Tag: speed

Thirty-five keeps you alive

Dropping the mask of democracy and going straight for totalitarian rule, the slower-driving campaign group 20’s Plenty for Us has suggested that councils should implement 20mph limits without public consultation.

Consultation “creates a perception of indecision rather than leadership or vision”, says the group.

Well, quite. Why ask people what they want when you already know the answer? It’s a no-brainer, especially if you don’t depend on votes to get into positions of power. Genghis Khan would be right behind you.

Of course it’s possible that you don’t know the answer. It’s possible that you have a built-in prejudice and a gimmicky name, and not much else.

Brighton & Hove City Council recently dropped plans to introduce 20mph limits in a number of areas after consultation revealed that most residents in those areas opposed the plans. How’s that?

Commendable in the extreme, but not the normal approach. Consultation nowadays is a cunning way of making people think they have a say. It was introduced, as revealed by my column in the Eastern Daily Press, by the Autonomous Republic of Hingham, and became known as Hingham Democracy.

I wrote: “Some years ago now, in the last century, there was a dispute over whether the (scout) hut should be sold or not. It was decided to take a poll of residents and to abide by the result – as long as 300 votes were cast. The result went the wrong way, but as luck would have it, only 299 votes were cast – once it was established that the 300th was a spoiled paper. So the referendum was set aside.”

Is this a trick that 20’s Plenty for Us are willing to cast aside in their rush to dictatorship?

Surveys, they say, “prove” that 20mph is right – but then surveys can prove anything, if you ask the right questions.

Bristol City Council know all about that. They tried to justify the imposition of 20mph limits in two pilot areas by “showing” that it increased walking and cycling by 23% and 20%. But it was revealed by an expert that their methods of arriving at these figures were deeply flawed. They came back by blustering: “If we want safer roads we need lower speeds; if we want lower speeds we need lower limits.”

In other words, we have made up our minds and do not want to be confused by the facts. In fact, we would rather you were confused, if you don’t mind.

Not at all; of course we don’t. Or do we?

In fact their prejudice is unsustainable. Look with a cool eye at the causes of accidents, and you will see that speed is way, way down near the bottom. Fatigue, boredom, inattention and incompetence are much higher in the list, and all of those increase at lower speeds.

Excessive speed is certainly dangerous, but that is not the same as exceeding the speed limits, unless they are set by experts. Sadly, they are not.

But I am not going to persuade you of this if you have already bought into the slowness=safety daydream.

After all, look at the huge numbers of road deaths in towns since the dreadful automobile was invented. To keep a clear head, of course, it’s essential that you overlook the 1000 or so deaths caused each year in London alone before that by horses or horse-drawn vehicles.

Irrelevant? Of course.

So how to get through to the public what 20’s Plenty are up to? My current plan is to form some more campaign groups with cute names. Thirty’s Flirty may not do it, but how about Thirty-Five Keeps You Alive? Or Fifty’s Nifty?

Not serious enough? Well, I’m not sure serious does it. After all, Oscar Wilde said seriousness was the only refuge of the shallow.

Anyway, I’m not asking you: I’m telling you. That’s the way to do it. There should be an MBE in it, don’t you think?

Are you concentrating, or have you dropped something?

I can’t say this very often, but I was pleasantly surprised by an article on road safety that appeared in Norfolk County Council’s “magazine for all residents” that eased its way carefully through my door this winter.

It was titled “Keep your mind on the road”, and I read it very attentively, keeping my mind on it. I was not driving at the time.

What surprised me? I don’t think the word “speed” was mentioned once.

Speed limits, cameras and associated persecution are not – taking the world as a whole – very high among the great evils of our time. But they do affect many of us in Britain almost every day, sometimes for long periods. So I think it’s reasonable to hope that transport authorities might see sense on the issue. In recent years, that has not happened much, and it has been unusual to see anything written about road safety without speed being seen as the main problem.

That article, by contrast, concentrated on what is clearly a major cause of accidents: lack of attention. It pointed out: “There are lots of distractions every day which take your mind off the road, from jogging while listening to music to turning round to talk to passengers in the car.”

It also struck fairly new ground in suggesting that cyclists, walkers and joggers need to concentrate just as much as drivers. It offered courses in cycling and motor cycling training for young people and in teaching children to cross the road, as well as co-ordinating and promoting driver development – important when it takes years to learn to drive really well.

By that time you know how fast it is safe to drive in most situations. You also know what causes accidents – stupidity, inattention, boredom and poor judgement tend to top the list. Excessive speed is also dangerous, of course, but this is not the same thing as going faster than speed limits that are for the most part inexpertly fixed. And it’s rarely uncovered by cameras because they are normally set to catch people, not to keep the roads safe.

We’re all familiar, and fed up, with puerile slogans like Speed Kills (it doesn’t) and It’s Fifty for a Reason (yes, usually a very bad reason). I’m in favour of speed limits, set by people who know what is realistic and safe (experienced traffic police, for example) but preferably to advise rather than punish motorists. It is only poor drivers (and non-drivers) who like slow limits punitively policed, because they don’t understand how fast is safe. They assume they’re safe because they’re obeying the law. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Reckless behaviour in a motor vehicle is a serious offence, but this is masked by the pretence that speed is the major issue. Even those few serious accidents attributed primarily to speed by the police are usually the result of some other criminal activity, like drug-taking or theft.

Reckless behaviour in a car always involves a lack of proper attention, and that includes using a mobile phone, fiddling with the cd-player, watching the speedometer, carrying on a vigorous debate with a passenger, pointing at landscape features and trying to find the glasses that fell off the central console. Driving is dangerous, and we mustn’t forget it.

My solution? The same as yours, probably: more traffic police. And in the cities, more visible police generally. And more education as suggested by the article that prompted this one. Not fatuous slogans, and wilfully diverting people’s attention from the real problem.