A couple of months ago I wrote about driving on a motorway while the cars going in the opposite direction were stuck in a jam, and trying unsuccessfully to fend off the niggling feelings of schadenfreude. Well, last weekend, I received my comeuppance. It was I who was parked in the middle lane of a motorway not having moved for what seemed like hours and considering hunting through the luggage for things to eat and planning how to bed down for the night. But our subject here is not one of retribution or receiving just rewards, it's one of trust. Or to be more precise 'distrust' – my distrust of useful and well-meaning motorway signs.
I don't mean the signs that say 'Don't drink and drive' or 'Tiredness kills' or even the sign that says 'Danger – Fog' which is difficult to read not because the mist is obscuring the view but because of the bright sunlight glinting off the car in front. I mean the signs which say things like 'Congestion after junction 10' or 'Caution – queue after next exit' or even 'Long delays ahead'. How could anyone argue that passing on this information is not a good idea or that the people posting these messages are not trying to help? So why is it that I read these signs, take in the information and then blithely sail on past? Well, a number of thoughts pass through my mind, for none of which I have any evidential basis. I think, 'I expect it'll all be long gone by the time I get there' or, 'That's probably an old message from a day or two ago that someone's forgotten to delete' or even, in my most Machiavellianparanoiac state, 'I bet the road is just a little busy and they're trying to persuade some drivers off the motorway. Well, I'm not falling for that old one!'
So as I sat in my car, going nowhere, making tasteless acronyms from the number plates of other cars for the umpteenth time and snarling at the smug drivers tootling along the opposite carriageway, I had plenty of time to consider the problem. And it didn't take too long to formulate an argument based on the premise I always try to adopt: It's not my fault. The problem, I concluded, lies with the over-politeness of the signs. So I offer their writers this advice. Begin, by all means, at, say, junction 10 with a courteous 'Congestion after junction 14'. But follow it after the next exit with, 'No, really, there's a jam after junction 14,' and then, 'Look, how many times do I have to tell you? There's a big queue in two junctions' time.' And finally, 'Oi, you! Yes, you in the blue car. Get off the motorway!' And if they do that I'll allow them to enjoy themselves with, 'Well, I tried, but you just wouldn't listen. You always think you know best. I don't know why I bother.' At least we'd have something to read while we waited.