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Daily Archives: 26 May 2011
Following a tip off from Councillor Leo Littman, this morning I passed by the most unusual garden furniture I had ever seen and photographed it again. It has been explained. Turns out to be a daemonwain. I confess to previously being unaware of either the existence of or the need for a daemonwain. There was me assuming that it was a circus cart for the transportation of dangerous animals!
Inspection of the daemonwain revealed an envelope on the side, with several sheets of printed paper. A small sign asked me to take one of the sheets. An explanation by the artist Brian Mander told the story of the daemonwain on the sheets. Since Mr Mander has put so much effort into telling the delightful tale, I’ll not repeat it here but urge you to visit the bottom of Florence Road and discover for yourself.
British people really struggle with roundabouts. Of the 800 road traffic accident trials I fought whilst a practising barrister, about half were concerned with roundabouts. It seems that British people aren’t bad at driving along in a nearly straight line but ask them to drive part of a circle and they go to pieces. There are a number of reasons for this.
It doesn’t help that the rules on driving around them have subtly changed over the years. No point listing the history of these changes here. Some nerdy man (it is always a man) will have wikipedied it already. Traffic circles have always existed in various forms but the first roundabout was introduced in 1909, in Letchworth Garden City, aka Letchworth, aka oh dear oh dear. Incredibly it was intended to have a pedestrian island in the middle. This points to the basic problem with the design – it was safer when there were hardly any vehicles on the roads but these days any roundabout which isn’t controlled by traffic lights is a recipe for trouble. With the subtly changing rules, we have created a large number of drivers who disagree about what the rules are. Every driver only has to demonstrate knowledge sufficient to pass their driving test once. I’m not suggesting that it should be otherwise but the fact is that when the rules change older drivers do not keep up to date. Add to that mix the scary numbers of people who didn’t really understand the rules in the first place and those who promptly forgot everything the day after they passed their test. Consequently, there is much disagreement amongst drivers on how to negotiate a roundabout yet they all think that they all agree. It would fine if they recognised that minor differences of opinion existed.
Until fairly recently, there were still lots of drivers on the road who had never had a driving lesson at all. They were all really old too. This was because they had learnt to drive in war against Hitler’s Germany. They were all given driving licences when they were demobbed.
Another major factor is that most British drivers are rubbish. It frequently rains here but seldom do they slow down for wet weather. Most people actually speed up when it rains and have plenty of excuses ready. They’re either in a rush or they’ve got a long way to go or whatever. As I mentioned yesterday, almost no drivers can recall the typical stopping distances. British weather and the crappy attitude of British drivers are a very strong argument for halving the speed limits everywhere! Our reaction times are poor yet we drive as if we are all in with a chance of winning some race.
Despite the legal changes banning people from driving and using a mobile phone at the same time, this is still endemic. There are no reliable statistics for this sort of behaviour but just look around and you will see it everywhere.
All of these factors contribute to the problem but there is one dominant fact. British people are too stupid to cope with how traffic might share and cross over lanes whilst there is so much of it moving in a circle. It is just too complicated for us. If would different if there were dramatically fewer cars on the road – the complexities would be lessened. Most of us can cope with it most of the time but all of us struggle with it some of the time. That doesn’t necessarily cause accidents but the sheer volume of traffic we generate means that these accidents are inevitable.
The fact is that roundabouts which are not controlled by lights involve a certain situation where all the accidents occur. Both in entering and exiting the roundabout, the situation arises where traffic has to cross over lanes which themselves continue around the roundabout. This is the complicated bit. Sometimes these lanes are marked on the roundabout, sometimes they are not. This doesn’t matter: unmarked lanes are presumed to still exist. Look at the graphic above. You’ll see a blue car enter from the bottom. Let’s call that the South. Of course, there are no accidents in the graphic! However, the blue car does cross the path of the Green and Yellow car entering from the West (the left). When the timing is out – bang! These problems could be cured if every roundabout was controlled by a set of traffic lights and the pure roundabout was abandoned.