Currently reading: Matt Prior's tester's notes: school holiday traffic woes
School holiday commuting is not the carefree, rapid affair that it once was for Matt, as he fears the rise of the machines
Matt Prior
3 mins read
17 April 2015

Ah, school holidays. They used to be a reprieve for the commuter, with fewer cars making for shorter journey times and less stress.

A couple of weeks of “oh, it’s not so bad”, allowing you to put off that moment when you decide to pack it in, move to the country and live off the land, for another term, and then another term, until eventually you run out of terms, they give you a clock and send you off, and during the following decades your only driving is to the cruise terminal and GP surgery. I’m sure I used to like commuting in the school holidays.

But now I don’t. I know there are still pockets of respite in towns at 8am, but the problem with school holidays today is that people still want to drive to places. Today there are a million people who don’t care about cars, yet who have spent their PPI rebates on them and want to drive them – while you and I are still trying to go places. And they’re hopeless at driving.

The problem, as I see it, is that these are people who have never set wheel on the M40 at 2pm on a Tuesday, driving, on the M40, at 2pm, and they have not a clue as to how to do it.

They are relatively easy to spot from a distance. Firstly, their cars are most likely to be superminis, crossovers or MPVs bought privately and chosen purely because of the number the dealer showed in the windscreen. The wheels will fill the arches more easily than usual, because onboard there is a surplus of passengers and Werther’s Originals.

Secondly, you’ll know because they’re in the wrong lane, at the wrong speed, at the wrong time. With the kind of forensic analysis you’ve come to expect from this column, I can tell you that on The Twitter – that saviour of lazy journalists everywhere – more police traffic officers have written in the past two weeks about pulling cars for being in the wrong motorway lane than at any other time in recorded history. And it makes me fearful. Fearful not because you and I have to share road space with drivers like this for a few weeks a year. We can cope with that.

No, I’m fearful because, in life, rules are governed by the actions of the lowest common denominator. Every time I see an overburdened MPV wobbling along the middle lane of a motorway, or I spot a parent in town, negotiating a mini roundabout while flagrantly texting their offspring to find out from which park they should be collected, I fear the day when someone will say that enough is enough, that none of you can be trusted, and the machines must take over.

I’d complain about it when it happened, but by then I’ll be living off the land and the only people writing about cars will be celebrity chefs and DJs.


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17 April 2015
If you want to get some perspective, go and drive round Nairobi for a couple of weeks. That will cure you.

17 April 2015
agreed Matt..i use the M40 for commuting also and you're dead right - the standards of driving are noticeably worse during the easter break. On the 'normal' commute people have a place to get to, and a time they need to be there, and there's generally no dawdling and a decent average speed. Over the last few weeks cruise-control is impossible to use; middle-lane hogging is de-rigeur for the MPV being driven by mum (yes, un-pc i realise but observationally true), and pensioners obstinately sticking to precisely 70mph in the overtaking lane with huge queues behind. I'm sytarting to think there should be peak and off-peak timings for motorway use...

17 April 2015
Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. I think motoring would be a lot smoother and safer if we all had a little understanding and didn't try and rush everywhere at 90mph. Until such time as we have autonomous cars, there will always be people in the wrong lane, traveling at the wrong speed and often not looking where they are going. But short of eliminating half the drivers on the road there is no obvious solution.
Maybe the fundamental problem is that motoring is just too cheap, and our roads hopelessly overcrowded as a result.

17 April 2015
LP in Brighton wrote:

Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. I think motoring would be a lot smoother and safer if we all had a little understanding and didn't try and rush everywhere at 90mph.

Very well put. It is depressing to witness the aggression and hostility that some drivers display in response to being inconvenienced, even momentarily, by a minor error on the part of another road user. Such behaviour often results in far reater danger than the error that provoked it. One of the pleasures of driving in the US is the generally excellent road manners, particularly at four-way crossings, where everyone seems happy to wait their turn, even confronted by a dithering, indecisive tourist (i.e. me!). Imagine the chaos that would ensue if these were introduced in the UK.

17 April 2015
Midweek M1 into London is busy but everyone (mostly) is on their game because they're experienced. Go up the M6 to Scotland on a weekend and the occasional motorway users are a nightmare.

Downhill FAAAST, uphill sloooow. Always middle lane. I'm never going to be able to cast the first stone but the standards are noticeably poorer despite the lower traffic levels.

17 April 2015
Interesting choice of first picture, where there appears to be nothing wrong! Lorries overtaking lorries, being overtaken by cars and the outside lane with a few cars travelling faster than the others. 2nd picture though shows what the reality is like on most motorways on most days. Idiots.

17 April 2015
In the states lane discipline does not exist but, thankfully, drivers are allowed to pass in any lane so that limits bottlenecks unless you have 3 people doing the same speed in all abreast. I find that traffic is lighter only over the week of Christmas through New Year's otherwise it is either the same or worse with Friday and Sundays during the summer to be the worst.

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