September 26, 2016

Just calling someone or something something doesn’t necessarily make them that something. If you see what we mean.

Is Greenland green? Are silverfish fish? Are electric eels eels? Are black box recorders black? Is tin foil made of tin? Are sweetbreads breads? Are they even particularly sweet? Was Little John Little? Is Bankstone News news?

One potential addition to our brief list of things that aren’t exactly as described on the tin might be so-called smart motorways.

To qualify as smart, a mobile phone must have an advanced operating system, a graphical user interface, the ability to run a wide range of proprietary and third party apps, send and receive messages in a variety of formats, access the internet, capture high resolution photographic images and video recordings, have gyroscopic motion sensors, GPS etc. etc. etc.

For motorways, it seems, the bar is set a little lower. All a motorway has to do for the authorities to deem it ‘smart’ is to redesignate its hard shoulder as an extra lane from time to time, at the whim, unbelievably, of a hole-in-the-wall ATM cash dispenser!

Now, you might think that getting rid of that scruffy unloved left-hand lane, cluttered, as it so often is, with unsightly carloads of broken down holidaymakers, lost cones, construction workers, crows pecking at carrion, breakdown trucks and so forth, does indeed tidy a motorway up.

But, clearly, we are using the word ‘smart’ here in the American sense of ‘clever’ rather than in the more traditional sense of nicely turned out (as in Billy Smart, who older readers will recall always used to wear that nice red coat, a top hat and a pair of freshly polished boots).

But is it really such a smart move to abolish the time honoured spare lane? A cash strapped government, none too keen on forking out on increasing road capacity by building more road, will of course try to tell us that it is.

But, according to a poll carried out by Alcoholics Anonymous and old-skool computer-based god game Populous, eight out of 10 drivers (what we used to call four out of five) disagree.

According to the AA, those eight out of 10 drivers believe that applying the epithetical prefix ‘smart’ is a somewhat generous way of describing hard-shoulderless motorways, arguing that their introduction, over the past four years, has made our motorways a more dangerous driving environment.

Some of these smart-doubters are more broadly sceptical of official nomenclature, suggesting that the lay-bys that are now supposed to substitute for the previous stopping-in-an-emergency functionality provided by non-smart hard shoulders (so-called Emergency Refuge Areas or ERAs) should instead be known as ‘Death Zones’.

This snappy, if somewhat negative, name suggestion reflects the fact that ERAs are, amongst other things, a) too far apart, b) too short to stop safely in, c) usually occupied by HGVs, d) impossible to leave safely at busy times of day e) not always located at the precise point where a vehicle absolutely refuses to travel another foot forward.

King Edmund of AA has written a pretty stiff letter to HMG demanding that more death zones be built as a matter of urgency (not because he wants more people killed but so they won’t be so far apart) – and also: could they be a bit longer please?

Some commentators, however, might wonder whether King Edmund should have gone even further and requested that the death zones all be connected via a continuous strip of tarmac approximately one lane wide.

Just a thought.

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