BRAKE THE HABIT

January 27, 2013

It’s hard to believe that so many drivers don’t know what the little stick thing with the button at the top is for. The one between them and the passenger.

It’s a handbrake.

The idea is, when parking, you pull it on, and it stops your car from rolling away. (That said, I have to admit there have been a couple of occasions when I had to chase my car down the street.)

But that’s by the way.

The other use for a handbrake is when you come to traffic lights and they are red. You brake. Pull on the handbrake. Select neutral gear. Then take your feet off the pedals.

What could be simpler?

So, how come many people don’t actually use it? Instead, they sit in front of you with their foot firmly on the brake pedal.

Was a time when cars had two brake lights, one on either side, and down low. Now, however, most have an extra strip of laser-bright red LEDs at a height which precisely matches the eyeball height of the driver behind.

On a dark night you invariably have one of these never-use-the-handbrake clowns in front of you, and their intense eyelevel brake light is melting your eyeballs.

Obviously they never look in their rear view mirror, because if they did they would see a furious, demonic luminous red face glowering at them.

And when they eventually take their foot off the brake to draw away, the after-image of their brake light is burned into you retina to the extent that you don’t realise they’ve gone.

Just another example of the thoughtless, inconsiderate, lazy driver.

That brake light after-image could explain so many UFO sightings, though. “It was amazing… this red light seemed to dance in front of me. Wherever I looked it was there; just in front of me… until it melted through a wall. And my car didn’t.”

So, to those drivers: the brake pedal is for slowing you down and stopping. Its purpose is not to stop you from rolling away. That’s what the handbrake is for.

The driver behind you would like me to pass that message on to you.

Drew McAdam


ROAD CLOSED – SO THERE

October 29, 2012

I used to think that only police officers had the authority to shut roads. But now it seems that any monkey in a hard hat, hi-viz jacket and a pair of workman’s breeks that displays his bottom-cleavage has the right to close the Queen’s Highway.

There was a time that roadworks had a man stationed at either end with a big lollipop that said STOP on one side and GO on the other. Okay, so one side of the road was closed from time to time, but the traffic still moved, the work was done, and there was no round-the-country detour for motorists.

Today, all you get is a crowd control barrier and a big sign that says “Road Closed”.

Having a couple of guys with stop and go signs is too much trouble. It’s easier just to shut the road. But easier for who?

Trying to get from A to B? Tough. Find another way that involves going through C, H and T to get there.

Once again, for example, the A70 in West Lothian was closed – as happens on an annual basis. It’s an arterial route used by busy people who are trying to run their businesses and get to work. And where are the diverted to? Along the narrow West Calder main street. Genius.

Just so show you how daft it all is, a few weeks ago a tiny stretch of a road in Somerset was closed, which resulted in a – get this – 47 mile detour for drivers.

I saw something similar in Fife recently, but angry drivers had simply torn down the road closed signs and tossed them into a field. (Amazingly, the workers were working on the pavement, not the road!)

What’s the betting that the roads are shut as a way of meeting Health and Safety guidelines, because cars travelling along a road pose a risk to the workers sleeping in their van. Or, sure, the guy down the hole will be safe, but the 12 blokes watching him at work might be mown down by a passing vehicle.

And, anyway, lunch breaks mean they don’t have two guys spare to work the stop and go lollipop signs.

Everywhere you go in West Lothian you’re faced with barriers and the familiar Road Closed signs – find alternate route.

It didn’t happen before. There’s no reason for it to happen now.

Drew McAdam


END OF THE ROAD

November 14, 2010

 

Okay, I admit it, I laughed.

But if you’re like me, then you would probably have afforded a wry little chuckle, too.

It was a car accident. Now, a collision isn’t something that should really bring a smile to your face. But in this case, it involved one of those boy-racers and his 20-year old Vauxhall Ashtray with the blacked-out windows and an exhaust pipe the size of a sewer pipe that’s designed to waken the whole county at 2am.

There it was, with its front end smashed and its headlights gazing skyward. The hapless super-driver stood mourn-faced at the side of it. And, yes, I smiled. Why? Because like every other driver, I’ve been overtaken at light-speed by one of these halfwits on a blind summit and found myself praying there wasn’t a packed family saloon tootling along in the opposite direction.

And like every other driver, I’ve had to stamp on the brakes as some young maniac who thinks he’s a world-class racing driver swerves across a roundabout to get the jump on somebody. Let’s not pull any punches here. They are a danger to themselves – which bothers me not a jot – and a danger to every other driver and pedestrian in their vicinity. Which bothers me a great deal.

So, there he was. This lonely figure wearing a daft hat that looked like an udder-warmer his granny had knitted, eyes brimming with tears as he surveyed his crumpled pride and joy. And I couldn’t help feeling thankful that there was one less moron on the road to put everybody’s life in jeopardy for the sake of a wee speed thrill. And one more whose increased insurance premium meant he wouldn’t be behind the wheel again for a long time.

I’m sorry if it makes me a bad person, but the sight made me feel good. And I laughed.

 Drew McAdam


CARE FOR THE COUNCIL CULVERTS

October 10, 2010

 

This is an appeal on behalf of Care for Abandoned Roadside Ditches (CARD).

It has become common practice recently for workmen to dig an immense hole at the side of the road, only to cold-heartedly abandon it to its fate, usually with little more than a cheap plastic barrier to help it survive.

If a car or motorcycle were to run into the side of the road, the ditch could be seriously injured. Even killed.

Just one heartbreaking example is the ditch abandoned near the B7008 (see photograph) near West Calder. This is a true case. Over a year ago a squad of workmen dug a massive hole at the side of the road. It was then callously abandoned. Now, containing old pipe work, rusting iron, a plastic barrier and several lumps of concrete it has become water-filled. A family of frogs recently made its home in it.

An abandoned hole.

A pitiful sight. And easily missed at night, as this is a dark country road. Strong winds regularly blow the fragile barriers down. But kindly locals have tended to it, replacing the barriers. However, it is only a matter of time before a vehicle runs into it.

When that happens, it is unlikely that the ditch will survive. It is amazing that it has endured over 12 months without incident. But it’s only a matter of time…

Amazingly, within a 100 metre stretch there are a further two similar abandoned ditches, though one has managed to take shelter beneath a sheet of thin metal, half hidden by the grass verge, and has survived like that for over two years!. Imagine the injury to this abandoned hole if a vehicle were to park on it!

So, how can you help? Well, for just £3 per month you can adopt a HIG (Hole in the Ground). You will receive a special fact sheet, an adoption certificate and a monthly newsletter keeping you up to date with its progress. You will also get a free pass to visit it anytime you wish.

Alternatively, you could find out the home telephone number of your local councillor and phone them at all sorts of ungodly hours, drawing their attention to the plight of any long-abandoned, half-completed works you happen to notice.

Perhaps you could even send photographs. That way, when a vehicle hits one, you can prove that they had prior knowledge. And you could sue.

Yes, YOU can help these unfortunate, abandoned holes by informing the council and demanding they do something as a matter of urgency. The council will, we are sure, react immediately. After all, they are – as they never tire of telling us on letters, brochures, and on every border signpost – the “Council of the Year 2005”.

In the meantime, when driving on country roads, beware. You never know where one of these deep ditches may be lurking. Cold, abandoned and half-hidden.

On behalf of long-abandoned ditches everywhere, we thank you.

Drew McAdam


HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE

July 31, 2010

 

I’m writing this column while I’m on the phone. Waiting to speak to somebody – anybody.

It’s a long story, but the nub of it is that I was driving along minding my own business when another driver decided to switch lanes without looking, and sideswiped me. Annoying enough, but the really annoying part is trying to get through to my insurance company on the phone. A company, mark you, to which I have paid an entire years salary and financed their company Christmas party over the time I’ve been with them.

They’ll take you money quickly enough, but just try contacting them when you need them.

So far I have listened to the “Please keep holding as your call is important to us, and will be answered as soon as possible.” speech so often I could start screaming and never stop. In some countries, you know, they use that as a method of psychological torture to break hardened terrorists.

But they won’t break me; even if it IS costing me £40 a minute and I’ve already started drooling.

Mind you, to soften the blow they are playing a selection of Frank Sinatra songs: nice, if you happen to like Ol’ Blue Eyes. But they could have been more discriminating in their selection of songs.

“Talk to Me” (1959)”, “Don’t Wait Too Long” (1965), “Accidents Will Happen” (1950), “As Time Goes By” (1961), “Five Minutes More” (1946), “Where Are You?” (1957). Over and over, these songs are repeated, including “I’ve Heard That Song Before” (1961), and “There Goes That Song Again” (1943).

And as for the line from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (1963), it runs: “Don’t you know, little fool, that you never can win.” Well, not only have they got under my skin, but also right up my nose. 

Hang on… I’m through. “Yes, I can hold… don’t see why not – I’ve become well practiced at it over the past hour and a half… Did you have a nice holiday?”

Hello? Hello?

Sod this for a game of soldiers. I’m going to drive to their HQ somewhere outside Birmingham and fill out the accident claims form in person. Let’s face it, it will be quicker. And I won’t have to listen to the endless greatest hits of Frank Sinatra.

Drew McAdam


SEEN SPEEDING FROM SPACE

July 26, 2010

 

News just out: the Government says it wants to “end the war with motorists”, and so is going to end its central funding for fixed speed cameras.

Now, there are around 6,000 speed cameras scattered around the UK, and they generate £100m in fines each year, so it seems odd that they would want to wave goodbye to that – but they do. Hmmm.

More news just out: hi-tech, infra-red, number plate recognition camera devices that are linked into a single server network and draw on global positioning satellites have been undergoing secret trials in the UK. We only know this because it was revealed in a parliamentary report.

And now it makes sense. Forget the old flash-flash boxes at the side of the road. This system, known as SpeedSpike, can monitor thousands of vehicles at the same time, even on little-used back roads.

The manufacturer claims the cameras used to collect the information are small and cheap – so cheap that they could even be used to reduce the need for speed bumps on smaller roads.

The cameras then communicate with each other. The average speed over your journey is calculated, and if your vehicle has travelled too far in a set time then you’ve broken the speed limit somewhere along the route. Bang. You get a ticket.

Spies in the skies. Satellites to watch your speed and fine you if you step over the mark. Who would have thought? It certainly doesn’t sound like the Government is ending the war with motorists; it sounds more like an escalation!

So, what does the Government have to say about THAT? Well, the Home Office said it was unable to comment on the trials because of “commercial confidentiality”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

Well, I have some news for the “unable to comment”, sneaky, deceptive bureaucrats behind this one… There are an incalculable number of roads where – thanks to the potholes that would make a Third World jungle track look inviting – it’s impossible to even reach the speed limit without your car tearing itself to pieces leaving little more than shredded tyres and a scattering of bolts in its wake.

If you want to end the war with motorists, try spending money on sorting that, rather than hi-tech outer space gadgetry to spy on your citizens.

Drew McAdam


MAKING SENSE OF THE SENSORS

May 17, 2010

Have you ever noticed the little grey boxes that are perched on top of traffic lights? They look like cameras, though they are actually sensors.

My understanding – though I could be completely wrong – is that they work on the same principle as security lighting. It detects your vehicle and changes the traffic light to green. The fancy name is demand-actuated traffic signals.

Great idea. Keeps the traffic moving, saves on fuel, let’s everybody get on their way. Because, let’s face it, there are few things more frustrating than being parked in a line of vehicles with every traffic light at red and nothing coming the other way. Anybody who has sat in a queue for twenty minutes at the Kirknewton junction of the main-route A71 with every light on red at that ridiculous forest of traffic signals knows what I mean.

As far as I can see, almost every set of traffic lights in rural West Lothian has a sensor, yet only a tiny percentage of them actually work. The sensors at the nasty junction on the Blackburn Road from West Calder is one of very few that function perfectly. When you approach the lights they turn green. Great!

Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, while making the journey for motorists easier is a good thing, it’s not the main reason for complaint.

I wonder what the cost of each of these hundreds of sensors might be? And how many are there throughout West Lothian? It all adds up to a pretty penny, I’ll wager. And if they are not actually working – if they are faulty – then what a mammoth waste of money THAT is.

And another thing: if they are faulty, then surely the company that installed them is responsible for repairing them. I mean, if I bought a dozen security lights and found that 11 of them gave up the ghost I would at the very least be demanding a refund.

It’s just one more thing Oor Cooncil needs to sort out. It may not be much, but it is indicative of Oor Cooncil’s attitude towards just about everything: If it ain’t working, just ignore it. Of course, fixing all these niggling little problems would mean actually organising a repair programme, which in turn would require decisions and meetings and committees and so on.

Too much like hard work.

So I have an idea. We could drill a coin-sized hole in the metal casing of each sensor. They’re the perfect size to make into bird boxes! At least then they would be of some use.

Drew McAdam