The Motorway

uk-motorway-signHaving spent the last three years blogging about the motorway, it struck me that I haven’t actually told you about “the motorway” or as it is nick named by those that police it as “the slab.” Many things you will already know about the motorway and some things you will not.

openingThe first motorway to open was not the M1 but the Preston by pass, which opened its doors to the public on the 5th December 1958. Also known as the M6 and indeed a stretch of motorway I patrol. The M6 is a record holder in many respects. The first motorway in the UK. The longest motorway in the UK being 225 miles long. It also has the record for having the narrowest section of motorway, being the spur off Junction 35, the M601.

During the construction, heavy rain halted proceedings due to the sandy soil underneath. Soon after it was opened, heavy frost followed by a rapid thaw damaged the road surface and it had to be closed for a while for repairs. The motorway was subsequently widened in the 1960’s to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles.

The M6 Preston by pass was a guinea pig for future construction of motorways. Although the motorway had a design speed of 70 mph, when it first opened there was no legally enforceable speed limit. Neither was there a central reservation barrier but a large grassed area with planted trees to stop vehicles travelling in the opposite direction being dazzled by vehicle headlights. Since the M6 first opened, the design of motorways has come on leaps and bounds to where we are today.

Motorways usually have three lanes running in either direction. To the nearside is the hard shoulder to accommodate broken down vehicles and to allow emergency vehicles to make progress in standing traffic. The lane to the left is called lane one, then lane two and then lane three. Lane three is referred to as the overtaking lane and not “the fast lane.” The solid white line between the hard shoulder and lane one is called the marginal strip or rumble strip. The line is not just a painted section but has indentations in the paint, which causes vehicle wheels to vibrate as a vehicle drives over it. A timely reminder to those drivers falling asleep or being distracted. For indeed the hard shoulder is as dangerous a place as lane three. Many Police officers and the driving public have lost their lives on the hard shoulder.

marker postEvery hundred meters on the hard shoulder are “marker posts” and approximately every kilometer are emergency telephone boxes or “ETB’s.” These are linked to the highways authority control rooms and provide help and assistance to drivers in an emergency. The marker posts will have a figure on them, for example 357.2 followed by A or B. There is also an arrow underneath pointing left or right. The number refers to the distance in kilometers to the datum point and usually the start of that particular motorway. A means away, B means back. So 357.2A means you are 357.2 kilometers away from the start of that particular motorway. The arrow pointing left or right indicates the direction you should walk to the nearest ETB.

30milesThere is a sophisticated network of electronic signage on the motorway. It is called Matrix. Whether located in the central reservation or on overhead gantries. For the most part they are advisory information. How often have you driven along seeing the speed limit set to 40 mph. Well there is usually a good reason why there are set and usually due to a hazard ahead, but there are advisory. The only matrix sign that is mandatory is a lane closure. Denoted by a red cross and flashing red lights. Ignore that and you have effectively driven through a red traffic light. You wouldn’t do it would you. The penalty for ignoring the sign is also the same for driving through a red traffic light. 3 points on your license and a one hundred pound fine. There is also a system called MIDAS, which monitors the flow of traffic through cameras on the motorway. If the traffic is starting to build up then the matrix will automatically set a lower speed limit to help control the flow of traffic. There are also variable message signs or “VMS.” They usually tell you the travel time to the next junction or a particular location. They can also be set to warn motorists of hazards ahead.

The drainage system of most modern motorways is a feat of engineering. All surface water drains into interceptor tanks. The reason being is quite obvious. Considering the nasty liquids and substances that are carried on the motorway every day, should a chemical spill occur then the substance can be captured in these tanks before it goes into the watercourse and rivers. Bromide is a particularly nasty substance as is milk. Milk causes great damage to the wildlife should it get into the watercourse and as it starts to cuddle on the road surface it creates a skid pan in the waiting.

m policeSo some do’s and don’ts. If you have broken down DO get out of your vehicle and stay behind the safety barrier. DON’T go wandering up embankments and verges. There are a lot of submerged hazards which could result in serious injury of death. If you have been signaled by a police vehicle to pull over DON’T brake in the live lane and come to a stop. Pull over onto the hard shoulder and then brake. This happened to me only last week where a driver sat in lane three with no other traffic around her was signaled to stop. She came to a full stop in lane three. Thankfully there was no other traffic behind. It turned out she had only passed her test weeks before and was only the third time driving on the motorway. Rather than prosecute her, she got a safety lecture. Who says traffic officers would prosecute their own mother. Safer drivers are what we want. DON’T cross solid white lines, particularly at entry slip roads. They are there for a reason. DO stick to the speed limit. Your vehicle may be capable of travelling at 150 mph and the motorway may be capable of accommodating that speed. Your perception and reaction times are not capable of that speed and should there be debris in the carriageway you will have hit it before you have seen it. I have encountered beds, concrete, lump hammers, etc.

This is important because damage caused to the motorway whether it be signage or barriers needs to be paid for. That usually means you the driver through your insurance. A ballpark figure for a section of armored barrier is about two thousand pounds. At speed, if you collide with the barrier you could reasonable expect to damage six to twelve panels. Shutting the motorway costs on average to the country in lost revenue one million pounds an hour. Don’t be the reason we had to close the motorway. You may find a rather hefty legal bill at the end of it.


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