European countries have found remedies we could usefully considerby Mary Dejevsky / August 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
Earlier in the summer my family and I took a road trip across Europe to Ljubljana and back, and there were perilous sections along the way—some adventurous Italian overtaking in the Aosta Valley; a lot of jockeying on the Milan ring-road; pot-holes and fickle signposting in “new” Europe. But the scariest bit of all was the section of the home stretch from the Channel Tunnel to the M25.
Now that might come as a surprise to those used to regarding the UK’s roads as some of the safest in the world. But there is one reason why the M20 feels so dangerous, and this is the preponderance of lorries, especially foreign lorries, whose drivers flaunt a variety of national driving styles, while seemingly sharing a disregard for the rules of the road.
The anarchy that evening was terrifying. In so far as the blinding evening sun allowed, I observed lorries exceeding 70mph (forget the 56mph speed limiters they are supposed to use); pulling out with scant or no indication; overtaking each other on up gradients, only to tail-gate each other and cars on the way down. The mostly British-registered passenger cars mixed up in all this were outnumbered, outweighed (by a lot) and outmanoeuvred, as they tried just to keep out of the way.
Avoidance, though, is not always good enough, as I know to my cost. I was driving on the same motorway in January, when our car was hit by a lorry that pulled out without warning. Astonishingly, thanks to good brakes, laminated glass and the capsule-like protection built in to most modern cars—we were both unscathed.
But by no means is everyone so lucky. Figures for 2015 show that almost one in four car-lorry crashes result in serious injury or fatality, compared with one in eight of other crashes. Staff at the Kent hotel where we spent the night said that such accidents as ours occur with sickening regularity. Depending precisely which part of your car is hit, you end up either on the hard shoulder (like our car) or smashed into the central reservation, with much more serious consequences.
They also confirmed my impression that the police take little interest unless there are injuries, while insurance companies prefer to settle for no fault because of the expense of pursuing a foreign driver. As for preventative measures, the safest solution—a complete separation between heavy goods vehicles and cars—is not going to happen because of space constraints and expense.