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Monday, 8 February 2016

Braking Bad

This morning I received a charming letter from a young lady who asks whether the unbearable congestion on our inadequate motorway network is due in part to an increase in the average length of the motor car.
Not appreciably, is the short answer.
To increase the capacity of our motorways we need to reduce the length not of the vehicles but of the gaps between them, which account for the greater proportion of the space on a carriageway.
As long ago as 1971 I sent detailed proposals to the Department of Transport, complete with drawings and specifications and even a working prototype. The idea was simplicity itself. Each car would be fitted with a frontal probe, the remote extremity of which would support a sensitive pressure switch wired to the braking system. A car would be driven with the tip of its probe ‘kissing’ the rear of the car in front, so that when the leading car braked each preceding car would have its brakes activated by its pressure switch. The photograph of the handsome prototype tells its own compelling story…

Of course the Luddites at the DoT came up with various objections. The probes would make parking difficult. The probes would trip pedestrians. The probes would project into the transverse carriageway at T-junctions, and more of the same. But when within two weeks I had dealt with those objections with revised telescopic probes, made to withdraw discreetly with a few pumps of a dashboard-mounted lever, more followed until it became obvious that they were ‘false’ objections, raised with the sole aim of discrediting the proposals. We can only guess at what sinister motivations were at play, what backstairs influences, what bungs, bribes and other sweeteners from vested civil-engineering interests concerned only with maintaining the demand for ever-more highways to be built. And today you, the poor commuter, are paying the price. It makes my blood boil.

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