TOAD TALKS: Tales from the hard shoulder of a 'smart motorway'

With the news that smart motorways are under scrutiny regarding safety concerns, I thought I’d share with you just one experience I’ve had with this type of road

smart motorways

THE life of a bike journo, it really isn’t all glamour. Most months will see me spending at least 1000 miles pounding up and down the motorway – mostly M1, M25 and M40 – to get to launches, the airport and press events.

Here are the true events of just one such ride, which goes some way to proving just how rubbish the smart motorway really is.

Act one: the brake light ballet

It was on the eve of the press launch for Yamaha’s new YZF-R1 in Jerez, as I trundled down the M40 on my trusty BMW R1250RT. All was well, heated grips and heated seat on low and the sound system was playing me some soothing mid-nineties hip-hop.

Pulling off the M40 and onto the M25, I began to see the signs advising of the variable speed limit. Here’s is the first calamity of the journey. Every fricking gantry you drove under was a different speed. 40mph, 60mph, 40mph, national speed limit. There was not one poor sod on that road who knew what the fuck they were supposed to be doing. Brake lights were flashing so much it was starting to feel like I was at the fair, and poor old Doris in her Daewoo hadn't got a clue what she was supposed to be doing.

After the brake light ballet continued for about 8-miles or so and we left Heathrow behind, the congestion eased, and we could get back to getting where we were going.

Act two: the rolling roadblock

As we began to near junction seven and my escape from the circle of doom (that’s the M25 by the way), I begin to see that most unusual of all the motorway illuminated signs. The upturned car picture and the words 'obstruction reported' were now flashing brightly above me. Immediately you begin to wonder what absolute clusterfuck of events could lead to this most dangerous of scenarios. But then you remember that you're riding on a ‘SMART’ motorway, and these signs are almost always talking bullshit, it’ll probably be a Lidl bag for life blowing around in lane two.

As we cross junction 10 of the Circle of Doom, two of those hobby-bobby traffic officers appear from the slip road and begin weaving about in front of the traffic, slowing everyone down. And now I’m starting to think that the Lidl carrier bag could be an escaped swan from a stately home, or even worse, an angry goose. Ohh the excitement.

With Cagney and Lacey (not their real names) at the front in their fake jam-butties, we drop from 50mph, down to about 30mph. ‘We must be nearing the scene of whatever is going on’ I think as I filter my way through the gaggle of cars – of course, I’m getting a front-row seat, who wouldn’t?

After about 10 or 12 miles of following the 4x4 traffic officers, the lights on top of the cars go out, they both disappear up the slip-road of junction 8. A reassuring arm reaches out of the window of one of the cars as they go, ushering us forward with a ‘there is no danger weary traveller, off you go’ kind of air to it.

Above my head the gantries which up till know had told us that certain death would ensue if we went any quicker than 20mph, were showing us we could get back up to motorway speeds and be completely safe – such wise and helpful gantries.

Act three: a Yaris from the sky

Pushing on, I had a plane to catch after all, I get back up to motorway speeds, crack on cruise control and crank up the hiphop.

And then I saw it. And, I shit you not this is completely true, there was an upturned silver Toyota Yaris sat in lane two. A live lane in which, there is a car that looks like it seriously misjudged its first parachute jump. There was nothing around it, no debris, no ramp, no swan, nothing. Thankfully, the folk in the car had all climbed out and were the other side of the barrier but, how can the people controlling these roads get that so wrong?

Another half a mile down the road is a Luton van with front end damage, clearly part of the incident – but still, no lanes closed. No Cagney and Lacey escort. No variable speed limit. Not even a traffic cone.

Smart motorways aren’t safe. I’d rather breakdown on safari in a car made out of steak.

God help us all.