This article was written by ABD member Hugh Noblett. For nearly twenty years, Hugh was an instructor, based at the Metropolitan Police Motor Driving School at Hendon. Prior to that he was an ambulance driver for over three years. As such he has seen the issue of speed from all angles.
 
This article was originally published in "LowFlying" the monthly magazine of the Lotus 7 Club of Great Britain ('L7C').
 
 
SMILE PLEASE
— That'll be three points and sixty quid.
Have a nice day!

 
After reading the recent article on speed cameras in ‘The Sunday Times’, Hugh once more becomes incensed at the way in which we have sat idly by over the last ten years, silently allowing successive governments to intrude into our lives to the extent that, if the rate at which electronic and satellite technology is being used to control us continues unabated, we will indeed be living an Orwellian existence.
 
He just hopes that when the time comes for us to form an orderly queue for the implantation of our identification ‘tag’, his motoring days will be shadowed by the mists of time and his steering wheel will reside atop the mantle, gathering dust at the ‘Cadwell Park Home for Elderly Motorists’.

 
Firstly, let me make it very plain. I am not against cameras being used as part of a structured, multi-faceted and well thought-out strategy to reduce accidents. What I am against is their proliferation on open roads with no accident history and the intention to replace the former methods of traffic behaviour-monitoring and accident reduction with these inanimate eyesores. In most cases, the deaths and injuries that occur on our roads are avoidable — and I do mean most. Of course, there will always be the ‘freak’ accidents to muddy the waters, but by and large, if we analyse road accident statistics, we will surely find that human error played a large part in the tragic and unnecessary demise of the majority of victims.
 
I read somewhere that statistics have proved drivers slow down both in areas where cameras are sited and for a short distance around that location. Logic therefore dictates, that if a camera is placed every mile or so along the entire length of the UK road network, a constant reduction in speed will be achieved. This assumption presupposes that speed is the issue, which of course it is not. Sound-bitey little phrases like "Speed Kills" are spawned and then latched on to by the numerous well-meaning but ill advised so-called ‘safety’ groups. Speed is of course a factor. If no speed was involved, the incident could not happen in the first place. It is the inappropriate use of speed for the prevailing conditions and surroundings that is the killer and maimer — and even if a million cameras were allowed to desecrate this beautiful land of ours, I can assure you, there would still be deaths on our roads. The pertinent phrase is ‘excessive speed’ and how it is being misinterpreted and misgoverned by those empowered to control it. Consideration must also be given to the complacency that will overcome those who go about their business, driving within the new limits and yet through boredom will in fact become more of a danger to others because of their inattention and lack of awareness.
 
When a vulnerable road user is placed in close proximity with one who is less vulnerable and injudicious use of speed is incorporated into the equation, there are bound to be incidents. But each of us has a responsibility towards our fellow road-sharers, particularly in areas where we are most likely to meet the more at risk. The most vulnerable is the pedestrian, particularly the young child, the elderly infirm and the inebriated. The child should be the responsibility of its parent or guardian but how many times do you see a child, not yet at the age of reasoning, skipping along the pavement several yards away from the so-called ‘responsible adult’? If all children were properly educated in basic safety and taught the good old "Tufty" code at primary school, there would be fewer incidents where a child has run into the road with tragic consequences. Prior to receiving that education, it should be the responsibility of the guardian, to ensure the safety of that child and if the above scenario were to occur, it is they who should be brought to task by the authorities.
 
At any time of day, but particularly at pub closing times, we should be aware of the possibility of seeing an inebriated adult pedestrian. At any time of day, we should take note of the elderly person, who through a momentary lapse in concentration, may step out into our path. As a cyclist, you have a responsibility towards the pedestrian and that responsibility increases in direct proportion to the metal surrounding you and the horsepower in or on your mode of transportation. The car driver must have a responsibility towards pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other car users, and at the top of the tree, the driver of an articulated vehicle has the greatest responsibility to all other road users.
 
So, in order to achieve Nirvana, we need to consider the means by which we can reach this state. It's very simple. One word, actually — EDUCATION. When police traffic patrols first took to the roads, one of their main roles was to educate the driving population. Of course, they used the means at their disposal and issued tickets for more serious traffic violations, but more often than not, they would talk to the errant driver and a ticking-off would suffice. The driver would depart the scene of the offence in a contrite manner, thanking his lucky stars that he had not been brought to book and for a while certainly, if the ‘offence’ had been one of injudicious use of speed, he would drive with circumspection.
 
But, and it's a big but, the traffic officer was also able to haul over to the side of the road, all manner of other offenders. He was able to spot the thirty-year old camper van belching carcinogens into the atmosphere; he could witness the drunken motorist, weaving from lane to lane but within the posted speed limit; he could admonish the middle lane hogger; he could spot the overloaded truck driving in excess of the heavy goods vehicle speed limits and on occasions, he was able to apprehend ‘real’ villains fleeing from the scene of their crime. His driving education was intensive and constantly refreshed. Those who did not make the grade as superlative drivers did not get to sit behind the wheel of a liveried police car and drive at high speed.
 
It's all down to cost. A police traffic officer is an expensive commodity, not only through the training he undergoes, but also at the end of his career, when he is in line to receive a pretty substantial pension. Years ago, he would have even been entitled to subsidised housing to supplement the below-average salary.
 
Then some bright spark in the corridors of Whitehall struck a match and saw the light! Higher taxes were not on the agenda for the last Conservative administration and the incoming Labour alternative had to make sure they steered clear of any accusations of being a tax-and-spend government. But money was short; the health service and education required massive injections of capital to prop them up and keep the voters sweet — and there was also the increase in the non-productive and ageing population to factor in.
 
So, Bright Spark and his acolytes hatched a plan. Get rid of the traffic officer and replace him with a camera. A camera costs around £20,000. That's less than a year's salary — it doesn't need educating and has even less requirement for a pension. It doesn't require a vehicle or fuel, isn't open to bribery, doesn't need stress counselling and when it gets old, you just replace it with a newer, snazzier model. But the greatest attraction was the constant source of revenue this nifty little gadget was capable of generating. Instead of costing upwards of £600,000 as a police officer would over thirty years, each camera, covertly sited in an area of free-flowing traffic would be capable of earning its worth in a matter of weeks. Give a little bit of the money to the relevant police force and the pen-pushers, weighed down by the pips on their shoulders, who had probably never driven a police car in their lives and certainly not under the pressure of an emergency situation, would avariciously devour this new means of propping up their own dwindling resources and give The Plan their full support.
 
This Grand Plan would also be popular with those small groups of society that always seem to be accompanied by Big Voices. In fact I have often wondered why the Society for the Protection of Rural Britain or whatever it's called, hasn't complained vociferously about the erstwhile grey and now variously shaded yellow blots proliferating our landscape! Grieving relatives of road death victims form themselves into groups and because of the emotive nature of their existence, have found willing listeners within the corridors of power, eager to be perceived by the masses as ‘caring’. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand and concur with their motives; indeed I still suffer from a personal tragedy many years after the event. But I didn't form myself into a one-man vigilante group, baying for the blood of every known paedophile. Instead, I threw myself into pursuing a career whereby I could help others, firstly in the ambulance service, followed by many years coaching people to strive for perfection in their driving skills and ambitions, both within the police force and latterly with driving enthusiasts. Additionally, as a means of devolving the minutiae of road-related matters, other Lesser Sparks decided that local authorities should be empowered to set speed limits within their boundaries, thus cleverly relieving government of public protestations and putting a lid on the costly drain from the central money pot. In a misguided belief that by a blanket reduction of speed limits, casualty figures would reduce proportionally, we watched with dismay as county after county adopted this policy. Where counties had differing perceptions of the appropriate speed along a stretch of road bisected by a change in authority, we witnessed national speed limits changing to 50 or 40mph, with not even an alteration in roadside vegetation, let alone an alteration in perceived or actual danger!
 
Stretches of previously national speed limit roads, with no record of being an accident black spot were reduced to 30mph overnight. (Methinks, in many instances you'll find a local councillor or other bigwig just happens to reside close by — or is that being too cynical?) Quite often, the dwindling number of local traffic officers, upon being instructed to ‘police’ and enforce the new limits, attempted to refuse, not only on moral grounds but also because of lack of manpower. When they were subsequently issued with monthly "crime" figure targets to meet, their easiest option would be to park up in one of these newly restricted stretches of road, get out the radar gun or mobile camera and wait for the unsuspecting motorist to fall into their trap. Gatsonides would turn in his urn if he could see how his invention — which was developed in order for him to monitor his increase in speed — is now being used to crush our freedom to move about and conduct our daily lives in a reasonable manner. And incidentally, whatever happened to the human rights issue of having to incriminate ourselves (or others) by revealing the identity of the driver of a vehicle flashed by these devices?
 
Technology is constantly evolving. But whereas a fixed box with a camera and roll of film inside requires a certain human involvement in order for it to function effectively, the latest developments require no such input once the pole, under-road sensor or identifying tag on the vehicle has been implemented. We are the only country in the world with such a reliance on cameras as the almost sole means by which we keep order. The Canadian government, after a five-year trial, has thrown its stock of cameras into the trashcan, stating that their implementation has had no perceivable effect on reducing road casualties. The republicans of France accomplished a successful removal of cameras from the peripherique in Paris using the normal ‘French Method’. And although I fully understand and sympathise with the reasoning behind the plans of Captain Gatso and his band of followers in London, I cannot condone breaking the law in this way. But when the law is an ass, we do all run the risk of becoming donkeys.
 
So, more cameras are erected and many people are extremely happy. Government coffers are brimming with a cash cow that looks unlikely to dry up. The drunk driver is unlikely to be spotted. He's happy. The polluter, who doesn't give a toss, continues to kill us with toxins. The manufacturers of the Bel 550, Geodesy, Valentine et al are ecstatically happy as they watch their profits escalate. The anti-speed campaigners are happy, as they continue in their misguided belief that speed reduction enforcement reduces serious casualties. I hate to tell them, that the chances of reducing the numbers of serious and fatal injuries will only occur if a blanket 20mph or lower limit is imposed nationwide. It seems that everyone is happy, except the poor old motorist who is already bearing a sorely disproportional burden of tax through his road fund licence (a misnomer if ever I heard one), new car taxes, company car benefits in kind and fuel duties.
 
The cameras and other devices now being used to monitor us will not go away unless we shout with a very loud voice and vote with our feet. We also need to re-establish the right to have a modicum of control over our own existence. Many people on our roads, do drive carelessly or with little thought for their fellow man on occasions. Many people do drive in excess of the posted speed limit, but that does not mean they are necessarily driving dangerously. Those people need to be given the opportunity of learning how to think about their actions through education rather than through the courts. I repeat, where there is a risk of being in close proximity with more vulnerable road users, we owe it to them to drive at an appropriate speed, even if that means driving well below the posted limit whilst there is a perceived danger. But we need to be given the chance to prove that it is not dangerous for competent motorists to drive in excess of the present national speed limit when conditions are clear. I've driven on the public roads at speeds in excess of 130 mph (with special dispensation) and hey! Take a look Mr Transport Minister, I'm still here!
 
We need to be given the opportunity to prove that we can be responsible; that we can make decisions for ourselves and if that means suggesting to our leaders that we would actually welcome taking periodic refresher courses to ensure we are driving well and that actually Tony, we wouldn't mind going along once in every while to a government-subsidised centre to have that check — not only would the government save shed-loads of money in A&E but the millions currently being spent on Enforcement, could actually be channelled into Educating drivers and as a by-product there would also be a few barrow-loads of the stuff left over to fill in the potholes on our grossly under-funded road network.
 
It's time for us to stand up and be counted. There are nearly three thousand members of the L7C, the majority of whom I suspect enjoy brisk motoring and most, I would hope feel pretty much the same as I do. We all need to make our feelings known to Government, possibly jointly as a club and certainly individually. We can also spread the word amongst our families, friends and colleagues. Ask each of them to e-mail or write a short note to their MP. Surely spending a few minutes at the keyboard is worth it — particularly if by allowing this insidious encroachment on our liberty to continue at its present rate — we definitely run the risk of having nowhere left to enjoy our motoring!