so, the amount of penalty would double every 12 hours. After 72 hours, the vehicle would be confiscated and will remain in government custody until the fine is paid. “It has been noted with satisfaction that the [stricter] rules have brought good results; now there are fewer traffic incidents,” says the official statement. It probably also means there are no cars left on the road that don’t belong to the police. That the traffic police are all carrying grenade launchers also probably helps. (I made that bit up too.)

Now it only remains to be seen what happens with these new violations. I have to say I’m all in favour. I hate people eating while they’re driving, particularly if they’re on the phone. And especially if they’re drinking at the same time, AND listening to The Rubettes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.