speed limit

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…

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All cars should be limited to 70mph? Nonsense, and here’s why

The Mitsubishi Evo VIII is more than fast enough to get you into trouble..jpgALL CARS – from the Dacia Sandero to McLaren’s new 570GT – should be limited to a top whack of 90mph. Not my opinion, nor that of some Whitehall bureaucrat, but the man who got me into cars in the first place.

You’d like my dad. He’s not, contrary to popular rumour in the motoring world, the John Simister whose prose you’ll find running through the pages of Evo, Autocar and Practical Classics. But he is a petrolhead who loves an old Land Rover and would happily scour an autojumble looking for bits to keep it going.
Yet he put it to me only the other day that it’s pointless any of today’s cars being able to do more than 70mph. Perhaps, after a lot of persuading, he conceded they might have to crack 90mph in some one-in-a-million emergency situation, but no more than that. Not one measly mile an hour. Cars capable of that should be verboten.

Which is, of course, nonsense, and all you need to prove it is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII FQ-300. It’s exactly the sort of car that appeals solely to speed freaks; the name might make it sound like your office’s next air conditioning system but it knocks out 300bhp and can hit 60mph in under five seconds. It also looks like a boring Japanese saloon and has an interior with more grey than a wet Monday morning in Manchester, so you’re definitely buying it for performance rather than its ability to impress pedestrians.

A mate of mine’s got one, and frequently reminds me it can hit 157mph. Impressive, but suggesting he’ll actually do that on the Formby bypass is a bit like suggesting I’ll go chopping down trees in the Formby pine woods if I buy a top-of-the-range chainsaw.

You can break the law with just about anything if you think creatively enough – but that doesn’t mean we should ban pillows, golf clubs or copies of Coldplay’s more recent albums. The Bugatti Chiron is only as illegal as the squishy bit of mush driving it, and to suggest otherwise is to take a dangerous step into the world of banning things because we might do something with them.

Sorry Dad, but my vote’s with the FQ-300 and appreciating cars for what they’re capable of, not what they’re limited to. Providing they’re driven at no more than 69.9mph, of course…