Red Card for Road Builders

Were Beckham's and Cole's bans as much a symptom of bad roads as bad driving?

There has been a lot of gloating about David Beckham and Andy Cole receiving driving bans after speeding convictions. But it's interesting to note that had they been driving at exactly the same speed, on the same road, two years ago, neither would have been prosecuted. The particular section of the A34 Handforth/ Wilmslow bypass on which they were caught was opened in 1996 with a 70 mph limit, which was reduced to 50 mph during 1998. Cole was doing 65 mph, which would have been perfectly lawful, and Beckham's 76 mph would have fallen within police tolerances.

This is an inherently badly designed road, with an inconsistent mix of grade-separated junctions and roundabouts, some of which are very poorly aligned. I have never seen so many new signs and road markings having to be added to a road within such a short period of it opening. The 50 mph limit has not even been applied consistently, as the southern section, most of which is unlit at night, remains at 70 mph, while the northern section, lit all the way, and including the sole underpass, has been cut to 50 mph.

One roundabout, where it crosses the B5094 (Stanley Road) through a residential area, was opened without any means for pedestrians to cross, and was immediately pointed out as a potential deathtrap. So we now have Pelican crossings on either side and a heavy-handed 30 limit extending for two or three hundred yards in both directions. Ideally I suggest it would have been preferable to retain the 70 limit all the way south from the Cheadle Royal underpass, but put a short section of 40 mph through the B5094 and A555 (MAELR) junctions, where any sensible driver would not exceed 40 anyway, derestricted or not.

I can't say I have much sympathy for overpaid young footballers who haven't learned to drive powerful cars responsibly. But these convictions are at least as much a symptom of inadequate road design and unrealistic, arbitrary speed limits. It's unfortunate, but typical of the times, that the government couldn't spare the money to provide a proper motorway-standard road all the way. Surely we should have learned the lesson by now that frequent flat roundabouts and high-speed dual carriageways are a dangerous combination.

(January 2000)

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