THE question above pops into my head on the long drive to work. The other week, there was a fumy story about the chief policeman who thinks that drivers who go 1mph over the speed limit should be fined.
Chief Constable Andy Bangham was splashed across the front of the never knowingly less than incandescent Daily Mail. He said drivers should stop whingeing about being fined, adding that speed awareness courses were a soft option and drivers were no longer afraid of speeding punishments.
My first thought was a shaming one: perhaps the apoplectic Mail has a point here. Fining motorists for going a shade over the limit seems unreasonable. We are men (or women) and not machines (gender unspecified): we make mistakes, then correct our behaviour. A driver who spots they are slightly above the speed limit will usually slow down.
Until 18 months ago, I almost never drove to work – now I drive all the bloody time. All that petrol-fuelled commuting is against my principles, such as they, but sometimes life throws you a curveball.
Reaction to the thoughts of chief constable Bangham-em-up came in two flavours. The right-wing reaction was to fume that this was ridiculous, to fulminate about picking on motorists and to wonder how anything got done in this country.
As someone who drives about 200 miles a week to two jobs, I sympathised with the motorists swerving to the right in outrage. Oh, and with three points on my licence thanks to a misunderstanding on a dual carriageway in Leeds, I am afraid of speeding punishments. I’d struggle without the car, as shown by the bus and train commute to Horsforth last week (sponsored by a flat tyre). Two hours it too; four if you count coming back.
Reaction from the left said drivers should stop thinking that they can do what they want. Peter Wilby, who writes a top column in the New Statesman, observed that the Mail’s story drew “predictable protests from the motoring lobby and its Tory friends”. He added that one MP said it would “make criminals of good drivers” and that the police should crack down on “violent crime and yobbish behaviour” and stop being “overly aggressive… towards motorists”.
Wilby undermined this pro-car propaganda in one neat paragraph: “Most ‘yobbish behaviour’ doesn’t kill. Motor vehicles kill more than 1,700 a year in Britain. The laws of physics explain when the risks are greatest. Pedestrians hit by a car travelling at up to 30mph are likely – though by no means certain – to survive. Hit by one travelling at 40mph, they are 90 per cent likely to be killed.”
So, are we picking on drivers or letting them off with a slap on their gearstick? After giving off right-wing fumes, I began to feel ashamed; I began to hanker after that hopeless old leftie who cycled into work, swallowing exhaust fumes rather than producing them; I began to worry that driving 200 miles a week to work was doing something to my political lodestone.
I don’t know the answer to my opening question, but I do hope not. I reckon the driver I annoyed yesterday morning was a right-wing maniac; he probably thought I was a left-wing twerp. Or just a bad driver.
Just out of Wetherby, heading down the hill, I pulled into the layby to check my emails. On the radio it said that lecturers were on strike and nobody had told me.
No messages, so I checked the traffic, seeing one vehicle cresting the hill, and pulled out. It was a truck pulling a trailer and it zoomed up behind me, flashing his lights, then followed so close for a few miles that his VW logo was almost printed on the back of my head. At the lights by Harewood House, he blew his horn (for reasons unknown, or unknown to me: too slow across the junction, perhaps; too obstructive for his tastes; oh! all the above and none: sometimes you never know).
Does driving a lot make you a better driver but a worse human being; or just a tired driver? Or are drivers of VW trucks just big right-wing arses on wheels? Answers on an exhaust pipe.