by Mark McArthur-Christie

Every morning when I step out of the door, I can feel Nanny wagging her pudgy carbolicky finger at me and tutting, her starched apron fluttering indignantly as I get the car out of the garage and drive away.

I know this because every time I open a newspaper, switch on the radio or pick up a magazine, Nanny's there, telling me that I'm a bad boy and that "something should be done." My sin is driving and even worse, enjoying my driving, and more heinous than that, enjoying driving — ssshh, whisper it — FAST. Forgive me, Father, for I have sped.

To be a driver and a driving enthusiast in the oh-so-politically correct 1990s is to rank right up there on the public hate scale with mass murderers and politicians. Every day, Nanny leads me to believe, I slaughter thousands of fluffy white bunnies with exhaust smoke, cause the English countryside to be laid waste in tracts for bypasses and single-handedly wipe out colonies of happily dribbling toddlers by driving through housing estates at the reckless speed of just over 20 mph.

The car is evil, no two ways about it. Nanny doesn't like it — and mark my words, in Britain, when Nanny doesn't like it, something will be done. Unfortunately, something is being done — but, as ever, exactly the wrong something.

Now don't get me wrong — driving three inches from the bumper of the car in front is plain downright dangerous, stupid and possibly fatal — but Gatsos aren't going to stop it. Overtaking round a blind bend on the crest of a hill isn't exactly going to win you prizes for intelligence — but if you do that sort of thing you won't be prevented from doing it by a few speed bumps and civic flower tubs — you'll just see how fast you can jump your "Escorwt Exarfreeoi" over them. God help the emergency services.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has seen someone brake from 40mph to 20mph a few yards from a Gatso, only to speed up again once they've passed it. But doesn't a headline like "4,000 speeding motorists trapped by Oxon cameras" make great PR — oh yes, we're tackling the problem. Sorry Nanny — you're not, you're just tinkering with the symptoms of a far greater malaise.

we're losing sight of the fact that
risk is biologically, psychologically and mentally
necessary to our well-being

What I'm saying is that we've lost just a teensy bit of perspective in our endeavours to become a society that is totally free from risk. Nanny has decreed that risk of any sort is now utterly unacceptable and as a consequence, we're losing sight of the fact that risk is biologically, psychologically and mentally necessary to our well-being. Combine this with a political system that thinks it can legislate on how many potatoes I eat every day (3 egg-sized ones in case you'd forgotten), and how many pints of beer I'm allowed to drink, and the wonder is, why we went for Gatso cameras and not driver training and education.

Whilst the powers that be — of whatever political persuasion — believe that we can't think for ourselves, and fail to train us so that we can make our own choices, is it any wonder that speed bumps, road narrowing, traffic "calming", 50mph speed limits and Gatsos are springing up like triffids?

As I said, I believe that speeding in a 30mph limit (where it's reasonably imposed) is stupid — but why not educate the driver to see why rather than slapping him 3 points and a £40 fine when he gets it wrong? If you're lucky enough to get stopped by a traffic officer, you'll at least get an explanation of why 50mph in a 30mph zone isn't very clever — but given the woeful underfunding and undermanning of the police, your chances of being Gatsoed are rather better. And if you think it's bad now, just wait until speed enforcement is privatised...

Cameras, humps, restrictions and ridiculous speed limits do not stop dangerous driving — they stop fast driving. But which is more dangerous, the cretin who persistently intimidates other drivers by driving on their bumpers and undertaking, or the trained, alert driver running at 80mph on an open A class road? How many accidents are there in Formula 1 each season in comparison with just a week on the roads? Speed is not the problem.

How about this as an idea — and before you dismiss it as the ravings of a young whippersnapper barely turned 30, give it a thought: Let's not legislate any more, maybe even throw out a few rules, let's chuck the cameras away, flatten the humps, take out the restrictions and do a little training and education. Let's make ongoing training a condition of retaining a driving licence, and start (horror of horrors) incentivising good driving rather than doing the good old British thing of penalising bad driving.

Of course, Nanny won't buy it. If people can think for themselves, she's looking down the business end of what the personnel people call an "involuntary career break". Maybe she could take up smoking, start drinking scotch, learn to bungee jump and take over Jeremy Clarkson's slot on "Top Gear" instead...

“Our trip opened my eyes to how insane the rules are in Britain — CCTV cameras everywhere, congestion charge — a ludicrous nanny state.”
Ewan McGregor, October 2007
The Scotsman

 
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