Slow, but still dangerous

The Campaign to Make Unusual People Exactly The Same (MUPETS) scored another victory when its Everyone Drive More Slowly Regardless branch persuaded Norwich City Council that a blanket reduction of city speed limits to 20mph was a good idea.

The branch, which consists largely of cyclists, has infiltrated the Green Party in the Norwich area and, by masquerading as recyclers, managed to obtain sufficient council seats to influence policy. The result is that city drivers face the possibility of being routinely overtaken by cyclists who, although erratic and prone to ignore the Highway Code, are not subject to speed limits at all.

The cyclists say it will make the streets safer – but as Mandy Rice-Davies might say, they would, wouldn’t they? People struck by bored or inattentive drivers who are deluded into thinking they’re magically safe because they’re driving slowly might not agree. Any halfway decent driver would not be driving at more than 20mph in areas where there was a high risk anyway, but hey, let’s have everyone crawling along wide empty roads.

The Eastern Daily Press, which you might hope would have some perceptive comments on the move, had a total insight failure and went along with the MUPETS line that if it’s slower, it must be safer. One yearns for the deep thinking of past leader writers like Colin Chinery, said Brigadier D I S Gusted of Little Walsingham.

Meanwhile, how do you save money on fuel? You’ve guessed it: drive more slowly. So says the EDP in large headline, quoting the Automobile Association – or rather abbreviating the AA drastically, which of course is what headlines are for. I know – I’ve written thousands of them, and they’re quite tricky.

A reader writing to the paper had a couple of interesting comments. Well, actually they weren’t at all interesting, but someone must have thought they were, because the letter made it to the top of the page. They are revealing, though.

“Those of us who wish to obey the limits,” she began, adding perceptively that they are “presumably put there for a purpose”. Yes, they are. The mistake is to think the purpose is intelligent. Keen observers with driving experience are tempted to think that many of the limits are random, but they’re not. They’re just misguided and poorly thought out. The purpose may be to raise money in fines, but I prefer to think that in most cases it’s to save lives. This is a worthy purpose and might work if the limits were correctly set; but they are so poorly applied that the likely result is contempt for speed limits by drivers generally – and therefore reduced road safety. Intelligently set speed limits might indeed save lives, but we’re a long way from that. Blanket 20mph limits take us further away.

All this is what give rise to the antagonism between those who “wish to obey the limits” and those who realise how inappropriate they are. Unfortunately, some people will always want to obey any rule, however ludicrous. Others want them to make sense.

Sadly the police are at present encouraging this antagonism by providing volunteers in towns and villages with speed guns to “help beat the problem of speeding”. One such volunteer, in Reepham, is quoted as saying: “It’s not about catching your neighbour out; it’s about educating them to drive safely.”

Even disregarding the amazing arrogance of that statement, speed guns never educated anyone. Pointed – as they will be – at careful drivers driving quite safely but rather above the inappropriate limit, they are a recipe for conflict. It’s only a question of time before someone gets hurt as a result.

Offending items

Those who wish to keep or impose draconian and inappropriate rules are unfortunately too often in positions of power nowadays. A lot of them seem to be organising wheelie bin collections, and therefore encouraging fly-tipping.

In Norwich a pensioner got a red card from the wheelie bin mafia for putting a coffee jar and tomato ketchup bottle in the wrong bin. It would have been too simple to help him by removing the offending items: no, they thoughtfully left the bin unemptied, in an environmentally friendly sort of way.

I have not yet had a red card or been sent off, but I have had bin problems. My wife and I signed up to the £35-a-year garden waste wheelie bin service. The first fortnight, no-one turned up to empty it. The second fortnight, we rang them them, and someone eventually came along. The third fortnight we rang four times before the council got round to emptying it – eight days late – despite a personal guarantee from one officer that it would be emptied four days previously. (She went on leave the next day.)

In the meantime it had been standing out unprettily at the edge of the pavement. When a young mother in Bolton left her bin out the night before for a 7am collection, it cost her £265 in fines and costs; in Nottingham fines and costs of £845 were imposed for leaving a bin “consistently” on the pavement. Oddly, Norwich City Council seems to have got away with it.

Bad enough, but when in the last instance my bin was emptied while we were out, we came home to find it in the middle of the pavement – a clear and present hazard to pedestrians. At least this is normal for Norwich: our recycling box is always flung down haphazardly on the pavement after it’s emptied, separate from its lid, and may stay there a considerable time before we can retrieve it. Slow, but still dangerous.