Road chaos: who is really to blame? 08 | 12 | 2010

    TRANSPORT MINISTER Stewart Stevenson has been engulfed in a storm as furious as the blizzards which gridlocked Scotland's major roads. But while his performance on Newsnight on Monday evening was nothing short of pathetic, perhaps the main question which should be asked is: was he really to blame, or should the finger be pointed more accurately at both the haulage industry and vast numbers of ill-prepared car drivers?

    We at Scotcars pride ourselves in being politically neutral, and while Stevenson will face his critics when he makes a statement at Holyrood today after opposition parties called for a full investigation, it's difficult to see exactly what he could have done.

    The focus of attention, understandably, has been on the nightmare on the motorways with hundreds of drivers left stranded on Monday evening and through the night.

    It's worth highlighting here that the motorways had been gritted ahead of the snowfall, and severe weather warnings had been issued to motorists and truck drivers by the relevant agencies. Yet thousands defied the warnings and took to the roads.

    The snow which fell across the Central Belt on Monday was the worst in living memory for many of us. Perhaps we have to accept the harsh reality that no preparations would have kept the motorways and main roads open.

    The M8, by its very nature linking Edinburgh and Glasgow, is Scotland's busiest road carrying daily commuters between our two principal cities. At the best of times it's slow, but throw in Monday's conditions and slithering, sliding articulated lorries and you have a recipe for gridlock.

    All the aerial shots shown on television have shown mile after mile of stranded lorries incapable of dealing with the conditions. Have you heard anyone calling for the sacking of haulage companies' transport and logistics managers? No; neither have I.

    Yes, of course, business has to continue; that's why the lorries were sent out to do their jobs on Monday morning. But as the snow continued to fall, where was the truck drivers' common sense?

    We don't live in a Nanny State; we're all meant to be grown up and capable of making decisions for ourselves. We shouldn't need to be told by the transport minister that the roads are not safe to drive.

    It's also worth bearing in mind the following points:

    a) The maintenance of the trunk roads network, including dealing with snow and ice, was subcontracted to the private sector by the previous Lab/Lib Scottish Coalition;

    b) Maintenance of all other roads, including dealing with snow and ice, is the responsibility of individual councils many of which are Labour controlled;

    c) Police forces are under the control of individual Police Authorities whose boards are councillors.

    As I said, we're not making an political statements, merely stating fact. Yes the current weather conditions are atrocious, and are likely to be so for some time to come, but these are freak conditions.

    There is also no denying Stevenson made a major blunder on Newsnight when the SNP minister described the operation to keep the roads open as a "first-class response".

    This morning police warned motorists in some areas to travel only if "absolutely essential" as sheet ice replaced deep snow as the main hazard on the roads. Common sense would state simply: don't take your car anywhere until the roads are cleared.
More than 20 miles of the westbound M8 — that's half of the main link between Edinburgh and Glasgow — will remain shut until at least this morning.
And drivers were also urged to avoid two of the other busiest sections of the network,on the A80 Stepps-Haggs between Glasgow and Stirling, and the M74 at Hamilton, south of Glasgow.

    Perhaps before we all start blaming everyone else, we should examine the decisions we as drivers are making.

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    Jim McGill

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