Road safety? The north is being sold short.

Sleepless nights about the A9

It doesn’t matter how old your children are; as a parent you never really stop worrying about them. I was just dropping off to sleep on Sunday evening when I realised Daughter #2 wasn’t home yet.

This wasn’t the gentle ‘she’s on a night out’ level of worry – it was worse than that. After spending a weekend with friends in Fife, she was driving home up the A9 in the dark. It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t sleep till I heard her key in the lock.

I’ve driven the A9 countless times. I used to love the drive, giving myself over to the ‘Gods of Travel’, sitting back and travelling at the pace of the traffic on the road. Since the introduction of average speed cameras, a typical journey between Inverness and the first roundabout in Perth takes exactly two hours. It’s 110 miles, which suggests an average 55mph all the way. And that’s fine.

I’ll get my tunes on, or listen to an audiobook, and I’ll watch the changing of the seasons on the hills.

Less scenery, more accident sites

But recently, what I’ve focussed on during those hours in the car, has changed. Instead of noticing the zig-zag of deciduous trees amongst the conifers, the rise and fall of water levels in Loch Garry, or the snow cover on the Cairngorm plateau, I’ve had goosebumps, passing accident black spots.

This slip-road, that junction, this turn-off… all locations where people have recently lost their lives. I notice I’m careful to hold further back from the vehicle in front, and to stay more alert. I notice the many, many near-misses on our roads too. I’m stamping on my brakes more and flashing my lights when oncoming cars judge that overtaking manoeuvre just a little too closely for comfort.

The drive is no longer a pleasure.

Of course, it’s not roads that cause accidents, it’s drivers. And it’s speed. But there are measures The Scottish Government could and should take to mitigate the risk of collisions occurring, and to save lives.

108 lives lost since 2016

Figures show that 108 lives have been lost on Highland roads since 2016, making ours the deadliest in the country. Anecdotal evidence suggests the constant switching between dualled, and single lane stretches, causes confusion, and drivers stuck behind slow moving lorries or agricultural machinery are tempted to risk overtaking where it’s not safe.

North MSPs of all parties are becoming increasingly vocal in their efforts to persuade our SNP/Green government to fulfil long-ignored promises to treat the north of Scotland with the respect we deserve, and to finally invest in the upgrade of our roads. And I don’t think that our leaders should be let off the hook.

Lives are of paramount importance, but our economy is being hit too. How many businesses lose out on income when our main arterial routes are closed – again – for six, eight hours at a time? Often there are no detours. When the A9, A96 or A82 are closed, traffic simply sits and waits.

Public transport? Please…

And don’t get me started on using public transport alternatives. This morning Mr Marr left home at 6.30am to catch the early train to work in Edinburgh; he was back in the house half an hour later. Scotrail workers were still operating an overtime ban, and his train had been cancelled. No, of course there wasn’t a replacement bus service. Mr Marr might have had time for another cup of tea but didn’t reach the office till two hours later than planned.

And when trains do run, the service is far worse than it was a decade or 20 years ago. Journeys which typically used to take 3 hours 20 minutes are now taking four hours. Tickets are prohibitively expensive, and services are uncomfortably packed, lacking toilets, and lacking refreshments. Strikes aside, this is not what we want, need, or deserve from a nationalised rail service.

We are being sold short. Period.

Here in the north, we are being sold short. And that has to stop. I used to be a massive supporter of our Scottish Government; I respected their openness, their vision, and their compassion. All qualities that are currently missing in action.

And sadly, road safety is not the only area of concern. What is happening today in Scottish education? To our Scottish health service? The crisis in our care sector is beyond measure.

Scotland is not a third world country. Not yet. But unless there is drastic change, there will be cause for more and more sleepless nights, about every aspect of our country’s, and our children’s, future.

This column is published by Highland News and Media in newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

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