Matters of moment, April 1988

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Design dilution

British police forces continue to promote the idea that “Speed Kills”, whereas what is dangerous is using high speeds in the wrong circumstances.

Other forms of potential hazards on roads include overtaking in the wrong places, causing an obstruction through foolish parking, poor construction features such as blind junctions (and we all know these still exist!), and abnormally slippery surfaces. But it is pure speed which the police intend to tackle.

Their latest challenge (if tests currently being carried out in Nottingham prove satisfactory) will be unmarked cars equipped with Gatso, the radar device which also provides them with photographic evidence for use against offenders and which ironically is made, at £16,000 apiece, by a once-celebrated rally driver. This device joins Truvelo (a roadside machine which computes speed between two detectors), Vascar (an in-car computer which measures time over distance), Muniquip (the hand-held roadside gun which bounces radar beams off passing vehicles), and constables’ old stop-watches in the long armoury of the law!

If it is true that the proportion of drivers of high-performance who lose their licences after being caught speeding will soon be much greater, sales of such cars will surely drop, for a Fiesta on the road is better than a banned Cosworth in the garage – unless, of course, owners of expensive road-burners emigrate or holiday in Germany. For if Gatso is the speed deterrent it is claimed to be, will there be any point in purchasing 100 mph cars, let alone those capable of 140 mph or more?

Not that we re suggesting that we shall then be reduced to vehicles which can do no better than 70 mph, because even the Gatso-bogeys might permit something above the strict limit limit: 80 mph might be useful when overtaking on a dual-carriageway, and even Minis, Metros and Pandas now achieve this, so it will be beyond, towards the criminal 90s, that Gatso will threaten to deprive you of your motoring freedom. But still, is it not possible that cars will one day no longer be designed for such speeds?

There are we suppose other factors which might be substituted, such as improved acceleration (a safety feature) without gearing for racing-car pace, still lower fuel-consumption from engines which have already made great strides in this respect, more comfort and better equipment — you may remember Vanden Plas Minis and 1100s which contrived to be super-luxurious little machines.

If we no longer dare go beyond the 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 mph restrictions which prevail in this little island, few will want to fork out high prices only for their accelerator-foot to be curbed by the law, so priorities other than speed will presumably occupy the minds of car designers. One envisages the time arriving when road-test reports will no longer dare to proclaim maximum speeds…

Acceleration figures will, of course, continue to be of much interest, though we hope there will no longer be the same obsession with that artificial 0-60 business. Ordinary drivers do not bang home the clutch and spin their wheels from every traffic light; timing from a rolling 10 mph, as Motor Sport used to do, is a far more realistic exercise, except perhaps to the “cowboy” drivers who may well go unnoticed by policemen with their new Gatsos . . .

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