Road safety on the A386
Speeding on the A386 has long been a problem for the residents of the Vale Down area of Lydford. There is a 40 mph limit from just south of the Dartmoor Inn to just north of the Fox and Hounds but many motorists ignore the limit. Breaking the speed limit at Vale Down seems to be very common. In 2005 Vale Down residents raised a petition which was sent to the MP for Torridge and West Devon. Our local MP has taken an interest and has provided help and encouragement. Unfortunately not all local politicians have been so helpful.
Motorists may be more tempted to speed on the section of the A386 at Lydford between the Fox and Hounds and the Dartmoor Inn than at other locations such as Mary Tavy or Sourton. This is because the road just south of the Fox and Hounds is the first decent straight stretch of road for some miles when travelling south. Similarly when travelling north the stretch of road between the Dartmoor Inn and the Moor View Hotel provides a reasonably straight piece of road for those drivers desperate to pass and who do not care about adhering to the speed limit.
Adding to the risk There is a bend in the road near Moor View House and this can catch motorists out if they are travelling too fast when they reach the bend or if northbound traffic appears unexpectedly.
Nearby villages such as Mary Tavy and Sourton already have measures in place to encourage motorists to adhere to the speed limits. Mary Tavy has vehicle activated speed signs and Sourton has had one in the past. Sourton additionally has traffic calming islands at both ends of the village. Research has shown these measures to be effective and the fact that Vale Down does not have them is another reason why speeding is so common here.
It is for the reasons explained above that Vale Down is a special case and more efforts to enforce the speed limit should be made in this area. There have been accidents and near misses. Must there be multiple fatalities before effective action is taken?
In August 2008 a section of the A386 at Lydford from roughly the Dartmoor Inn to the Fox and Hounds was surface dressed. This, of course, meant that the road markings had to be replaced. This was done in September of 2008 and the markings are significantly different from the previous ones. This may well give rise to increased risk of an accident.
Previously the dangerous bend near Moor view House had double white centre lines which provided a good indication to motorists just what space they had available for overtaking without crossing a solid white line. These double white lines have been replaced with a single dotted hazard line, even right on the bend itself. With certain exceptions overtaking involving crossing a solid white centre line is an offence so there was a good incentive to obey the previous road markings but now, it seems, people are free to overtake even on the bend. This has to be less safe than the road marking layout we had before and one wonders just why Devon County Council did this.
An individual complaint made on 16th September 2008 received a response on 6th October, i.e. 4 weeks after the complaint. The response from Devon County Council said little more than the situation had been reconsidered following the introduction of the 40mph limit. It was not made clear just why it was necessary to 'compensate' for the introduction of the 40 limit by removing the double white lines therefore increasing risk.
Lydford Parish Council took this issue up both with Devon County Council Highways Department and also the police. It was reported in the December 2008 edition of the parish magazine that the police road safety officer had indicated support for the re-instatement of the double white lines and there was talk of a meeting between the police and DCC Highways representatives. It is not clear if this meeting actually took place as little further information was forthcoming.
Individual attempts to get this problem recognised continued during December 2008 and January 2009. With help of a Devon County Councillor (not the one for this area) and the involvement of the Highways Assistant Area Engineer, agreement was reached for a site specific road safety audit to be carried out.
In April 2009 the results of a site specific road safety audit (opens in a new window) were made available. This was what is known as a "Stage 3b safety audit". Despite the fact that it was carried out by road safety professionals, the safety audit did not cover issues that some residents might think important. For instance there was no consideration of the re-instatement of the double solid white centre lines, indeed the scope of the audit seems to be restricted to current road markings only, which is quite some restriction. Also there was no consideration of accident statistics, volume of traffic, frequency of speeding on the straight stretches, blind drives, lack of pavements, the opinion of people who live nearby or other issues that non-professionals might have thought important.
By mid 2009 it became obvious that Devon County Council Highways Department were sticking to their guns and using the site specific safety audit as justification. A new County Councillor for this area had been elected in June replacing one who had been out of action for a significant period due to illness. In August 2009 a letter was sent to this newly elected councillor explaining the situation, that the response that had been received from DCC Highways Department was unsatisfactory and expressing concern over the content of the safety audit. A copy of the audit was enclosed to make it as easy as possible for the councillor to understand the concern. No reply, or even an acknowledgement of receipt, was received. A second letter was sent in September. Again, silence.
Whilst one does not expect County Councillors to get involved in day to day running of the Council they are actually responsible for setting policy and they have a role to play in representing ordinary folk where they are otherwise running up against a brick wall when trying to deal with council employees. To not even reply to a genuine concern expressed by a member of public whom that Councillor is supposed to represent is not good. There might be justification for not replying if the Councillor was being bombarded by letters on more or less the same topic but it is really hard to see any justification for not replying to a first letter.
An accident occurred in May 2010 at Vale Down on the A386. A driver crashed his car whilst trying to overtake where there had previously been double solid white centre lines. A further letter, containing a photograph of the accident scene, was sent to the DCC Councillor for this area. On this occasion a copy was also sent to the local MP. This time a reply was forthcoming. A copy of the councillor's reply (opens in a new window) is available.
The reply makes much of the professionalism of the staff employed by Devon County Council but does nothing to address the criticisms of the safety audit. Reading the Councillor's reply, which can be summarised as 'leave it to the experts', one wonders what part (if any) ordinary members of the public have to play in the "Big Society" idea as put about by the then coalition Government.
One of the points made by the Councillor in his reply is that he is not a qualified highway engineer which rather misses a key aspect of the DCC site specific safety audit. In fact it is so lacking in technical detail as to be no great challenge for anyone to understand. It simply does not address safety issues to any significant extent. An analogy can be drawn with a house survey. Unless qualified, one might not understand all the issues raised in a full survey of a house but at least one could see that certain issues had been considered. A report that just says "This house is sound. Trust me I'm a qualified surveyor" might not inspire confidence.
Over the years the parish council have shown some interest in road safety. As long ago as 2004 they took an interest in tackling speeding at Skitt Lane and at the junction near the Dartmoor Inn (para 115 LPC minutes Nov 2004 and subsequent minutes). A letter from a Vale Down resident (para. 85 LPC minutes July 2005) gained some support but little in the way of action.
At the first meeting of the parish council after the May 2011 elections a councillor spoke of concern about speed on the A386. Unfortunately it was not the councillor who was concerned but rather a member of the public who could not attend the meeting.
At the September 2011 meeting a parish councillor spoke on behalf of residents of the village who were concerned about speeding. The result of a discussion was that the Clerk was asked to write to Devon County Council Highways Department to request a reduction in the speed limit from 30 to 20 mph from the railway bridge through to the gorge. This request was turned down by DCC Highways Department.
As mentioned above in 2008 Lydford Parish Council did get involved in the issue of solid white centre lines on the A386 and did take this up with up both with Devon County Council Highways Department and also the police. Sadly this involvement did not produce results.
In 2015 Lydford Parish Council had further involvement in road safety on the A386 prompted by a straw poll carried out by residents.
Over the years individuals have make efforts to improve road safety including taking part in Community Speed Watch and also trying to work with Devon County Council to effect improvements but by the end of 2014 it became obvious that these efforts were not enough. It seemed possible that more could be achieved with support from Lydford Parish Council than without it. In order to show councillors that there was a general desire for improved road safety rather than pressure coming from just a few individuals a road safety straw poll was carried out sending questionnaires to domestic properties near the section of road just south of the Dartmoor Inn and just north of the Fox and Hounds. This was in November of 2014.
27 questionnaires were sent to domestic properties near this section of road. 23 forms were returned which is an 85% return rate. Of these all expressed concern about vehicles exceeding the speed limit and all were in favour of re-instatement of the solid double white centre lines. When asked if they would like to see a vehicle activated speed sign on the A386 21 of the 23 respondents said “yes”. There was one “no” and one “don’t know”. 91% of respondents were in favour. There were several helpful comments made by respondents.
In December 2014 the collated results of the straw poll were submitted to Lydford Parish Council. They did try to persuade DCC to reconsider the question of the solid double white centre lines but Highways Department would not budge. There seemed to be more hope for vehicle activated speed signs as there are a number of villages that have these and at this time grants were available from the Town and Parish fund. Indeed Milton Abbot Grouped Parish Council had made such an application.
The idea of applying for a grant for vehicle activated speed signs was taken up and in October 2015 news was received that the application was successful. It was envisaged that two such signs would be required but at the time of writing (February 2018) only one has been installed. It is interesting to observe the sign as some vehicles trigger the warning and slow down as can be seen by brake lights coming on. Sadly there are also some who trigger the warning sign and do not slow down.
White lines on the A386 at Lydford
The road as it was looking north from a hazardous bend and clearly showing double white lines
The road as it is now - overtaking permissible!
A386 looking towards hazardous bend. Can it really be safe to overtake here? If not why no double white lines?