Matters of Moment, April 1980
“l am not arguing with you — I am telling you” — James Whistler, 1834-1903
After a long lull the Government has returned to discussing the pros and cons of making it compulsory for every car-user (although presumably not every vehicle-user) to strap himself or herself to their motor. It is about time this much discussed matter was dropped and far more important things brought up in the House. We have no wish to go again over the arguments against a compulsion that we have always campaigned against. Points have been bandied-about on both sides, as in any other controversial issue. They have been aired, re-aired, and aired again, until everyone is heartily sick and tired of reiteration. The Compulsory Seat-Belts Bill introduced by Neil Carmichael, Labour, Kelvingrove, has been before Parliament eight times and has always been thrown out.
Given that not all of our MPs are fools, that fact should be convincing! But let us make it quite clear that most of the arguments are not against wearing seat-belts, as such, but the idea of making the wearing compulsory, against the penalty — perhaps of licence-endorsement and heavy fines — if, for any minute of the day, in any moving private-car, these are not correctly in place, tying the occupants to their seats. Most motorists use seat belts, at their discretion, sensibly and frequently. Those who do not, for several valid reasons, are surely now in a minority (and don’t please aim a “statistic” at us to prove otherwise, unless you have counted all drivers at all times of the day and night in vehicles running at a decent speed), so that it is not worth the cost and Parliamentary time of bringing in this Bill that offends them and any Law, almost impossible to enforce, that they would be unlikely to obey. . . .
But suppose we are wrong, and more than an average number of motorists is driving about beltless? All the more reason, surely, for leaving them alone, on the basis that they are no more without common-sense than those politicians, who, for one biased reason or another, seek to impose compulsion on them?
What is ludicrous is that, years ago, legislation for compulsion was thrown out but that which demanded fitting belts for the front-seats of modern cars was not. That law is very nice for the seat-belt manufacturers, and for the Government which collects VAT on the compulsory installations. What is tragic is that one section of the community alone, the motorcyclist, is made to wear crash helmets under compulsion, even in that safest of road-vehicles, the motorcycle combination, and while riding slow vintage machines, and that VAT is demanded on this compulsory head-gear. Now, if you allow that a tumble from a motorcycle is likely to cause more injury than a car crash, it follows that it is decidedly sensible to wear a crash-hat on a two-wheeler, which is why the great majority of riders did this before the passing of the Compulsion Bill. It is the compulsion to which they object. Having got that Bill past Parliament, it would have been a proper gesture to have deleted VAT from the cost of motorcycling headwear. . . . And why, pray, are pedal-cyclists exempt?
So, while Motor Sport would never try to influence anyone against belting-up, it is wholly opposed to compulsion. That would constitute another motoring Law, amongst the hundreds that most drivers try not to break. It would waste Police time in attempting the near-impossible task of enforcing another motoring requirement. It would definitely alienate those who don’t care to be strapped to their cars and those who do, but might be caught on the one occasion when they felt no good reason to “click clunk”. Drop it, we say!
As statistics can be bent to prove anything it is their manipulators wish to prove, we will risk boring you with a little fact. The writer has been in crashed motor-cars five times during his professional career, and they were bad crashes. Once he was in a frontal-prang due to locked brakes, in a Fiat 500. The car skidded far off the road; driver and girl passenger were unhurt. An Allard racing car, which rolled at a speed trial, threw out driver and passenger; both were uninjured but the cockpit was crushed. Then came a rear-impact, in the war-time blackout, when a ‘bus collided with a stationary Austin 7, the driver cut his head slightly, the girl passenger was unhurt (no head-restraints then). Next, a frontal-collision, when a Morgan Plus-4 skidded on black ice and collided with a lorry; the car was badly damaged but the driver was almost unhurt. Finally (typing now with fingers crossed), there was an accident in a Ford Escort Mexico, which was virtually written off; the driver was unhurt except for a dislocated finger, which no seat-belt could have prevented. All are very good reasons for belting up you may say; until we tell you that in all cases there was a moment of unconsciousness, when release of a seat harness would have hampered getting out. There are occasions when fire, or impact from other vehicles, makes it desirable to quickly vacate a crashed vehicle, whether on road or track. And, in the Allard, belts would almost certainly have spelled death, not escape. . . .
This being the case — yes, we know we were lucky — it is desirable to leave the question of whether to belt-up to the individual, as those who voted against seat-harness compulsion clearly realise. The fear to some people of being trapped is also very real, but claustrophobia is no more easy to prove than is fear of the dark or fear of open spaces. Compulsion to either would increase the need for medical care! Cars do catch fire, sometimes. Multiple crashes do happen, when it is sensible to leave a car as quickly as possible to avoid being involved. Badly-adjusted belts can strangle. All far-fetched, some will argue, which is why, reminded to do so by costly TV and other Government advertising, many people would not now move a yard in their cars unless harnessed to them. The discussion about compulsion to do so is now as old as how effective is the sprag or what effect on a car’s steering do front-wheel-brakes have. Compulsion has been tried, and eight times abandoned. That should be enough, even as a party-political issue. So drop it!
In recent months Motor Sport has given much space to Historic-Car racing and the pleasure to be derived therefrom, to drivers and spectators, providing fake cars are not permitted to race with genuine historic machines. The sight and sound of cars of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the pre-war ERAs, Maseratis and the like, in spirited action on a race course, is to be encouraged, and D.S.J. is devoting himself to this end. It should not be overlooked, however, that the VSCC, which started racing for vintage cars, and later, that for front engined pre-1960 single-seaters, a type of racing favoured for so long by W.B., is in an equally healthy, if sponsor-free state. This is emphasised by the arrival of the Regulations for the first 1980 VSCC Race Meeting, to take place at Silverstone on April 26th.
This is the traditional 1908 GP Itala Trophy Meeting. It is due to commence at about 13.15 hours with a High Speed Trial for vintage and pvt sports-cars (like those events the MCC and JCC used to hold at Brooklands). The main scratch races which follow will be over ten laps of the 1.6-mile Club circuit. The Itala and Lanchester Trophies Race will be confined to vintage and Edwardian racing cars in original condition, and one hopes to see Sam Clutton conducting the 12-litre GP Itala after which the Meeting is named. Pre-war and Historic racing cars will contest the other main races and these will be supported by a series of five-lap handicap and scratch races, in which the usual delightfully-varied fields will take part, comprising the different interpretations that members of the VSCC place on such motor racing. This results in the closest thing, in spectacle, sound and scent, to the racing at Brooklands, and if you have never had a look at it we recommend you to go to this April VSCC Silverstone Meeting, for which, by the way, entries have closed.
You can see practice during the morning. Admission costs £2.50 each, for enclosures and grandstands, Paddock admission £1 extra, but under-14s get in for 30p and 20p each, respectively, car-parking being free. No dogs! If you enjoy this meeting, or miss it, note that the VSCC will hold others during the year, again at Silverstone, at Donington Park, at Oulton Park and at Cadwell Park further information in these pages in due course. To give a slight fill-up to this vintage-car racing the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy, with cash prizes, will again be competed for during the season, on a points basis, it being open to any pre-war car, such as could have run at the old, lamented Brooklands Track.