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Average speed cameras not the end as we know it

Another classic driver's road gets 'averaged' but Dan T is not as downhearted as some might be

By Dan Trent / Monday, May 06, 2019

It would be easy to be gloomy about the arrival of new roadside furniture alongside another classic driving route, such as I discovered while in North Wales to shoot the M4 CS. Having rather enjoyed the drive up the western leg of this well-known three-sided route around the Welsh hills the sight of freshly dug earth around poles topped with ominous yellow boxes had me feeling... thoughtful.

We may grudgingly accept average speed cameras as a feature of our Monday to Friday driving, the crawl through endless roadworks as the motorway network is inexorably 'upgraded' to smart status now a feature of the daily grind. But when it goes beyond the A-B and into recreational routes it can seem like the creeping death of the great British driving road is gathering pace.

It's easy to take such things personally, especially when it appears so deliberately pitched at enthusiasts on two wheels and four, such as happened on the Cat & Fiddle. The reactionary petrolhead response would be to confuse the finger-wagging fun police with the valuable job done by the diminishing number of real ones, ignoring the fact that locals who live near these roads have justifiable concerns about them being celebrated as some sort of unofficial Nordschleife by visiting hoons.

I'm not about to argue the kind of civil disobedience some might advocate, such as ripping through the gears into triple figures and parking up for a fag mid-way between the cameras. And, let's face it, if you're regularly recording point-to-point averages high enough to score a conviction you've likely got bigger issues. But as the disconnect between performance and sensation grows ever wider, cars and bikes get faster but less engaging and more and more roads sprout cameras what's the keen driver to do?

Well, you could go and buy an MX-5. Go on, you knew it was coming. Even I'll accept this isn't necessarily the answer to everything though, the alternative option of buying an older car enjoyable at more realistic speeds opening the field somewhat. Of the two CS generations we were shooting that day the E46 would give you more at sensible speeds than the M4 equivalent, that's for sure.

But to see if you can enjoy an averaged road in a modern performance car I returned this week with a Megane 280 Cup to test the not especially scientific theory that treating these roads as a kind of regularity trial might be the secret to enjoying them responsibly. Without losing the fun factor. Perhaps not as romantic as the dream of the open road but the old adage 'straights are for fast cars, corners are for fast drivers' can inform a new approach.

So back off. Tempting as it may be to nail it when the coast is apparently clear you're 'wasting' more enjoyable speed you could be appreciating elsewhere. Think quality, not quantity. Which isn't to say you're then free to take every blind corner flat out. More that you consider where you might want to carry it and enjoy loading the chassis through well-sighted corners, a sensation you can still appreciate even in something as grippy and capable as the Megane.

With the dulcet tones of Reg Local in my head - we used some of these very roads for our training sessions a couple of years back - I applied a more methodical approach through observation, road position and a more disciplined use of the throttle. Which all sounds terribly worthy. But actually brings fresh challenges and enjoyment derived from more than just numbers.

Not to say tactically resetting the average speed on your trip computer isn't a good idea but it's surprising just how much fun you can have in a modern performance car between two fixed points. Without spending the next 14 days pacing up and down the hallway waiting for the letter to drop.

Of course, there are those who may advocate a more direct response involving pitchforks, burning tyres, dodgy numberplates or ranting from a keyboard, freshly folded tin foil hat in place. The more uplifting reaction is to accept these things are only going to get more prevalent and that the enthusiast driver has to adapt if the simple joy of being at the wheel is to prevail.

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