Motoring madness

The UK car industry is in trouble. According to the BBC, the number of new cars produced in the country fell by a record 59% in February this year, “as the motor industry continues to suffer from weak demand”.

Why anyone should be surprised at this is beyond me. The Government, encouraged by environmentalists, has gone out of its way in recent years to make motoring more and more unpleasant, and more and more expensive. Levying higher tax (and sometimes higher parking fees) on cars that do not meet certain pointless emission requirements has made those cars unsaleable. Drivers are forced to stick with what they’ve got, where in more enlightened times they would be looking for a new model.

But it is not just cash. What used to be called the pleasures of motoring have been reduced constantly by spurious road safety measures. In an attempt to curb those very few drivers who habitually drive too fast, highway authorities have resorted to the clumsiest of measures – road humps and speed cameras – frustrating and often fining untold thousands of good drivers while failing to do much about the really dangerous ones.

The latest bright idea from the Government – reducing all rural single carriageway speed limits to 50mph and enforcing them with average speed cameras – is another step along this foolish path. One hopes it may prove a step too far, and that public consultation will overturn it. But sadly the Government is dominated by environmentalists and others who believe that driving is anti-social at any speed. In 1995 the Friends of the Earth said “speed limits should be made very low and rigidly enforced to take all the glamour out of motoring”, and this miserable view seems to have prevailed.

What is repeatedly overlooked is that good driving is a skill, and that if you don’t enjoy it, you’re probably not doing it very well. To discouragement enjoyment of driving by sticking people in painfully slow queues is to produce a generation of drivers who have little idea what they’re doing – a fact that becomes painfully clear in an emergency.

The Sunday Times pointed out: “The principle of proportionality is increasingly going out of the window. The majority of people…are being asked to constrain their behaviour because of a tiny minority of wrongdoers and careless people. Universal punishment is a lazy, bad solution.”

The same paper points out that if you can cut accidents by reducing speed limits to 50mph, then presumably you can reduce them further by reducing all limits to 30mph, then 20mph… I suggest a man with a red flag may be the answer. Or maybe other factors are important?

Meanwhile the Government would like to introduce road pricing and fixed penalties for a range of driving offences, as well as unelected quangos to decide on transport policy. Oh, and of course that 20mph limit is already with us – in the residential streets of many towns and cities. On some streets it’s needed; on others it isn’t.

If drivers were taught to drive properly, the only speed limits necessary should be advisory ones. As it is, a mass raising of speed limits by 10mph in rural areas would see a vast improvement in the quality of driving.

I was glad to see that in one area – parking – the misguided efforts of environmentalists to make life difficult for motorists have been seen for the nonsense that they are. Essex County Council has decided to provide more parking on new developments. Earlier Government “attempts to reduce car ownership by limiting the amount of off-street parking spaces provided within residential developments” have resulted unsurprisingly in a mess of cars parked on unsuitable streets, with what are euphemistically termed safety issues as a consequence.

Hats off to Essex. But what was that about “Government attempts to reduce car ownership”? Couldn’t have anything to do with the UK car industry being in trouble, could it?

It’s hard to know who you can trust when it comes to transport. This week a Norfolk over-60 wrote to his local paper to complain that he had got rid of his car on the basis that he could use a free bus pass for all journeys, but the Government was now planning to reduce the times when he could do so. Perhaps the Government would like to buy him a new car and give the industry a bit of a boost.

*Could it be worse? Click here.