Do you know one of the main reasons there are so many traffic jams these days? I’ll tell you why…….. it’s because we drive like idiots! That’s right, a large part of the problem is us. You and me. Now before you all get too defensive, of course I accept that commuter routes are overcrowded, the sheer volume of traffic on our roads has them at breaking point, infrastructure could be improved and public transport should be better but the pointy finger of blame when it comes to some of the gridlock and motorway mayhem points at us, the motorist.
The M50 alone (which is the main motorway around Dublin city) experiences over 120 incidents a month and rush ‘hour’ now lasts 8 hours! from 7am – 10am and 3pm – 7pm. When everything is running smoothly and there are no incidents the motorway network which feeds the city just about copes with the volume of traffic.
I live in a large village about 20km outside of Dublin and about 15km from MicksGarage HQ. On a weekend, with minimal traffic, driving in to work takes about 20 minutes and is a mixture of motorway, dual carriageway and urban roads. On a weekday it usually takes double that, which is fair enough and kind of what you’d expect living so close to the capital. Like a lot of capital cities Dublin’s road infrastructure is over capacity and bursting at the seams.
“The M50 alone experiences over 120 incidents a month and rush ‘hour’ now lasts 8 hours! from 7am – 10am and 3pm – 7pm”
The issue arises when everything is not running smoothly and that, unfortunately is every day. Throughout the city there are multiple incidents, crashes, breakdowns, fender benders, spills and other minor issues, all of which have a knock-on effect on the arteries that feed into the city. The net result for the commuter? Hours and hours of abject misery, sat in traffic jams, week after week. On roughly 3 out of 5 days a week my standard commute time of 40 mins (already double what it actually should take to get to my destination) will take upwards of an hour and a half. This morning for example, I’m 2 hours late for work because there was an incident on the motorway (there was a minor fender bender in the inside lane with no injuries and minimal damage). This is 2 hours lost to my employer that i’m going to struggle to make up – why? because I have to leave on time to collect my kids from the child minder.
Multiply this lost time out across the city and you’re into millions in lost revenue, not to mention the stress and aggravation it causes the commuter – i’d be fairly confident in assuming more than one individual has been tipped over the edge thanks to commuter stress over the years.
This morning’s 2 hour farcical commute got me to thinking – What can I actually do about it? and it was then, as I was cursing the government and the system and ‘the man‘ that it dawned on me that we were actually a big part of the problem and if that was the case we actually have an opportunity to make a change.
The 120 incidents every month that I mentioned above are a mixture of things that are largely avoidable and include us crashing into each other, us breaking down, speeding, texting, lane hogging, tailgating and all sorts of other daft things that we actually have control over!
It’s wishful thinking to hope that this little rant on our little blog is going to have a meaningful impact on the daily commute but it has made me think about some of the decisions I make when I’m behind the wheel and I am going to change a few things about how I drive. If this article impacts the way 1 other individual thinks and prevents that 1 individual from having an accident, that might also prevent one more twenty km tailback! If we can achieve that i’ll be a happy man!
So as I mentioned before, when everything’s running smooth, our road network just about copes, we all get to work on time and we all keep our sanity for another day. Any incident at all, on a main route into the city will cause a tail back – a police motorbike pulled over in the hard shoulder can cause a knock-on effect kilometers down the road as people slow down to look at him! If we were able to reduce the number of minor fender benders and avoidable breakdowns by simply adjusting our mindset and the way we drive slightly then the world would be a better place – or certainly the N4 between Celbridge and Parkwest would be!
So what can we do?
Tailgating is the act of driving dangerously close to the car in front and a huge number of drivers do this. I’m going to be blunt about this, if you tailgate or drive right up the arse of the car in front, you’re an absolute fool and need to cop on to yourself. It is so, so dangerous and is one of the primary causes of dual carriageway/motorway crashes. By driving too close to the car in front you simply do not have time to react if the car in front suddenly jams on the brakes – this is something that can and will happen every single day on a carriageway that is full to capacity so it actually should not be a surprise to anyone when it does happen.
Please, please, for the love of all that is holy, leave a 2 second gap or an absolute minimum of 3-4 car lengths to the car in front. This will allow you enough time to react if the car in front does something unexpected. If it’s wet, double the gap to 6-8 car lengths. Yes some eejit will jump into the gap you’ve left but just let them. Take a deep breath and don’t let yourself get caught up in any kind of road rage. Road rage is another knock-on effect of tailgating, it drives people mad and I get it, I really do. An acquaintance of mine who I would consider quite sane once admitted to brake checking (stamping hard on the brakes) another car who was tailgating him, all while travelling at 80mph on the motorway! Their bumpers actually touched! – Complete Insanity!!
Motorways and dual carriageways are the safest roads you can drive on. You have no oncoming traffic, everyone is going the same direction, you have wide open, straight lanes, a hard shoulder, minimal headlight glare and perfect road surfaces – all in all, pretty much perfect driving conditions that should be fairly hard to have accident on!
So why are there so many incidents on the carriageways in the mornings? One of the key reasons is that we’re simply not paying enough attention! We get into our cars, bleary eyed and caffeine starved, heater on full, with the warm, cosseting tones of your favorite radio presenter in your ear. Our warm, luxurious bubble, cocoons us from the harsh weather outside and our minds wander. We think about work, the holiday we’re going to book, what the kids are up to, in fact everything except actually driving the car.
Now there’s no tips or tricks here to dealing with this, we simply need to wise up and pay attention. Despite motorways being extremely safe you still have to expect the unexpected and constantly have your wits about you, because others will not! Expect people to swerve violently from lane to lane as they try to gain a few extra car lengths. Expect people to be half asleep and slam on the brakes at the last minute to avoid the stationary car in front. Keep a close eye on all your mirrors and be spatially aware – you should know what’s in front, behind and on either side of you at all times, not just when you want to change lanes.
This one is a personal favorite and something we’re extremely bad at here in Ireland, so much so that the RSA felt the need for a national info campaign to tell people how to use the lanes on a motorway. It’s very simple, on a dual carriageway or 3 lane motorway you should always drive in the left hand lane unless you are overtaking something. When you have overtaken you should move back into the left lane. On a 3 lane motorway you should only drive in the right hand lane if you are overtaking something in the middle lane and again, when you’ve overtaken it, you should move back over.
What tends to happen is people drive at or under the speed limit in the middle and right hand lanes. What this does is incite road rage and all kinds of dangerous driving which ultimately leads to accidents. The argument from the person hogging the outer lane might be that they are driving at the speed limit so there should be no need for anyone to pass them – but that is not their decision to make, if other road users choose to break the law by speeding, that’s their prerogative. Lane hogging drives people almost as mad as tailgating and lane hogging provokes people to tailgate! It also provokes people to undertake (to pass on the left hand side) and that is a recipe for disaster as the the typical lane hogger generally isn’t a fantastic driver and is liable to shift back to the middle lane at any point, thus wiping out the ‘undertaker’ who they weren’t expecting to be there
If you think it’s ok to just pick a lane and stick to it or don’t really understand what the lanes are for, you need to watch this video. The rest of us – chill out! Don’t tailgate, don’t undertake and just let it all wash over you!
Rain, fog, glare & slippery road conditions:
The speeds that some people drive at in slippery conditions genuinely astounds me sometimes and i’m not saying that as some authoritarian do-gooder. I do a bit of motor racing and am a certified speed freak and it’s because of that, that I do have a pretty decent understanding of grip levels, or rather lack thereof when it’s wet. When it’s wet or damp and greasy (that’s worse) you have to slow down a bit and you have to leave bigger gaps to the car in front because there is simply a lot less grip than you think. It genuinely frightens me sometimes when i see someone driving flat out as they would in the dry, completely oblivious to how close they are to losing traction and having a huge accident. Slow it down folks but use your head and don’t take it to the extreme, we still need to keep the traffic flowing.
Claim culture has a lot to answer for when it comes traffic jam chaos. The reason being that even the merest nudge of a bumper will result in two cars stopped in the overtaking lane of the motorway with the two drivers theatrically clutching at their necks feigning whiplash in the hope of a meaty claim that will pay for that new kitchen they’ve been daydreaming about. (oh wait, that’s why you crashed in the first place!) It’s frankly despicable carry on. If this happens to you and it’s a low speed incident with no visible damage and nobody is hurt, be a decent human being, get your car over to the hard shoulder and sort it out there. Obviously if you’re involved in a proper crash it’s important not to leave the scene until the Police/Gardai arrive. They will tell you when you can leave.
We’ve all been there, stuck in traffic for an age, crawling along for miles in 1st gear. Stop, start, stop start. You see the traffic ahead start to move! Joy of joys, there’s light at the end of the tunnel!! You’re looking ahead for the blocked lane or crash or some meaningful cause for the gridlock so you can get in the correct lane but it doesn’t come, there’s just some poor bugger on the hard shoulder broken down being helped out by the AA!
My colleague witnessed a 30km tailback (no i’m not exaggerating for effect) the other day which was caused by a Maserati and police car in the hard shoulder. A 30km tailback because everybody wanted a good look at the rich lad in the flash car getting a bollocking off a copper!! Come on!!
Some of the most common causes of breakdowns are punctures, running out of fuel and overheating, most of which can be avoided by some simple routine maintenance checks. Punctures on motorways tend to be blowouts caused by excessive heat build-up in the tyre. This happens when there’s not enough air in the tyre – so a simple walk round your car every couple of days to visually check if any of the tyres look lower than the others is a good idea. Before any long journey it’s wise to check the pressures at your local petrol station. Also, make sure you have all the tools you need to change a wheel at the side of the road and that you know how to do it. it’s pretty simple. Check out this short ‘How To’ video we made to show you how it’s done.
There’s not much we can say about running out of fuel. It’s a good idea to keep an empty jerry can in the boot. We wouldn’t really advise keeping a full jerry can with you all the time because even when they’re sealed there’s still a strong stink of petrol off them – plus from a safety perspective you don’t really want fuel anywhere except the car’s fuel tank.
Overheating is less common than it used to be but can still be problematic, especially in traffic jams. Make checking your coolant level, along with checking your oil level a regular thing – or at minimum before a long journey.
One other thing that’s worth mentioning and has got me out of a sticky situation more than once is moving the car on the battery. This is a last resort that can help you move your car out of a dangerous place if it breaks down and wont re start. What you can do is put the car in first or second gear and turn the ignition key. This will make the car move forward, jerkily, powered by the starter motor. Now you would only do this if it’s extremely unsafe to stay where you are and unsafe to get out and push and you will only get a few meters before the battery goes dead but it might just get you out of trouble.
So I should probably put a halt to the rant at this point – if you’ve read this far I salute you! Are we going solve the problem? no of course not, might this article help one or two drivers over the coming months and years? Possibly? I truly hope so. Have I got a whole lot off my chest and do I feel a bit better for it? Yes absolutely!