Complacency in the outside lane: My almost-collision on the M25

70

Brake lights.

Brake.

65

Brake! Brake! Brake more! Harder! How can this be happening?

50, 40, 30, 20

Not enough. More! Not too much! Don't skid! Don't hit him! Still closing!

What's behind? No time. Survived. Fifth to second. 70 to 10 in no time at all.

Oh. My. Word.

Thank you Jesus. Didn't rear-end the Toyota. Didn't get crunched by the whatever-it-was behind.

Back to normal. Back to the middle lane. Grateful. Realising.

Back off. Avoid this.

It was the M25 on a Sunday afternoon. Heavy traffic from junction 10 to Heathrow and beyond. Variable speed limits. 60. 40. “Queue Caution”. 50. 40. 40 seems to be the lowest number the signs can display, even when you can't do more than 30. Finally we're out of the variable speed limit. We pass the junction with the M4. Into the outside lane. Finally we're moving properly.

I know the 2-second rule. You should keep a 2-second gap between you and the car in front. At motorway speeds, less than that is dangerous. Less than that and the equations start to look dodgy. How fast is the vehicle in front decelerating? How good are your reaction times? How good are your brakes? And if you can slow down fast enough, what about the vehicle behind you? And the vehicle behind that one? And…

So I know the rule. But I broke it. And, thinking about it now, not for the first time. Me and about 60% of all drivers, it seems. You just watch next time you're on the motorway. The middle and outside lanes are full of cars breaking The Rule. And most of the time they – we – get away with it.

Until they don't. At which time, they crash. Because the guy in front braked hard and the guy behind couldn't brake hard enough.

This time the equations worked for me – just. I was shocked but able to react fast enough. I knew I had to brake hard but was able to avoid locking the wheels. My brakes were good enough. And I really think the Lord himself spared us a nasty accident.

In our era of quiet engines, crumple zones, airbags and ABS I think we're lulled into a false sense of security in our cars. We assume we won't crash sitting 20 yards behind another car at 70mph. Or that if we do, it won't be that bad. But we're wrong. And I have just had a motoring wake-up call.

Let's face it: If we're going to hurtle around in tin boxes running on four bits of rubber we really ought to assume it's inherently dangerous. The fact that I've not been able to drive at the speed I'd like for a few miles doesn't change that. If I can't drive at 70mph without that 2-second gap in front, I shouldn't be driving at 70mph. The only reason I'll happily preach this is because I just came perilously close to learning it the hard way. The very hard way.

Here's a bit of perspective: My journey, without all those other pesky cars, could be done in about 2 hours 30 minutes. As it was, the sheer number of people inconsiderately wanting to use the M25 at the same time as me meant the journey was about 20 minutes longer. On that near-disastrous spell in the outside lane when I was pushing along at 70mph, 5 minutes doing 65mph instead would have lengthened my journey by less than one minute.

So – don't do what I did; don't get complacent in the outside lane. Slow down, back off – and get home safely.

 

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