This week has been a pretty bad one on the roads of mid-Wales. In one incident on Friday, four people were killed in a two-car collision. Hours earlier, an elderly lady was killed in another incident in the same county. Today, there has been another collision serious enough to close the road just a few miles from our house – no news on casualties yet. Looks like it was around the area where five family members were killed in a collision not all that long ago.
It’s very easy to get blasé about the dangers of cars. We’re told that cars are safer than ever, and modern cars really are very good at masking the speed with which you are travelling. 60mph just does not feel scarily brisk. Try doing 60mph in an Austin Seven, or on a pushbike downhill, and you realise that 60mph really is pretty bloody fast.
Also, those of us who like to drive quickly can get frustrated by slow moving traffic, which means it’s far too easy to take risks. You end up judging an overtake not on the evidence of your own eyes, but with a dose of risk involved. “The road will probably stay clear, so I’ll be ok.”
I know this, because I’ve done it. Once, I almost paid the price for it too. We’re only on about a couple of years ago, when an overtake I’d attempted in my Rover 416SLi went horribly wrong. My expectation of the vehicle was entirely unrelated to the reality, and it just didn’t accelerate as quickly as I’d expected, which left me exposed to danger for far too long. The flashing lights of the van rapidly approaching me suggested he agreed with this diagnosis. I can’t blame him for being pissed off. I would have been. I gave myself a dressing down and it’s telling that the experience still looms large in my mind.
Yet I’ve seen people tackle completely ludicrous overtakes, in entirely the wrong situation. They get away with it due to nothing more than luck. The problem with luck is that it can run out, and you’ll be taking someone else’s lives with you when it does.
Not that all the accidents on our roads are necessarily caused by overtaking. That’s an assumption due to the stupid behaviour I have witnessed. It only takes a moment’s inattention from even a very competent driver and all hell can break loose. A message arrives on the phone (distracting even if you don’t read it, which obviously you shouldn’t), or the CD needs changing, or noisy children interrupt your concentration. I’m sure we’ve all been there, and had to make a hasty correction as the wheels clip a rumble strip or thump the cats eyes.
It’s especially easy to get distracted when you’re in mid-Wales too. The scenery here is beautiful. Here’s the thing though, you can always pull over for a better view of it.
It really does worry me, because roads can very quickly get labelled as ‘unsafe.’ The A44 attracts this comment all of the time. The road is NOT unsafe. Thousands of people manage to drive along it every day without having an accident. Inattention is unsafe. It’s a failure to read the road and conditions that will cause the collision, not the road itself.
At the rate we’re going, the authorities may feel compelled to take action. Already, one section has been made 30mph, though folk seem pretty keen on ignoring that. I got overtaken through that section the other day, even though I may have been doing slightly more than 30 myself (not very much more I’ll concede). But that’s what can happen, which immediately makes the road less enjoyable to drive.
It’s entirely possible to drive this road at no more than the legal speed limit and have a very jolly time, but it does require a lot of concentration and consideration for other road users. If there’s a stream of traffic, then you have to accept that you’ll be travelling more slowly. That’s ok. There’s always another day. Unless you take ridiculous risks, in which case that might not be true.