motorway

Tailgating – the radical ideas the Government would NEVER use

Nigel Mansell definitely won't approve of you driving this close to the car in front

TWO seconds. It might not seem that long as increments of time go but it’s a surprisingly useful way of measuring things.

It is, for instance, how far I’ll get into each episode of Bodyguard before I’m completely and utterly lost trying to work out what’s going on. It’s also roughly how long I can listen to any Black Eyed Peas song before wishing for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. It’s also, if Tesla’s own claims are to be believed, how long its new Roadster will take to thrust you to 60mph from a standstill.

But it’s also a short space of time I see being routinely ignored every time I hop into the car and go to work – yes, extra petrolhead geek points if you already knew that it’s the time you’re supposed to leave between your own car and whoever’s up front. The road safety mantra’s the same regardless of whether you’re pursuing a tractor or the new TVR – only a fool breaks the two-second rule.

Which is why I’m glad that the man who briefly made moustaches cool in the early 1990s, Nigel Mansell, is giving his backing to a new campaign to stop people tailgating. The 1992 Formula One world champion reckons it’s an ‘utterly deplorable habit’ that does precisely zilch to make you a better driver. I’m glad that he’s involved, because none of my more radical solutions would’ve got past the Department for Transport’s sense checkers.

My initial idea of having snipers on motorway bridges with their crosshairs trained on tailgaters obviously wouldn’t have worked – if only because every time someone cuts into your safe space, they briefly make you the tailgater until you hit the brakes, and the last thing you’d want in that tense moment is a bored ex-squaddie shooting out your front tyres.

Then I thought about having some sort of bendy metal pole that shoots out from your rear bumper, and extends and retracts according to your speed, so its length always corresponds to that safe two-second gap. It’d be rigged up to some highly charged battery, so that any German saloons that dare venture too close are briefly treated to 50,000 volts.

However, I can’t see either of these ideas making into commuting reality, so how about treating the ‘utterly deplorable habit’ the same way the Government already does with smoking? It’s simple – every car is fitted with a TV screen embedded in its bootlid and a rear-facing radar scanner, not unlike the ones already used for parking sensors. Get too close and the screen would show you images of cars that have totalled by tailgaters – and Mr Impatient Sales Rep backs off. If it works with cigarette packets, why can’t it work with Ford Fiestas? Failing that, how about some sort of front-mounted radar sensor that automatically shuts the throttle if you edge too close?

I suspect roughly none of these ideas will make it even close to reality, but as someone who’s had a car rear-ended and written off by a BMW-driving sales rep you can probably understand my frustration with impatient clots who drive too closely.

Nigel Mansell is definitely a step in the right direction, though. If he can make moustaches cool, who knows what he can do for road safety?

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Motorway service stations are awful – except one

Motorway services are great for charging up electric cars, but they're hardly enticing destinations

FASHION, fancy food, and – dare I mention it – football. There are plenty of things the French do better than us at the moment, but I can happily confirm that the motorway service station isn’t one of them.

Every services I’ve ever pulled into on the other side of the Channel has always been a distinctly bleak affair, and usually offers a single stall selling baguettes, a shop selling novelty biscuit tins in the shape of Citroen H-vans and six petrol pumps lined up outside, five of which are taken up by surly-looking truckers. Our service stations, on the other hand, are much better – but they’re still far from perfect.

You might have seen in the news that travel consumer group Transport Focus named Norton Canes – the M6 Toll road’s sole service station – as the nation’s nicest motorway stopoff, with Thurrock Services on the M25 being given a pasting for keeping just 68 per cent of drivers happy. My own personal favourites include Forton (sorry, Lancaster) chiefly because the tower looks like it belongs in an episode of Thunderbirds, Stafford because it has such a wonderfully twisty access road, and Killington because it has its own lake and a name that’d be perfect for a horror film.

But in truth they’re as vaguely awful as one another, with their indifferent décor, limited shop choices, and insistence on two hours’ parking tops even if you need to stop for a nap on a long journey – and don’t get me started on the loos. In a year when the UK celebrates 60 years of motorways, we’ve managed to reduce the services from somewhere when wide-eyed Sixties motorists went for days out to somewhere you dart in and out of as quicky as possible, and only because you’re desperate for a pee.

Just about the only exception that I can think of is Westmoreland Services as you head up the M6 past the Lake District, which is full of freshly prepared farm produce and delightful-smelling cheeses from across the prettier bits of Northern England. It is a charming, daringly different island in a sea of bland mediocrity.

But you don’t have to be in the Cumbrian hills for inspiration – you only have to look at airport departure lounges to see how a transport-related locale that everyone ventures out of necessity can be vaguely bearable. Where are the trendy designer shops at motorway services? Why aren’t there decent restaurants? And why – especially when today’s services seemed to be stuffed full with Tesla charging points – aren’t there any posh executive lounges?

I reckon a country that’s come up with the Range Rover Evoque and Aston Martin DB11 can definitely come up with nicer service stations. We’ve got a long way to go – but at least they’re better than the French ones.

Smart motorways aren’t so smart if you get a puncture

Changing a tyre is frustrating at the best of times - but it could even be dangerous on a motorway roadwork

IT’S AMAZING how much motoring tech has come on in the past decade or so – but I’m not entirely convinced it’s always a good thing. Particularly when a little orange light starts to play tricks on you.

The nifty little illumination in question is a dashboard warning light VW fits to its more recent offerings – and many an Audi, SEAT and Skoda, for that matter – that lets you know its on-board tyre pressure sensor thinks you’re about to encounter a puncture. Having had a Golf give me advance notice of a flat tyre on an outing last year I know that it works tremendously well – except when it doesn’t, because the person who borrowed the car before you admitted to kerbing an alloy a few hours earlier.

In the end it turned out said colleague’s parking ineptitude had knocked the sensor out of sync, everything was fine and I was able to get off scot-free for the rest of my 200-mile journey, but it’s where the light came on that really unnerved me. Anyone who regularly ventures down the M6 will know there’s a stretch just south of Thelwall Viaduct that’s being upgraded into a smart motorway, and it feels like it goes on forever.

It’s frustrating enough when you’re forced to sit at fifty while all the lorries thunder past obliviously, but when you’re suddenly alerted to the possibility of an imminent puncture and realise there are still several miles of roadworks before you can pull over safely that you start to get worried. Especially when you remember the car you’re in isn’t even fitted with a space saver. The idea of tackling a dead tyre on an open motorway with only a can of gunk to help is mildly terrifying.

My fear of breaking down on one of these not-so-smart motorways isn’t unjustified, either; only last week a family gave permission for a rather harrowing 999 call which captures the moment their stricken people carrier was punted up the backside by an HGV to be made public. Properly managed motorways can cope with using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane, but it’s the horribly narrow ones that are still being built that worry me. There were proposals a while ago to limit these stretches to a more palatable two miles long – rather than the 15 or so the longer ones are now – but it seems to have quietly disappeared under the hazy fug of Whitehall bureaucracy.

I’ve always hated the roadworks leading up to smart motorways because they’re the very opposite; with their average 50mph limits that people routinely ignore, constructions sites that are hardly ever frequented and unbearable length they’re anything but clever. But – if that 999 call is anything to go by – they could even be dangerous. Fingers crossed I don’t get a real puncture, then…