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Motorway madness - safety issues on the motorway network

Context

January 1969. Safety on the new M1 motorway.

The M1, which links London and Yorkshire via the East Midlands, was the UK's first full-length motorway. The first section, from St Albans to Rugby, was opened in 1959.

The original specification was for a capacity of 13,000 – 14,000 vehicles per day, but today it carries about 10 times as many vehicles.

Motorways are the UK's fastest roads and safety has always been a key concern. The speed limit on motorways was restricted to 70 mph (115 kph) in 1965. In the early 1970s central crash barriers were added to most of the network and in 1972/73 a lighting project was carried out for those sections of motorway particularly prone to fog.

However, as this clip makes clear, providing safety features is only part of the solution...the motorists must also drive sensibly! The speakers are an early user of the M1 and the response is from the Minister of Transport.

Transcript

MOTORIST:

We were travelling at between 55 and 65 miles an hour. As we approached the concrete stretch of motorway, visibility got worse. It dropped to about 50 yards, and the next thing I saw was a Ford Cortina in the centre lane. I braked but couldn't avoid a collision because the car didn't slow at all. The road was very icy.

INTERVIEWER:

The car you ran into the back of, it was stationary?

MOTORIST:

It was stationary, yes.

NTERVIEWER:

As the visibility got worse and worse, did you see any of the warning lights flashing?

MOTORIST:

Not any at all.

INTERVIEWER:

Could you have missed them, behind a lorry or something like that?

MOTORIST:

I could have done, but I don't think so.

INTERVIEWER:

As a man who's used this motorway since it first started, what would you like to see done to improve conditions on days like yesterday?

MOTORIST:

I should like to see crash barriers right down the centre of the motorway and also a good system of warning to say that there has been an accident ahead and to drivers to be very careful.

MINISTER:

The basic thing, of course, is that, on the evidence that we've got, this wasn't due to lack of hazard lights or central barriers and this sort of thing. It was in fact due apparently in many cases to people behaving incredibly stupidly. One report that we've got is of somebody, a motorist, actually crossing the central reservation, driving up the fast lane of the motorway the wrong way to bypass accidents.

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