Tuesday 30 December 2008

Speed limiters

The BBC tells us people are calling for speed limiting cars, to help with safety and to cut down on emissions. I am at odds with Safe Speed on a lot of its policies. For instance, I have a revolutionary answer to the problem of getting caught by speed cameras: drive within the limit. But on the issue of speed limiters I agree with them - stupid idea, really stupid idea, even on a voluntary basis. For far too long we have allowed ourselves to indulge in a culture which encourages drivers to believe that they ought to be able to do anything they want if they can get away with it. Viz the campaign to emasculate speed cameras. It's time that stopped. It's time we began to use all the means of social pressure available to get everybody to drive safely and sensibly. The root of the problem, I think, is that we learn very quickly that we can just get into a car and then not pay any attention to anything. Driving takes care and attention; most of the time we give it neither. Maybe everybody should be required to take the IAM's advanced driving test. It revolutionised the way I drive when I took it, and I'm sure it would do the same for many, many people. The beginning of the IAM's document is significant; "Recognising that the majority of collisions are caused by driver error...". Speed limiters simply enable drivers to *feel* safe without actually changing their behaviour. And the problem there is that it's not just salesmen and teenagers. The fact is that people within every demographic grouping kill and maim people by driving too fast and by making mistakes. And then claiming there was nothing they could do about it. It's everybody's responsibility, even if they're not driving, because it's a cultural issue and we need to change the culture so that drivers who break the law experience our disapproval instead of our sympathy.

Picture this scenario. A new year's party in a comfortable Sussex village, to name no names. A bunch of very respectable people - doctors, maybe, lawyers, businessmen and women, accountants, farmers, engineers, lecturers,shop owners. Somebody says to somebody else, "How's the new BMW?" The answer is, "Absolutely brilliant. I was on the bypass yesterday and I was doing ninety before I realised it". Now nobody at the that party is going to say, "Well, you were a bloody fool, then, weren't you". It's just not done. But it's time we started doing it as well as altering our own behaviour.

(I know what the reaction to the BMW driver being called a fool is going to be - it wasn't his fault, it happened too quickly. Well, it was his fault. He's just bought a powerful new car. He knows it's powerful, that's why he bought it. So when he gets into it, he should take care to look at the speedometer regularly, and when he's familiarising himself with the car he should accelerate watchfully the first few times to see how it does without breaking the speed limit. I've heard people say - and they seem genuinely to believe it - that they can't keep looking at the speedometer all the time because it takes their attention away from the road. Well, if they can't, we should take the keys away from them now, because if their eyesight and reaction times are that bad, they're a danger to themselves and everyone around them.)